My father taught in a public high school for 35 years. I was fortunate enough to be one of his students so I can say for myself what others have said to me over the years – he was a truly gifted educator. His dedication and love of subject matter (Shakespeare, mostly) was a great passion in his life. I also had the experience constantly during my childhood of hearing the call of, “Mr. Schiller!” from across a crowded restaurant/airport/train station in every city and every country that we visited. Inevitably his former students would ask, “do you remember me?” to which my father would answer warmly, “of course I do! Tell me about your life now.” After the former student had had their time with my Dad, and we were out of earshot, I would ask my father who the student was. He would sigh and say, “I really don’t know – there were so many of them – 35 students per class, 5 classes a day. I feel terrible, but I just don’t remember most of them.”

When it came time to send my children to high school after homeschooling them through eighth grade I remembered all of those former students, and I remembered how much my father had wanted to know each and every one of them, but simply couldn’t due to the fast-paced, over-crowded learning environment in the public school. I wanted a different experience for my children, one that would be individual, particular, and would allow them to be in relationship with other adults and peers who shared those same learning goals.

I want for my children what we all want – to be seen, to be known for who they truly are, to be loved in spite of, and sometimes because of, their faults. I want them to feel heard by their community, to have a say in the way that they reach their goals within that community, and I want them to feel held by that same community and to know that it is safe to experiment, to try and to fail. This type of knowing – of truly seeing our children for who they are, is next to impossible in a large setting with the pressures of standardized tests and one-size-fits-all curriculum. This type of learning can only occur when there is time and space devoted to each individual learner and teachers are empowered to meet students where they are, rather than drag them along with everyone else to the SAT finish line. This is the type of community that our family has found at Youth Initiative.


*Leslie’s children, Dey and Loie are both sophomores at YIHS.