A few days ago I was catching up with a former Alpine Valley School staff member named Martha. We were reminiscing about my time as a student and all of the different activities that I was part of. I reminded her about one particular memory which may not seem like much to other people, but it really meant a lot to me.
Martha was putting together a schedule of working hours for the other staff. She was sitting at one of the tables in the Main Room and working out all of the various logistics when I came up, a student of fourteen, and asked if I could help. “Sure,” she said, inviting me to take a seat. Together we worked out this word problem: “If Bruce works from nine till five and Larry works from eight till four, how many additional staff members do we need to cover the remaining hours?” It was the first time I remember having fun with numbers, and I think that was largely because we were solving a real-world problem and not some abstract quandary involving trains.
After we had worked out an appropriate schedule we started color-coding all the different staff’s time blocks so that they were easily visible from a distance (it’s worth noting that this was before computers were heavily utilized at school—and yes, I am that old). I don’t know what brand of markers we were using for the job, but they had names like “brushfire” and “meadow.” We made a game out of it, giving each staff member a nickname corresponding to their marker color, which left us with monikers like Sunkist Connie and Moonbeam Bruce. By the time we finished, we were both in tears from laughing so hard.
This moment sticks out in my memory for a couple of reasons: above all, it was the first time an adult (other than my parents) had treated me like a contributing member of a team. Martha acted like I knew what I was doing; she didn’t talk down to me or try to use the experience as a “teachable moment.” She treated me like a competent individual and I rose to the occasion. I contributed to this small project in a meaningful way and actually had fun while I was doing it—an experience without precedent in my young life.
This experience also kicked off a higher level of involvement in the school community for me. I started using those three magical words more and more often, asking everyone, “Can I help?” And every time I was able to contribute I not only learned some fraction of a useful skill, I learned that I was capable and that my help was valuable. Those lessons have stuck with me to this day, and I strive to follow the example that Martha and the other staff members set for me in my youth now that I’m a staff member here myself. There’s nothing like being empowered, and I’m so glad that students at Alpine Valley School have the opportunity to experience that feeling every single day.