Ushering In A New Year: Executive Director Reflections

Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

While Fall is not yet officially here, the days are shorter, the light is thinner, leaves are tinged with yellow, and Common Ground High School is filled with students — all clear indicators that fall is upon us. I was excited to help “orient” 60 new freshmen the first week of school. This is the largest class of incoming freshman we have ever had. To be honest I am not sure how they are all able to fit in the school, but they seem to be managing so far! I see my role at orientation as helping to introduce incoming freshman to the idea that, by joining Common Ground High School, they have become important members of a broader community that has an important mission: to cultivate habits of healthy living and sustainable environmental practice to a diverse community of children, young people and adults. As a way of starting this conversation we engaged in an activity designed to help our freshmen think about our relationship to resources such as water, energy, food, and not least of all people, and what our mission has to say about these relationships. Through this exercise we started to develop a basic understanding of what “healthy” and “sustainable” might mean, and why “diversity” is important to our mission.

This brief activity is our freshman’s first exposure to the idea that there is more to being a student at Common Ground High School than meets the eye. Yes, there is important academic work to be done, standards to meet, tests to be taken, performance tasks to be mastered. But just as important is what our students learn by becoming contributing members of the broader Common Ground community, a community that extends far beyond the borders of our site, includes many partners and engages our students in real work on real issues that need real solutions. This engagement with community is an important source of learning about individual character, about the different ways that leadership can manifest itself, and about the importance of supporting civil society. Our hope is that over the 4 years they spend here our students will fully embrace our mission and work to further its goals — and that they will continue to step up as leaders after they leave us as graduates.

The capstone of freshman orientation is an overnight campout on our site. For many, this is their first experience sleeping outdoors. That afternoon before dinner we sent everyone off on a scavenger hunt to familiarize them with our site and the many different ways we use it to help achieve our broader mission. It was a brutally hot day, but I was impressed with the enthusiasm and determination that was displayed as these new members of the Common Ground community struggled to interpret a set of complex instructions and read maps to find the clues scattered across the site. The clues they collected were assembled into a poem by Mary Oliver. The poem may not have meant much to them that day, but my hope is that during their time at Common Ground they will come to understand and appreciate it as much as I do. Enjoy.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


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