Open School Dreams
By Michelle McMonigal, Class of ‘73
If I wrote a long essay, my memories and perceptions would echo much of the same themes others have mentioned including independent thinking, allowing for differences and encouraging creativity. And, following your dreams. It was a unique time in history that propelled the amazing concept of Open School. The force to get it started was immense with staff, teachers and families working day and night to get the building ready, enroll kids and put a curriculum together. So, as a junior, I enrolled in Fall 1971.
It was pretty loose the first few years. After 9 years of Catholic school I relished being able to spend much of my day planning volleyball, chess, knitting and reading. “Our Bodies” and “Minnesota Indians” were two classes that forced my eyes wide open looking both inward and out. Joe Nathan took a group of us to several Indian reservations around the state. We stayed with families in their homes, ate fried bread and were dispelled of all the myths the history books had taught us.
Friday’s were “Soup Day” led by Brenda L. making pots of healthy soup for whoever wanted some. We also baked many loaves of whole wheat bread. This was just one of many activities that promoted unlikely friendships, collaboration and learning by trial and error that have forever guided me in life. And, dang, we had fun.
My advisor, Dave Evertz, was the first adult (sorry mom and dad) who asked me about me. I remember being so stunned that I went mute. After going down to the smoking room and sucking down a couple of Marlboro’s, I came back up to have a real conversation. He was an incredible mentor who guided me through my junior and senior years. I was fortunate enough to continue our friendship after I became I teacher in St. Paul.
Sometime in April of my senior year, Bill Cavanaugh, the school counselor stopped me in the hall and asked me if I was going to college. “Probably”, was likely my answer. I hadn’t so much as looked at a college bulletin. It was clearly a different time, but somewhat a miracle that after applying for fall term in May, with a high school transcript that hardly met the academic requirements, I was accepted into 4-year college. I think Bill must have written a very kind recommendation letter although he never even mentioned it.
Being immersed in a school culture of adults who were genuinely interested in students was a gift. The dedication of Joe, Bill and Dave (along with many, many others) truly shaped my career choice in education. Most important, but most difficult to put into words, was having the experience of developing respectful relationships with teachers. Each day, I strive to carry a little bit of Open School in my work remembering what’s most meaningful for students.