Hilltop Middle School is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have been transformed. It started the first week of school when we went to Upland. My mind was flooded, thoughts that I couldn’t comprehend were everywhere. I realized that I am a part of something so much bigger than what I could fully understand. I felt that I was exploding with self expression: poetry, journaling and painting. There was something inside of me that felt so right. It was there, in the woods, I felt a deeper connection to myself and to others. I know not everyone feels the same way about being in nature, but for the first time this did not bother me. I discovered that my friends, teachers, and classmates respect my differences and opinions.
Hilltop has made me claim my education, made me accountable for my education, which was perfect, because then I could use my hands to shape and mold my education.
Hilltop is where I found my voice, my feet, where I was not only challenged, but expected to think critically and deeply, questioning and interacting constantly with my surroundings and my communities.
What I’m taking from Hilltop is more than just math or history, it’s humility, it’s optimism, it’s friendship, and it’s kindness. These are lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
My teachers at Hilltop nurtured my curiosity and love of books and nature and gave me a strong academic foundation that positioned me well to further develop my skills and knowledge during my later studies.
This school experience that you have provided for my sons has opened up a whole new way of looking at their world. It is thrilling to be a part of this community that respects children for who they are and provides such relevant and creative academic challenges.
When Hattie came home from school today, she drew her first circle, which then served as the backdrop to her usual abstract artistic creations. Later in the evening, with Lee watching and cheering her on from FaceTime, Hattie built a seven-block tower. She carefully placed the blocks with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on the top, taking time to think through her tower and make the necessary corrections. She was so proud of her finished product: a perfectly constructed triangular tower. After she mastered size gradation, she gained confidence and became more experimental, balancing larger blocks on smaller blocks, multiple blocks on a singular block, and even using the one open side on each block to overtake other blocks. I describe this experience to illustrate how Hattie is learning to problem-solve and create. Thank you, Ellie and Hannah, for providing her with the lessons and the creative space that have helped to foster this confidence, fearlessness, and joy in learning.
Each piece of my experience taught me a lesson I will hold dear forever: the quadratic formula, five paragraph essay structure, standing where Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth led many in the Civil Rights struggle. Each piece of knowledge or experience I have gained has been woven into a chrysalis. Memories, feelings, encounters, inexplicable discoveries: steam rising in the crisp air of the morning from my hot cocoa at Upland, discovering how the removal of cat tumors fits into the greater Brattleboro community, the constant joking banter I share with my teachers, young Alabama children’s arms wrapped around my neck. It is not just facts or lessons I have gained here, it is experiences, relationships, fascinating connections of how we live, all stitched into creating the whole of what I have become. Every color painted onto my wings, from minuscule realizations to obvious encounters, has changed me as a human in this world.
It was seventh grade, and I sat on the rock in the sunny clearing on my quarter acre Upland plot and listened. I felt the warmth of the September sun, I heard the leaves rustling, and I watched a chipmunk scurry across the ground; I was surrounded by life in a moment of perfect calm.
It was spring, and we slipped and climbed over large rocks covered in moss as we followed the path of the river. We stopped to measure the slant of the river, touch the different types of sediment, collect and measure rocks of all sizes, and pick up the trash floating downstream. And as we felt the water running through our toes, we began to understand what a watershed was.
On our River of Spirit odyssey, as we sang in churches and synagogues of Boston, we let our voices blend together and rise up to the ceiling. In that moment, it didn’t matter what we were singing about, or even what language we were singing, it just mattered that we were singing together.
I think for most of my life, I’ve always been a wanderer. I was able to realize that about myself and keep wandering because of the feeling of acceptance I had during my time at Hilltop. That’s what reminded me of one of the earliest memories of when I arrived here. It took place in fifth grade during recess on the playground. I had decided for the first time to get in line to play four square. I waited a really long time and didn’t know any of the rules. When it was finally my turn I stumbled up, and the ball came at me, and I whacked at it, and someone said, “Archer you’re out,” and that’s when I walked away toward the back of the line, and soon I started crying…
But instead of laughing at me for crying, someone asked me if I was ok. They told me how they got hit in the face with the ball the first time they played that game. Everyone was so kind me and tried to cheer me up, make me feel better, and gave me the signal that it was the right community for me.
The same thing that happened in that story was what seemed to happen to me when I came to Hilltop. I think it was in third or fourth grade when I was given a small writing assignment. The prompt was that I was supposed to write what I wished I could have more of in school. And what I wrote was that I wanted more opportunities to be creative. I said that because I just felt really tired of walking in single file lines and sitting at a desk and filling out little story problem sheets. But later, in my 7th grade year, I was really frustrated with how vague the assignments I was getting were. I felt really angry at the fact that I had so many choices. I thought it was too hard.
I felt like I just wanted to do normal school work. And then I remembered that same writing assignment from so long ago, and it reminded me of how I had wanted so badly to do something in school that could go in many directions, and how I have always wandered away whenever I could because in school I felt so deprived of a chance to do that, and now I was frustrated that I had gotten what I wanted. It’s basically like driving down the highway and being so tired of following directions that you take the road map you had in the passenger seat and tear it up and crumple it into a ball and roll down the car window and throw it out onto the street, then later when you’re lost, being mad that your GPS broke.
To the people who helped tell my story, Dan, Tom, Nora, Paul, and Finn, I would like to say thank you and goodbye.
I came here, to this place, where the curriculum was, “ What does it mean to be human?”. What lesson can be more meaningful than that? This lesson is not an everyday school lesson, not a lesson where a guidance counselor comes in, tells you to be respectful and that bullying is not allowed. No, these lessons are something far greater, lessons of dignity, humanity, and empathy. These lessons are not only taught in the classroom, but also in circle, in seminars in the forest, cutting firewood, apprenticing, and night walks in Upland where you have to trust the person in front of you.
For me, the most important lessons were those that helped me understand who I truly am and gave me a greater awareness of my place in the world. There has been nowhere else, besides Hilltop, where I have been able to show my personality, my confidence in life, and my eagerness for learning.