Counter Culture

When I started as a student back in 1999 (I see you doing the math in your head – stop it!) one of the most intriguing aspects of Alpine Valley School was the notion that I could participate in the process of creating law. I must admit that, at first, I went a little mad with power. The idea that I, as an individual, could submit to School Meeting any motion that struck my fancy was just too tempting for an individual who had felt marginalized and unimportant for so long.

After a period of contemplating (if not actually submitting) motions which would declare me Grand Empress of the school and institute a hefty tax upon my citizens, I realized the real-world implications of my power in this democracy. I didn’t have to simply complain about anything any more! If I didn’t like something, such as a law preventing me from initiating a snowball fight, all I would have to do is submit a motion to remove it and – poof! – problem solved.

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. I forgot that in addition to submitting a motion to School Meeting I would also have to get my fellow School Meeting Members to vote in favor of such a change. So, it was up to me to not only propose the change itself, but to rally support for it. While on the surface that might seem arduous and more than your average teenager might willingly undertake, it turned out to be surprisingly empowering.

More recently, the students at Alpine Valley School used their own influence to push through a controversial measure which would allow sitting on the kitchen counters. Along with standing and the resting of feet, sitting on the kitchen counters has long been prohibited as part of a hygiene-related School Meeting law. However, a determined group of students submitted a motion to change only the sitting portion of the law and rallied support from within the community arguing that clothing-clad bottoms are significantly less dirty than their shoes and, indeed, in some cases, even cleaner than hands.

While not everyone in the community was in favor of the measure (coughLarrycough) the students rallied enough support from School Meeting members that their resolution eventually passed and the law was amended to allow sitting on the countertops. As you can see from the picture, they celebrated their victory immediately and well. As you might also notice from the picture, they were very, very pleased with themselves.

In my experience as both a student and a staff member at Alpine Valley School I have found that there is something almost magical about discovering your own agency as an individual. No more are you at the whims of the world around you; at any point you can stand up and correct what you feel needs changing. Sometimes you get your butt kicked, and sometimes you prevail, but the important thing is that you tried something. The more such experiences you have, the more you start to take on additional challenges and the world becomes an exponentially better place. So, while sitting on countertops may not seem like all that big a deal, the independence and responsibility it signifies from our students is powerful stuff indeed.


Missa Gallivan is an Alpine Valley School graduate and staff member. She is also the mother of a future AVS student (in about four years) and step-parent to two amazing teenagers.

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