There are places in the world that, when stumbled into, are so magical that once you leave, you wonder if you just stepped out of a dream. These places create memory holes so large that you wonder if the memory belongs to someone else. And sometimes, it does.
The Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy is my recent memory hole.
On Friday, October 30th, my tour partner Nick and I performed one of our "BrainSTEM" shows at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA). Driving into the school zone, we knew it was a special place, because there were beautiful mosaics and murals of birds, butterflies, and quotes all over the buildings. Some students were meandering the outdoor halls, working on various projects freely. They each greeted me kindly as I, the only one NOT wearing an interesting Halloween costume, walked to the office feeling strangely at home. A student from the office escorted me to the dance studio where Nick and I were to perform.
The dance teacher, Leslie Baker, welcomed us into the dance studio where we set up our stage. Her students happily set up chairs for the audience. Not only did they seem happy to help, but they seemed overall happy to be in school. Of the many schools I've been to, I have never seen a place where the students' level of joy exuded the hallways and the interactions quite at this degree. The walls were flayed with student art both painful and inspirational, showing a genuine atmosphere of honesty and appreciation for the overall human experience. These 7-12 graders displayed a maturity far beyond their years, evident from their compassion in conversation and relationship. Listening to them talk, watching them interact, and their audience behavior revealed an attitude of respectfulness that must have descended the ranks of leadership at the school. Clearly, as seen from the FALA logo itself, the teachers value a full-body and full-mind submersion into life, including exposure to all of the STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).
Quotes like the one above adorned the walls, all designed by students. A student dressed as Spock gave us a full tour of the grounds after class, including the outdoor amphitheater, the blackbox theater, the art studios, and the science, English, and history classrooms. The dance class performed their rendition of "Thriller" for us, with pride and excitement. Both the students and the teachers gave us gifts, one in the form of the honor of seeing their dance and the other in the form of a water bottle and t-shirt. The theatre director Mike Levin also talked with us about his students travels to New York and L.A., as well as his inspirations from playwright Charles Mee for recent productions. We were even able to geek out about various theatre stories and share input on places and plays to check out.
Above, the small blackbox theatre is loaded with props and set pieces used for students' creative play and rehearsals. During our show, the students clearly understood theatre etiquette, which showed great respect to us as guests. The students laughed at appropriate times, kept talking to a minimum, and were involved in the improv as well as engaged in the lessons we taught, even if they already knew them. Several volunteers (including a boy dressed as a dog named Wilfred and a boy named Taco) excitedly participated with a listening ear and a fun-loving attitude. As things came to a close and we cleaned up, the collection of vampires, TV characters, and fantasy creatures thanked us further, leaving us with an even more surreal feeling about the school. After a talk with Laura Kelly, the Executive Director of FALA, about the state of the school, we noticed what impact kindness can have from a leader. We left feeling inspired and desperately hoping to return or hear about the exciting future of the school. If I was a student, I know that after graduation, I would look back and wonder if I'd ever find anything as unique and impactful as FALA.
To me, all this screams the importance of openness to worldviews, honesty of personhood, and the power of creativity and play in childhood development. The severe structure of other school systems doesn't allow for this degree of play, nor this degree of expression to mature students to higher levels of academic prowess. If, as a society, we wish to continue growing our students into the innovative adults we expect them to be, and if we want our society to improve its quality of living, we need to allow our children freedom in their schools to become unstoppable learners without force-teaching them. We need to allow our students to learn, to express, and figure things out on their own.
Heavy applause to the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, for being a charter school willing to engage their students in a new, creative, artistic way of learning that allows their students to prosper and gain hope for a better future.
In other news, I went to the Grand Canyon on Halloween, the day after my experience with FALA, and I thought I'd include it on this blog, because it has created a similar memory hole in my mind. This one is more... purty. You know. Nature, and stuff.
I've been to the GC before, but only briefly with my parents. This was Nick's first time, and since it was Halloween, we decided to bring the holiday to the park, dressing up as the scariest thing anyone could ever encounter at any National Park.
Our shirts and shorts say "Good to be Bad" and "Bad to be Good."
I know. Glorious. You'd be surprised how many dirty looks we got from the older crowd and the foreign crowd.
Well, maybe you're not surprised. They either didn't understand the reference, or were at the GC on Halloween in order to avoid the reference.
If anyone loved our costumes, it was the park rangers, who even gave us tips on how to be the most obnoxious. You'll notice in the following picture, I have a fanny pack with a map sticking out of it. That map was pulled out WAY too often and, yes, I did walk while reading it.
We walked approximately 6 miles, according to my inaccurate cell-phone app. My biggest complaint of the GC (in character of course) was how bad the cell service was. At least I got to take a lot of pictures of those surreal sky portraits. We even made a few friends who greeted us every time they saw us, including an older woman who took a picture of us and sent it to her friend Theresa who responded with a text saying, "OMG bring them home."
Hiking down into the canyon, walking the "time trail," and enjoying a cocktail at sunset are included in the festivities for the day... As well as trying to fend off all the foreign women who thought we were cute.
Those silly Dutch.
In the end, it was a grand day, and we had a canyon full of fun. Seeing the beauty of it really made me awe at the glory of creation. Unfortunately, the park was pretty much like mother nature's version of Disney World. Too many people and too much commercialism to enjoy the art as much as it deserves to be enjoyed. After all was said and done, we went back to Flagstaff to see what other Halloween fun we could have. The city provided some candy for us at the hotel, a bad burger poorly served by Cleopatra, and the comical observations of hundreds of drunk sith lords.
All in all... I guess it was a good weekend. :)