Chapter 10 Newsletter
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”
— Rollo May
The Newsletter was an absolutely essential part of the school, and was Bindo’s baby.
For many years, Bindo sat at her desk, typing the newsletter on her electric typewriter onto mimeograph paper, then ran off copies on the Gestetner, and collated and stapled the pages together. Sometimes she had “little elves” that helped her. This was Bindo’s fan club, kids that loved her and wanted to spend time in her company.
The newsletter bore the logo of a little sun with dancing feet and a smile on its lips. It included the words “Sharing…Caring,” favoured by Bindo.
Before the kids went home on Fridays, they met in a circle in their family rooms, and received their newsletters. Many of them began to read them as soon as they had them in their hands. Family teachers would point out the draws for the next week, or the limited offerings, as well as any offering that they thought would interest their kids.
The back page contained the week’s schedule. The offerings that would be given that week, along with the descriptions from each staff member or member of the community who was offering them, were there.
Besides offerings, the newsletter advertised up-coming events, gave reminders, asked for volunteers, or anything that affected the school community. It was a place for news items, announcements, sometimes for children’s stories or poems, appreciations, or concerns for the community to consider.
The school eventually purchased a copier, and abandoned the old Gestetner with its inky fumes. Bindo “owned” this machine on Friday mornings, to put out the newsletter. If there was a glitch of some sort, we might not receive the newsletter until last family time, or even beyond. I remember asking the family to wait a little longer, past dismissal time, until the newsletter arrived. There would be no way of selecting the next week’s offerings without this important document.
Before the winter break or at the end of the year, Paul would create a cover page for the newsletter, and the staff and parents who were present would sign it. Sometimes quotations were featured. Sometimes there were jokes or riddles.
On the week-end, usually Sunday night, Sundance families would read their newsletters, take out their booklets, and choose offerings for the next week. If there was a draw, kids would have to make a second choice.
Back in 1976, when I first became a Sundance parent, I tried to find something I could do to contribute. With a little one at home, it was difficult to do many offerings, so I decided to make up a skills survey the parents, asking what they’d like to share with the kids, how often and when they would be available, and so on. Then on Fridays I’d take out the schedule for the following week and see which offerings could use parent helpers. I’d call up the parents and solicit help.
Sometimes the Newsletter featured writings by kids. Sometimes parents or staff posted appreciations for other staff or parents for their support. Issues such as health or the environment, as they related to Sundance, were presented. Educational directions the staff were taking that week or that month, in the never-ending debate over more or less freedom of choice, were laid out on the newsletter pages, as well.
As Justine Kruz remembers:
When I look back 20 years to the year that I began at Sundance I don’t remember learning about rules, long division, prepositions or having homework. But I do remember sitting at home Sunday looking at the upcoming offerings for the week and making careful choices so that I could make everything I wanted to do fit into my schedule. I was always at a loss when there was a conflict, which did I want to do more – drama with Paul where I could work on learning the parts of the 3 witches from Macbeth or Pirates in the gym with Doug when nothing was off limits and we hung from the climber like monkeys. Would I rather go work on creative writing with Giles or play Oregon Trail on the Macintosh computers in Amber’s room? And then there were the offerings that were limited in numbers, if I didn’t get to do pottery with Sue, or make applesauce with Bronwen, would I rather play outside or build a nest and parachute for an egg with Louisa. The choices overwhelmed my 10-year-old self, what if my friends choose different things altogether and I was all alone in an offering? Then what would I do?
Once offerings were chosen I had to come up with some goals. My Mom usually wouldn’t let me write the same goal as the week before. So the “what to write” question loomed large in my mind. She would usually sign my booklet without too many comments if it looked reasonable, but if my only goal was “to have fun” then I would be sent back to think of something that I actually had to work towards because she knew that I would have fun.
And then after offering choices and goals for the week were made I had to think about what I wanted to share at family time on Monday morning. What had I done that I wanted to talk about? What would everyone else be sharing? What else would be on the schedule for family time? Would we be talking about the upcoming family potluck (don’t forget your plates) or the family play for the winter concert? Oh the play, I was fraught with anxiety over remembering my lines the year that Louisa’s family did Millicent and the Wind. I was Millicent and I was terrified that I would forget my lines, all 6 of them.
What else could I look forward to in the coming week? Would there be any announcements for the upcoming Outdoor Club camping trip or would we hear about what the Grad Play was going to be that year? Would there be a Sock hop scheduled, a school sleepover planned or a lunchtime practice of Air bands where we could argue about who got to sing Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. Would the other girls and I hide behind the Art School talking about upcoming sleepovers or would we play keep- away in the field with the boys? Would the drama that is a part of the life of a pre-teen girl loom large in my life in the upcoming week or would it be smooth sailing?
All of these questions and more used to run through my mind on a Sunday night as I sat down with the weekly newsletter and my booklet. But when I look back at my time in elementary school I remember the laughter, the joy and the adults who worked tirelessly to make the community of learners at Sundance into more than just another school, we were a family.
It’s clear that the newsletter was an indispensable structure, a scaffold that gave form to this “unstructured” school. It also brought families together to discuss what was happening in the school community, helped non-readers learn to read, got kids communicating with their friends to make plans for the week, and gave responsibility to the kids for creating a week that worked for them.