stephanie bio pic1When I was asked to contribute to this blog as one voice in the rotation, I was challenged.  My roles at City Neighbors are varied—but none of them include teaching. Nor am I a parent of a City Neighbors student.  What of value could I possibly have to say?

I could relate stories of interactions I’ve had with children during my ten years with City Neighbors.  Like the kindergartner who was having a bad day.  I sat beside him and talked about what it felt like to have a bad day.  He listened to me with rapt attention, his gaze never wandering from my face.  We were bonding. I stopped talking to allow him space to respond.  And he responded, alright.  “What is THAT?” he asked, poking his little finger against the mole just to the left of my nose.   He hadn’t been clinging to every wise word.  Instead, he had been staring at that mole as if it was a third eye.  That young man received an education that day on “beauty marks.”

Or I could tell you about the first grader who, also having a bad day, repeatedly screamed “Poopyhead!” at the top of her lungs as if it was the vilest obscenity ever uttered, we adults having to bite our lips and turn our heads.  If you sense a pattern here, it’s because when one works in a school office, she often encounters students who are having bad days.

I could tell you those stories.  In fact, I have.  But those aren’t what makes City Neighbors unique. Beyond bad days and beauty marks, it’s the learning that makes City Neighbors.

As I mentioned, I am not the parent of a City Neighbors student or alum.  When City Neighbors Charter School—our founding school–opened its doors in 2003, my son was already 17-years old, his own educational struggles mostly behind him after his father and I took a risk and enrolled him a progressive private school in fourth grade. His five years there restored an authentic love of learning that had been eroded by a more traditional education in a parochial school.  His experience is not an indictment against traditional or parochial schools.  We all know children who survive and some who even thrive in those environments, me being one of them.  My quiet, introspective kid, however, wasn’t.

Had City Neighbors been an option then, we would have leaped at the opportunity because, although I am not an educator, I know learning when I see it—or hear it or smell it or taste it or touch it.  It doesn’t necessarily look like children sitting behind desks in neat rows.  It often sounds loud and looks messy.  It bustles.  It thrums.  It chooses authentic, meaningful experiences over rote, dusty facts that a basic Google search can provide.  It does whatever it takes to capture a child’s heart and mind.

It doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen at City Neighbors.  We sometimes have G-rated scatological epithets hurled at us by frustrated five-year-olds and our imperfections are sometimes literally pointed out by little fingers poking at us.  But I know what learning looks like.  Just like that beauty mark, I see it.  Every day.

~Stephanie King, Business Manager, City Neighbors Foundation & Office Administrator, City Neighbors Hamilton~