Glacier Lake School in St. Ignatius drew an international teaching talent for fall semester.
Maud Bijl de Vroe, a teacher from Holland, is the daughter of a diplomat, and spent her school years in many different countries.
She met the School’s founders, Ben Kestner and Lisa Pavlock, when she was in an international high school in Berlin.
Lisa was her soccer and basketball coach; Ben was her younger brother’s middle school principal.
When Maud learned they had started a school, she was intrigued by its premise, that children could direct their own education and activities in a democratically run school. This fall, she came to see it for herself.
Maud enjoyed the chance to work with students in a completely different role than she was used to in traditional school. Her observations, she said, gave her a lot to think about even when she returns to that setting.
At the School, students sign up for classes they are interested in, and even sometimes teach their own.
The rest of the time, they learn to interact with each other, create their own activities, and, as one might expect of children, play.
Maud co-taught French and Current World Events with Lisa, and started an embroidery class and an acrobatics/yoga class. She gave presentations on Holland and on hike she had taken through the French and Swiss Alps.
She also played a lot of soccer.
“This was such a neat community to fall into,” Maud says. “There were so many nice kids and fun things happening, and always something going on. And everyone’s really welcoming.”
“There were a lot of things I really liked about it, that resonated with me,” she says. She gives an example, the “sense of responsibility kids get.”
“Even young kids are capable of so many things, and often I think that responsibility is taken away from them because they just have to kind of follow and sit and listen.”
She noticed that they respond to adults more as equals. They are comfortable making their case for something that’s important to them, and not simply accepting being told what to do.
The different role of adults at the school “takes some getting used to,” Maud observed.
Sometimes it felt “weird,” she says, “because the kids were so busy doing their own things. You find ways to keep busy, sorting books or other needed tasks, because you feel like you have to be useful. But you are always available to them when they need you. You do more reacting, responding to the interests of the students,” very different from her experience running a traditional classroom, she says.
Another thing she learned, Maud says, is how important play is. “What kids do is play together, and they don’t really seem to get sick of it. I feel that is such a valuable thing that isn’t really around enough in the traditional system.”
Many of the traditional subjects are discovered by students in their own way. She gave an example of an artistic student studying the chemistry of paint pigments and bases.
Maud says the environment tends to create less stress about performing or keeping up with peers, and students are supportive of each other. “Even if there are kids that might be labeled with learning disabilities or behavioral difficulties, it’s not something you notice as much because it’s just in a more natural setting where it doesn’t matter as much. You don’t see it as much in this setting where they can be more free with what they do.”
New students are challenged to figure out how to direct their own day just as Maud was.
“At first, they just looked around and seemed so lost,” she says. “And then, pretty quickly, they started just doing things because everyone else is doing things. After a while it just looked so natural, it seemed like they’d always been there.”
Maud says it is “amazing” what Ben and Lisa have been able to do with the school.
“It’s an insane amount of work and responsibility. To take something they believe in so strongly, and just go for that, I was really impressed with that.”