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Anna Monders

Joyful Education

Three years spent reveling in creativity, curiosity, and learning. Heritage School was where my academic and creative selves germinated and rooted deeply. Like educational gardeners, Glen and Elaine created a learning environment so rich and so nurturing that not only did my reading, math, writing, social, and artistic skills blossom while at Heritage, but my time there planted the seed of loving to learn, which has continued to grow profusely for over twenty years.

Some memories:

It was 1986 and I was a third grader in my first year at Heritage. I chose a research project on dolphins. During the weeks of the study, I read books from the library, took notes, and put together a wall display with pictures I had drawn and informational text. I also had to give a presentation on my topic in front of the whole school. Not all the kids my age had to give presentations, but Glen and Elaine felt like I was ready, and despite my misgivings – I had never done anything like that before! Why me? In front of the whole school! – I stood up, shared what I had learned about my topic, and was so proud afterwards. I did not know I could do it, but Glen and Elaine knew.

Our daily silent reading time after lunch was my favorite part of the day. After a good game of capture-the-flag outside, I loved coming inside, taking out my book, and finding a place to curl up and read – a spot on the couch, some pillows on the floor, or in the (student-made) Taj Mahal. Every time I finished a book, I got to write down the title, author, and number of pages on an index card and add it to my growing collection in a little box on Glen’s desk. Sometimes I would add up how many hundreds – or thousands – of pages I had read since the beginning of the school year.

One of my favorite books was Pippi Longstocking. For a “creative book report” assignment, I wrote a missing chapter to the book, complete with Pippi tap-dancing on the keys of her piano and finding that it really sounded good. Since we both had two long braids and abundant freckles, Pippi became my alter ego. Although my braids did not generally stick straight out from my head like those of my Swedish heroine, one morning I convinced my mother to braid a wire clothes hanger into my hair so I could really be Pippi. Glen and Elaine welcomed Pippi into the school that day, saying what a pity it was that her greatest fan, Anna, was absent and would miss out on meeting her…

Anna dressed as Pippi

One year we held a beauty contest. For words. Each of the older kids campaigned for a word of their choice. The younger students were the judges. One boy wrote MARMALADE! on twenty-some balloons and handed them out. Everybody gave a campaign speech. When the big day of the awards ceremony arrived, the judges secluded themselves in the art room with Elaine for what seemed like hours of suspense. They were not just coming to an agreement on the winners for first, second, and third place, but they also created an appropriate award for each word in the contest. I won the prize for hardest word to say with my telling choice of “bibliography.”

The year I studied Kenya for the International Festival, I made a paper-maché giraffe as tall as I was. The International Festival was always one of the highlights of the year. Weeks of dedicated research and exuberant creativity preceded the day when everyone’s family would be invited to an extravaganza of artwork, puppet shows, information, and crafts representing every corner of the globe. My giraffe was such a memorable project and I looked back on it with such nostalgia, that I tried to recreate it in eleventh grade. (I ended up not with a giraffe that time, but with a new word: girlamal. A rare creature graced with certain features of giraffes, llamas, and camels.) My early studies of Brazil, Kenya, and Ireland, as well as what I learned from other students’ projects, launched a fascination with different cultures which eventually led me to spend two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a village in Gabon, Africa.

Whirligig, whirligig, whirligig beetle! Water striders, dragonflies, damselflies, and more. We were doing a unit on aquatic biology before a field trip to Silver Creek Falls. I went around chanting, “Whirligig, whirligig, whirligig beetle!”

Fifth grade was a storytelling and story writing year. I would sit with a friend during break and lunch, telling stories back and forth for weeks in a row, usually handing off the narrating role in the middle of some seemingly irresolvable crisis (often, though, Willy Wonka – of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame – would appear in our story in the nick of time and whisk us off to apparent safety in his great glass elevator). During writing time, we would hand our stories back and forth to each other, continuing where the other had left off, until we had at least two volumes in the Pencil Monster saga. It was hard to remember that I had been something of a reluctant writer in my first two years at Heritage.

One day we were all walking down the street to have our lunch in Wilson Park across from the YMCA. Seeing the group of us, a stranger asked Elaine if we all were her children. No, but yes.

I did not want to leave Heritage when my family moved after my fifth grade year, but two thousand miles was just too far to travel on a daily basis. I came down with an incurable case of Heritage-nostalgia. I went back to visit when I was in town after eighth grade, but later, as I survived high school and then thrived in college, I lost touch with Glen and Elaine for a number of years. My path went from Peace Corps to a real job to graduate school. I still frequently thought about my time with Glen and Elaine, and yes, secretly wished I could trade in work or school for more years at Heritage. (With my hair still in two braids, no one would notice I was not ten years old anymore, would they?)

I have found that it is unusual to be able to go back to important childhood places and still find a strong connection to the spot. Visiting Heritage some twenty years after my time there, however, felt like I had indeed come home. I found Glen and Elaine nurturing, encouraging, supporting, and challenging a new generation of students with the same obvious care that I had received in my education. The school’s location was different but the learning was as vibrant as ever. The art and writing, the structure and dedication, and the creativity and enthusiasm were intimately familiar to me; not only had I grown up with them, but I still carried them with me. Adapting the title of one of my books from 1989, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, the Heritage experience could be called Joyful Education: A Gift From Two Teachers.

Biographical note: I graduated summa cum laude from Whitman College with a B.A. in geology in 1999. The following year, I started my two-year Peace Corps service in Gabon, Africa. While working a regular job after Peace Corps, it started becoming clear that translation and “playing with words” were things I loved. Near the end of the 40-hour train ride that carried me to graduate school at MIT, my hesitations about starting a program in geology crystallized with a sentence that came to me and would not loosen its grip: I want to help marginalized voices be heard. The phrase grew out of working with and hearing the stories of trafficked children in Gabon, as well as recognizing my joy in writing and translating. The intellectual enthusiasm of my peers and faculty at MIT sustained me during the two years of my Master’s degree, but I could not continue in the doctoral track knowing that my passion was elsewhere. After a one-year interlude teaching a small group of home-schooled children in an off-the-grid cooperative school, I entered the French Translation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. I graduated in 2009 and currently teach French, do part-time scientific consulting work, and write.

Anna Monders
Heritage School student, 1986-1989

Anna and Elaine

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