Areté's Fall Semester begins Thursday, September 10th. Our classes will remain 100% online until at least November 1, 2020.
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Falling Up Where the Colors of Education Blend Into Sounds of Joy

by Nicole Schubert

This past Ides of March, the world tripped on its shoe laces and, as most would say, fell down. Everything stopped and uncertainty filled the air. How long would we stay down? How bad would it hurt? Was there even a Band-Aid to put on our skinned knees?

As parents, we worried. What would our kids do when school went from the classroom to our homes? How would they focus and learn? How would they stay connected with their peers and teachers? How would we ever get that five minutes of coffee and serenity that only happens when they step out of the car or front door every morning? We didn’t know because they weren’t going anywhere. And forget about our own work!

But in this little corner of West LA, this one little parent, and perhaps a few more of you, discovered the beauty of Falling Up. Like in the poem by Shel Silverstein, when the main (and only) character trips on shoelaces and flies, the students at my 9th-grader’s school, Areté Prep, seemed to be flying in class, and I realized that his school had fallen up…“up where the colors blend into the sounds”…because the school got creative with the tech and brought the magic of their in-class model into each student’s living room. And heart. And the hearts of the parents, like mine. 

And when parents know their kids are happy and thriving, their heartstrings play.

Insert: choir of angels. 

Thanks to this whole stay-at-home rigamarole, I finally got a real peek at what happens in class at Areté, which turns out to be the silver lining here, and it’s even better than I thought. Areté truly walks the talk. And that means I’m happy dancing because my kid’s education – one where he is encouraged to think independently – means everything to me. In fact, it’s enough of a top priority for me to get an extra job, a roommate and keep driving the champagne-colored Toyota from the 90s to make it happen. 

So, yeah, that choir of angels sounded magnificent to me and it first happened one day in April when I was spying from behind the kitchen door and noticed on my son’s computer screen a couple of guests in the squares. They turned out to be a Federal prosecutor and Federal defender doing a Q&A with the 9th-grade philosophy class about the philosophy of law! I couldn’t believe it when my son filled me in during our lunchtime walk. He was thrilled. The teacher, Abbey Irwin, definitely fell up when she brought in these guests and took full advantage of the tech, usable also in class in the future.

Another choir of angels happened when I heard my son’s side of a heated class debate on consciousness, also in 9th-grade philosophy. How was this possible? It reminded me more of a Socratic debate on the steps of the Parthenon or at a liberal arts college or a playful discussion on Elon Musk’s Twitter feed with Mars and other wacky space engineers jousting about consciousness than a high school class!

More angels sang when I heard my son give a presentation on Freud and again in Honors Bio when he defended skin as the most important organ or functionality in the body. If I heard correctly, the immune system won, or that’s at least what he voted for.

And then there were all the wonderful things happening in other classes that I learned about in the weekly school newsletter or from other parents that solidified how Areté was falling up across the board.

Let’s take a look at a few highlights…while we can…before they go back to the classroom and us parents are left standing on the outside with our coffee and serenity unable to peek in. 

Here’s what looks amazing and gives us that silver lining during this time of crap…

The Model UN class hosted its own online Model UN experience May 23 and 24 since the real deal live was cancelled. They invited schools and individuals from around the world, with participants from Los Angeles to Kazakhstan! 

Model UN

The Spanish 4-5 class made Chilaquiles Rojos to celebrate their last class of the school year. The teacher had the groceries and spices delivered to the students’ homes, and then they had fun cooking and eating!

In Truth & Lies: Power & Politics students created final projects that touched on themes and philosophers they studied over the year. One video project features an imaginative and humorous dialogue between Nietzsche & Machiavelli on the question of truth and political power. Another senior’s painting reflects Judith Butler’s complex and dynamic understanding of gender, commenting on how even seemingly subversive sexualities and identities must work and exist within the “heteropatriarchal matrix.” An original drawing mash-up of many of the philosophers they studied this year, includes Socrates and his original aporia moment, Kant in his “transcendental” glasses, and Baudrillard thinking in binary.

The middle school Deep Dive: World Mythology Class finished its unit on Japanese Yokai, with each student creating original Yokai of the water, wilderness, countryside, city, and home. Each Yokai came with a name, description, and reason for being (i.e., to explain the mysterious marks one might get on her face while sleeping; to teach a child not to go too close to the water; to explain strange smells in the city, etc).

Pretty amazing how this little powerhouse of a microschool brought it these past few months, right?

In the end of Shel Silverstein’s Falling Up, the main character became sick and “threw down.” If I were a hip hop artist, I’d love to throw down some beats of joy right about now. But I’m not. 

Fortunately, there are some students in Areté music mixing class that are. Let’s take a listen to what one of these students—Terrin Busby Thompson—threw down. It’s called “Old Town Rock,” and Terrin says, “It’s kind of a driving rock piece that I imagined would be the theme for a Wild West town.” Enjoy!

Click to Listen


Nicole Schubert is an Areté parent, YA author, screenwriter and improv comedy producer living in Santa Monica by way of Brussels and New Orleans, where she was born during a hurricane.

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