I was recently knitting in the teacher’s lounge of the bilingual school where I now work, and one of my Spanish colleagues asked me if I knew how to say “knitting” in Spanish. I responded that I couldn’t think of the word at the moment, but I knew it in German. The group was impressed when I eventually remembered the Spanish word and was able to pronounce it accurately while continuing to knit. This random moment encapsulates my broader Waldorf upbringing, and specifically my experience at Youth Initiative. We were pushed and pulled into being well-rounded humans, for whom knitting and speaking multiple languages were among the less surprising talents (little do they know I can also stilt walk!)
There are many skills I draw on every day that can be traced back to my time at Youth Initiative. Such as my four years of nutrition class, that involved visiting farms, butchers and grocery stores, which gave me the skills to modify and create my own recipes. My confidence with public speaking is the result of acting in numerous plays, as well as speaking up in meetings and in discussion classes. But perhaps most significant, is my ability to creatively solve real world problems. At Youth Initiative, we were almost never given workbooks, both in the literal and figurative sense. We made them ourselves. Whether it was the main lesson books we created as beautiful and informative representations of what we learned, or the solutions we developed to solve problems the school community faced. For example, each year the budget included a line for student fundraising, so we had to figure out how to raise thousands of dollars each semester, mostly on our own. And the crazy thing is: we did, every year. This process taught me a lot about dreaming big, about ingenuity and volunteerism, and about showing up and doing the unglamorous jobs for the greater good.
After graduating in 2014, at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, with a hand-made flower crown on my head, as I and gave a 10 minute speech about a snail shell, I went on to Earlham College, in the fall of that year. Earlham is the YIHS of colleges in a couple of ways. Mainly the two schools are similar in the feeling of quirky authenticity you get while walking around campus, seeing people playing the violin in trees, which reminded me a lot of the guitar playing and skateboarding that went on in the hallway at YIHS. But in a more concrete way, everyone at Earlham is called by their first name, regardless of titles, just like at YIHS. These things attracted me to Earlham and also set me apart from many of my peers there, in my familiarity with them. For example, I had long known from YIHS that a different quality of discussion is possible in a room full of equals. I arrived with the confidence that came from knowing through practice that my ideas were worthy of being heard, rather than with the hesitancy of those students constantly searching for confirmation from the professors that their insights were “right.” With all this in mind, I now (after graduating from Earlham) have my elementary school students call me Ms. Kate, rather than using my last name, and I always try to really listen, and take their ideas seriously.
Youth Initiative High School taught me that when you expect great things of people, they usually live up to your expectations, which is something I try to bring to the classrooms I now work in. High schoolers are not generally known for being clear-sighted, hard working people, capable of creating real change in the world. However, this is what our school expected of us, and so it’s what we became. Living through this process taught me that if we could do it, everyone deserves a chance to reach their full potential this way. All this led to where I am today: supporting elementary school students as they learn math in Spanish, and knitting on my breaks.