Thursday, October 6, 2011

RV Road Trip

Image courtesy Volume Twenty Five

As I work on the charter application to start a public Montessori school in the fall of 2014, I want to observe at excellent schools all across the United States.

Initially, I figured I would have to wait until Henry was completely weaned before starting my journey. Even then, however, I wasn't quite sure who would take care of Henry. The trip itself would be very expensive with flights and rental cars, plus we would have to pay for childcare.

Then I had the idea that we could take a road trip as a family to look at schools, since Matt will be keeping his current job and telecommuting.

But right after I had that thought, I thought about the importance of the "prepared environment" as we try to raise Henry in the Montessori way. Staying with friends, camping, crashing at hotels, etc. would provide a very unstable and inconsistent environment for our young son.

But right after that thought, I had the idea that we could rent an RV and bring the prepared environment with us! How fun would that be?

It's something I'm thinking about...

If we were to bring this idea to fruition, what would be my next steps?
  • Make a list of schools I want to visit (by e-mailing Dr. Coe, Dennis Shapiro, David Kahn, AMS people, AMI people, posting on the AMS list-serv)
  • Contact the schools to make sure they are open to visitors
  • Plan our route
  • Price RV rentals
  • Put out feelers to see if anyone has an RV we could rent (by posting on my neighborhood list-serv)
  • Price storage rental

If we timed it right, we might be able to go on a trip before we move to Austin. That way, we could find a good rental house (a month in advance), and then travel around. But I'm not so sure that the timing will work out. November and December are pretty bad months to observe at schools because of all the holiday interruptions. But who knows. It might take us a long time to sell our house.

It's fun dwelling in possibility!

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stef said...

Hi Sara,
I'm curious as to why you decided to open the charter school route rather than teaching at a public school as a way to make a difference?

By way of context I'm just finishing off my teaching diploma and come from a country with a strong history of public schooling with private schools seen as for the wealthy elite (85
% of students attend public schools in New Zealand). We see it very much as a responsibility for the government to educate our citizens and provide high-quality schools no matter the area for our students and teachers to learn in.

So I often scratch my head in bewilderment at the American education system with its testing obsession and charter system.

Sorry if it sounds ranty, but I just don't understand how someone so passionate about social justice and education isn't working in a public school.

Btw, if you haven't already twitter is a fantastic place to find great classrooms to virtually visit.

Ellie said...

I personally love the idea of starting public Montessori schools - I think Montessori is a great program that should be accessible to all who want it (although it's not for everyone), and I hate that my only options for a Montessori education are to send my kids to private school or homeschool them, so more power to you for making Montessori accessible!

As for the road trip, something you should be aware of before you set out is that RVs get about 7-8mpg and are extremely hard to park and maneuver. I didn't know this until I had a coworker go on a RV trip cross-country (which actually ended with her husband getting run over by their car when he went to detach it, since they were towing their car so they could travel around in each place they went.) If you do rent an RV, rent the smallest one possible, because the difference between the ones based on a pickup truck base and a 24' RV makes a huge difference. But personally, the environmental implications of burning that much fuel are enough to turn me off of RVs. I think road tripping is a great idea, rather than flying, but also keep in mind that telecommuting on a road trip is really challenging (having watched my mom do it for years).

I think that you can probably come up with a pretty good way to create a prepared environment for Henry whether you are in an RV or not, since you are so creative!

jduda said...

Here is a school where I live:

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Stef! A charter school is a public school (whereas "vouchers" are used to pay for private school). Public schools and public charter schools are both open-enrollment. All children who come to the door must be served, regardless of what their needs are. Both types of schools receive public funding per child, based on attendance rates. Both types of schools administer the state assessments to measure student progress. I've worked in both environments, and the main difference is that public schools have to listen to the district office (about curriculum, length of school day, hiring/firing, etc.) while charter schools don't. They have to demonstrate good results, but they have the freedom to decide how to get those results.

Doing public Montessori in a district is very hard. You end up spending a lot of energy fighting the system instead of moving forward in creative and innovative ways. For example, at one of the public Montessori schools where I worked, the district decided that we needed to administer interim assessments in every subject area for every grade level every two weeks. As a Montessori school, we had a very difficult time administering the tests because we have three grade levels in every classroom, which meant we were supposed to administer 12 different tests every two weeks (which left no time for actually teaching!) On top of that, the tests were not useful measures of student progress because the sequence of our curriculum was different. Although our children should all meet the same expectations by the end of the year, they don't necessarily learn decimals in the same two-week period as the rest of the district.

It's those kind of blanket dictates that make implementing an alternative model in a traditional setting very difficult. I also want to have a longer school day, which is difficult in traditional public schools. I also want to move to a year-round schedule to minimize the knowledge loss that happens over the summer. I also want the freedom to hire and fire people based on performance, instead of seniority.

I could go on and on about this stuff! In short, yes, I am absolutely committed to public education. For me, charters are a way to work with the same children but to show the public system that a better model is viable and desirable.

Charter schools were designed to be incubators for innovation, so that new approaches could be tested out on a smaller scale and then shared back with the traditional public system. That's definitely my goal with Montessori For All. We will share everything we do (via publishing curriculum, presenting at conferences, updating a blog, publishing books, working as consultants for Montessori schools in the traditional public setting, etc.).

Please let me know if you have more questions!

Annalisa said...

as far as the RV goes, I've known a few people who have purchased an RV and been able to sell it, within a year, for the same amount or more. RV rentals are PRICEY.

Robyn said...

We just sold our 84 VW westfalia and miss it dearly. It really would be an almost ideal vehicle for such a trip, it got decent gas mileage and was really well designed to maximize small space. We often remarked that it would be perfect for camping or road tripping with little ones. It was also so easy to drive in cities and park since it was smaller than many SUVs. I say almost ideal because it had 200k (which is pretty normal) and didn't like to go over mountain passes or in hot temps. I think the newer Euro vans are much much better, just out of our price range. Perhaps consider looking into renting a Eurovan?

Bridey said...

Hi Sara, have you ever come across ? It's written by another Sara about her family & their RV adventures. They run their RV on straight vegetable oil to reduce the environmental impact. It's an interesting read!

stef said...

Thanks for you answer Sara,
The sort of stuff you mention about district-mandated tests just wouldn't fly here. I feel sad that the public schools are so constrained that charter schools needed.

Best wishes for your journey sounds exciting.


Kelly said...

I love that you're thinking outside the box! You're really making this whole school-starting adventure feel like an adventure!
Lauren (the cousin I mentioned) lived in an airstream for most of a year. I would feel free to email her for advice & thoughts if you like.

Sarah Gillespie said...

Hi Sara-
I know of a great public montessori school in DC. It's a part of the public school system and just got its very own building, after sharing with another school for the past few years. If you're interested in checking it out, please get in touch with me because I know many of the teachers and parents involved in making it a success.

Take care!

Sharpiegirl said...

Another option....

RV's ARE expensive to rent but you could check out some RV chatrooms to see if anyone would be interested in renting you their rig.
I lived in my parent's 33 foot 5th wheel for a year when I was going to college. It was larger than my first apartment. But there are other options too.

I could see you guys with a Casita. Small enough that some cars can pull them but big enough for your needs.

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