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A Learning Environment of Mutual Respect
Lindsey Forsyth, Stanley Clark Parent

Peyton blowing a bubble for a science lab

Confianza. It's a term I had never heard, but when I learned its meaning from a friend whose job is to instruct educators about teaching children rather than subjects, it was one of those "eureka" moments for me. This single nine-letter word captured what I've struggled to articulate to those curious about our experience at Clark. This "it factor" that has completely changed the way my daughter views herself and her unique purpose in an increasingly performance-driven, results-based, competitive world. Before I get to its meaning, though, permit me to back up and explain what brought us to Stanley Clark.

Before 2020, I thought I knew my three kids. I mean, after all, I'm their mom! They were happy, active children, and all did well at a rigorous K-8 school that we really love. In fact, our boys are still students, and we are actively engaged parents within their school community. While the boys enjoyed free time after school, their older sister often spent considerable time attempting to complete homework. What instructors agreed should have taken 30 minutes sometimes took 2+ hours, leaving us frustrated and discouraged. While the lack of balance for her was concerning, we used it as an opportunity to applaud her work ethic and celebrate the achievement of progress over scores. But in the back of my mind, I panicked. How was high school going to go? How long can this creative, resourceful, hard-working little girl spin her wheels until she exchanges her appreciation for what she can do with an acute awareness of what she can't, relative to her peers? What will that mean to her love of learning and, more importantly, her love of self?

And then came another unfamiliar word that totally rocked my world, and probably yours, too – COVID. When it became clear that education was going to look radically different, we decided to try homeschooling. To prepare for the year, I took a six-week homeschool teaching course (if I'm being honest, though, nothing could have prepared me for that year. Kudos to all the teachers!). I learned about the various forms of education, the different ways people process information, etc., but what I found most striking was the revelation that there are nine forms of intelligence. Sadly, in most educational environments, only two of these forms are developed and assessed. Two! As I plunged headfirst into a year of teaching 2nd, 4th, and 5th grades, I began to truly appreciate not only this assertion as I saw it play out in the material, but I saw first-hand how my three kids (1) all learned SO differently, (2) benefited from the 3:1 student/teacher ratio, and (3) felt empowered when given freedom of choice in some of their lessons. While it felt good to see them doing well in such bizarre COVID-induced circumstances, I was nervous about how reintegration into traditional school would look for my daughter. And that's when I started to seriously consider more fitting options.

Peyton performing in a school play

Fast forward to spring 2021; we found our way to Michelle Kuehn at Stanley Clark. I was prepared to run for the hills in the event that she'd "sell" us on why Clark was the best fit for Peyton despite having never met her. However, I was quite pleased with our initial conversation and the thoughtful questions she asked about our soon-to-be sixth grader. She made sure she understood her needs as a student and, more importantly, as an individual who is growing and developing and looking down the barrel at a total overhaul of social environment after an already isolating year. We toured the school, learned more about HOW subjects were taught and met some faculty and staff. Michelle is amazing with carrying this torch, so I won't waste your time on my sub-par explanation of the brass tacks and student/teacher ratio. The more I learned, though, the more Peyton's future at Clark came into clearer focus. And when I sought input from some very trusted, seasoned tutors who knew Peyton well, the words that hit me hardest were, "All the schools you're considering are great. But the kids at Clark, just observing them in the hallways and during study hall, are all so happy to be there." So, we made our choice on those three things: curriculum/style of teaching, class size, and a desperate need for our very bright, creative, right-brained child to see herself as we see her, this package of joy, light, curiosity, and passion just waiting for ignition, waiting to be unpacked and discovered. We were hoping our daughter would rekindle what we, again, feared was fading every day: a love of learning and love of self.

Here we sit, over a year later, wishing we had known to consider the change sooner. The hands-on nature of her lessons, the way fun and teamwork are injected into what could otherwise be mundane, and how the material connects to real-life situations have breathed new life into Peyton's journey. I've always felt the pressure of walking the fine line between providing scaffolding to support her efforts and over-supporting her to where she becomes ill-equipped for life's next stage. But at Clark, we have found that middle ground. Teachers ask a lot of her. They challenge these kids and prepare them for the rigors of high school. The kids have deadlines, projects, and a decent homework routine. But they celebrate their efforts and the nuances of their skill sets that make them each vital members of the classroom. The Clark team authentically sees EACH of our kids for who they are and inspires the kids to do the same with each other. They give them choices and develop far more than just two of nine forms of intelligence in so many ways, weaving in well-rounded leadership and stewardship in the white space in between. The kids attempt new experiences in non-judgmental settings, so they learn the value of pushing through comfort zones, failing, and ultimately learning from their mistakes. They encourage them to dabble in things they've never done and bond over shared interests outside of the classroom.  

Peyton playing violin

So, confianza. It's something I didn't know to look for as I was stuck in all the details in 2021, but I encourage you to look for it if you're evaluating your options. It's a Latin American term describing the way in which two parties respectfully honor one another. In a school setting, it's about teachers meeting each one of their students where they're at, being open to learning from their students, and students learning from one another. It's this idea of interconnection, empathy, trust, and fondness based upon consistently showing up for one another. It's middle school kids who value independence and being treated like adults but who are expected to act accordingly for such privileges. 

Within this environment, we've watched our daughter blossom into a self-confident, enthusiastic, eager student and friend. More importantly, we've witnessed her flourish under the light of belonging and connection. And for the first time in a while, we're not looking into what's next and planning for what happens after 8th grade. Rather, we are basking in the beauty of Peyton's self-discovery, her very positive response to feeling seen and heard for WHO SHE IS, and wishing time wouldn't slip through our fingers so quickly. But as it does, we are grateful for the way in which the Clark community has somehow mastered the art of confianza, this warm embrace for my daughter that has so deeply touched this mama's heart. 

Peyton with friends dressed up for the Halloween parade

About the Author

Lindsey Forsyth

Lindsey Forsyth

Stanley Clark Parent


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  • middle school

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