The following was written by Sonja Martineau, Keene State College student and intern in the Crotched Mountain School marketing department.
One staff follows a young boy as he weaves between desks and conversation. Two staff tell us about their experiences working in the unique school program at Crotched Mountain for young children, when we hear a third erupt in joyous wonder,
“He’s never done this before!”
The “he” is an eight-year-old boy who has just written on the chalkboard. Independently. This is significant because it’s the first time the staff has seen him “self-initiate” the action. What may seem like a common occurrence in other schools is, in this setting, with this child, a huge win—a milestone for which the young boy receives cheers from the other students in the room.
Within moments, the staff and teachers give the boy a verbal high-five. He responds with a slight, fleeting smile of pride before returning to his otherwise somber countenance. The momentous event is punctuated by the re-arrival of the first child who’s made another pass through the room with his teacher, Travis, hot on his heels. A container topples. Small pieces of something I can’t identify skitter under a table and across the room.
I am immersed in a typical school day at Crotched Mountain School’s education program for its youngest students, and I am not surprised by the words the teachers use to describe the qualities one needs to work in this active and fast-paced program. There is a consistency to their responses:
Later, they explain that many of children are here because they could not find safety or stability at home and/or school. Some have been neglected, abused, even unloved. And more frequently now, their circumstances are connected to the opioid crisis. Most students have developmental deficits and/or emotional/behavioral issues and Crotched Mountain School can be both their last resort and their first haven. At this stage in their young lives, there is still time to have a positive impact. Though all involved in the program are working to return the children to their homes and public schools, many will not see these dreams come to fruition; some will be placed in foster homes or adopted.
As I listen to the employees speak of their charges, we hear words like “sensitive,” “big-hearted,” “caring,” and “compassionate” in their descriptions. The children understand that there are repercussions for their actions, and they work on achieving educational and behavioral goals to earn rewards like swimming, bowling, bicycle riding, skiing, and sledding.
I am immediately struck by the fact that though the children have arrived with huge challenges, they are still able to show compassion for others. Upon hearing how their education is delivered, I begin to understand how this could be so. The teachers meet the kids where they are, rather than trying to fit them into a cookie-cutter mold.
The teachers meet the kids where they are, rather than trying to fit them into a cookie-cutter mold.
And when things aren’t going well, the teachers push through it, they keep going. They seek out the “little wins” of the day and capitalize on them. They find ways to say “yes” to children who’ve spent a large part of their lives being told, “no.” They treat each child as a blank slate and they ensure that each child feels they have been listened to during the day. (I cannot help but think about how every child’s life could be improved if these same philosophies were applied globally.)
Most poignant of all the discussions today is the story a teacher shares with us. She was a witness the day a boy frist arrived at Crotched Mountain School. He stepped out of a taxi with a garbage bag carrying his belongings. A young life in one trash bag. For this child, academics was a secondary consideration. What he needed first was to have food and shelter—to feel safe, and cared about, something that will only be achieved through consistency.
Walking back to the office, I am greeted by the blare of a fire alarm and the beauty of a sudden snow squall. The cafeteria employees are standing outside awaiting re-admittance as we’re quickly being covered with huge snowflakes. While waiting, I ask the staff what it’s like when “The Littles” visit the cafeteria.
We’re met with a single prevailing response: “Fun!”