Note for future Halloweens: always take pictures of kids in their costumes at the beginning of the day to capture the meticulous and detailed aspects of each character. End of day at Brightworks looks a little worn…







Not that they’re any less cute and creative.

All told, it was a surprisingly low key day, the sun was out, the costumes were fantastic, and the neighbors were happy to see kids with bags of apples during this afternoon’s reverse trick-or-treating.





closure… or not.

It took me the weekend to try and figure out how to write the last blog post of the year – and it’s Monday and I still don’t really know how to say something that sufficiently closes things out in the last blog post of the 2012/2013 school year.


It’s been a whirlwind of a year, filled with triumphs and struggles, trials and tribulations, tears and laughter. Our last day of school was sweet and filled with good feelings about each other and our place as a community and a school in the world.



We ate lunch, courtesy of Debbie and her slew of volunteers, on a long table in the center of the space, had a dance party, signed memory books with parting thoughts and summer wishes, and had a closing circle of appreciations and celebration.






I’ve decided there’s no good way to write a post to find proper closure for a school year. Reflection is sometimes hard to share. And perhaps it’s a little too close to the end to write anything significant or with any wide view. This week, the staff is talking and thinking about the year and figuring out, again and again, how to do things better, and maybe more profound thoughts will come. In the meantime, I’ll say:

Brightworks is a joyfully hard school. The true meaning of those words came to light this year, but we also can state with pure pride that the school is an acknowledgement that education can be different and wonderful and an experience that makes kids happy and excited about their learning. We have so much to do in the upcoming months, but before we get there, we take a moment to celebrate the fact that this little impossible school just kicked and danced its way through a second year. And that’s pretty extraordinary.

ocean beach

Yesterday the whole school went to Ocean Beach for a day celebrating our school, the community we have built, and each other as cohorts in a beautiful and crazy year two of Brightworks. We got saltwater in our pants and sand in our ears and smothered each other in appreciation and had a grand adventure. Here are some photo highlights, find the rest of the fun on the flickr feed from yesterday.
















the truth

As the school documentarian and blogger, I have a very close-range view of the goings-on here as I sift through the daily photos and work with the kids and the staff. In looking back over the blog this year I realized that we don’t share the struggles of a growing school as much as we could. I wrote this last night, after a wonderful parents meeting where we watched one “outsider’s” view of our world.

the truth

I sit down to write the blog most days and think, “What is the best, most interesting story I can possibly tell about this day?” Nine times out of ten, I don’t have to think very hard; there are so many days where good things happen, excellent pictures capture beautiful moments of these kids thinking and working and playing in this strange new model of this school we are building.

Other days, it’s harder.

The truth is, there are beautiful ups and staggering downs in building a place like Brightworks. This is a place where we, the staff, the students, the parents, are constantly being asked really difficult questions, and it’s demanded that we have an answer, no matter if we’re completely sure about the response or not. We’ve all shed tears – at school or at home – about what this school is all about and the demands that it places on us. It’s hard not to get lost in the stress of what Brightworks is trying to be – it’s an untamed beast that has beautiful ideas about what it wants, but a more winding way of trying to get there. We work so hard to climb a hill that is seemingly unending and seems to get steeper the higher we climb. We have to constantly ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is right for the school and the kids, and if we’re doing something worth doing.

Brightworks is hard.

The truth is, looking at something so closely as we adults do every single day when we walk through that door at the front of the building that slams and dings and announces our presence is incredibly overwhelming. The truth is, it sometimes gets to us and we want someone to notice or make sense of the things we’re struggling with or just give us the answers. We stumble a little in the face of so many questions: How do we get the kids to engage? How do we know they’re learning? What is the right thing for this kid in this moment when he or she is facing this struggle in this exact moment? How? Why? What? Tell us! Now!


Then there are moments when we stop. We take a deep breath. We close our eyes and listen. There’s conversation at the dining tables. There’s math happening in the Phantoms’ band space. There’s some chop sawing happening in the workshop. Is that painting happening on the cork floor? A mouse being tracked by the Coyotes? The click-clacking of the keyboard where a Rubber Bander is typing madly on a research report or a short story? There’s a play being rehearsed by the Sand Leopards. There’s a budding artist watching an older mentor and learning what the life of an artist is really all about.

There are these faces:






And in those moments, we remember: this school is for the kids. They’re happy. They are curious and asking questions. They are listening and engaging in what they’re doing. They’re connecting the dots and grasping big, important ideas. They’re being wonderful, glorious pains in the butt because we ask and demand and challenge them to be critical thinkers and curious questioners. They aren’t just kids – they are incredibly intelligent, individual people with hearts and minds and eyes, people who have started to grab the world with their bare hands and ride it and want to change it and ask it to share its secrets. The school is there for them to do all that, and we release that great breath and remember that this place, this Brightworks, works.

Uyen, our researcher-in-residence, did a presentation tonight at the parent meeting about what she’s learned this year filming the kids during the three arcs. She spoke with incredible eloquence and grace about what she discovered as a researcher looking to see if children can understand and grasp the larger concepts like evolution and the scientific method at young ages. The amazing thing about it was that she, without any kind of prompting or outside influence, verified the hypothesis that Brightworks has been touting since the beginning: that yes, children can learn by doing. They can learn by building on concepts and being exposed to big ideas. Yes, they can be fearless and fail with confidence and take ownership over their work and become experts in their own areas of interest.

I write blog posts in moments like these – moments of great triumph, moments of beautiful learning that strangely have become the everyday thing for me. I know that the blog only shows off those moments and rarely does it get at the truth of how hard it is sometimes. But so often when we have a rough day at Brightworks, I forget that this school isn’t the mundane. Even at its toughest, weakest moments, it’s still extraordinary. It’s as complex as our kids’ projects: an exploration, an expression, a declaration of wanting something different for education. It’s trying something new, with best intentions and great courage. Most of the time now, we’re getting it right.

The truth is, though, that it takes moments like Uyen’s presentation or a day at MakerFaire to take a step back from the tough every day thing and remember that we’ve come a long way and we’re doing pretty alright. The truth is, Brightworks is hard. Moments of triumph are coupled with moments of great dissatisfaction and disappointment and sometimes, it’s really difficult to hold those great things up to the light to prove that, like Uyen said, Brightworks works.

But then there’s moments like these:





and the truth is, in those moments that happen by the dozen every day, whether they’re recognized or not, whether or not it’s as hard as hell to see them or understand them, Brightworks is what it says it wants to be. And the truth is, it’s worth every heartache for that.