By Chris Meeker (parent at school).
Do you like stories? I’d like to tell you one. It’s a story that will make you think about yourself and others and, indeed, how you yourself fit into this story.
Like most stories, this one begins in the past. Back in 1968, there was a young woman named Helen. Helen left her family home at 17, dropped out of school, and landed a job working in the back room of a bank so that she could support herself and her partner. But along the way she decided she wanted to earn her high school degree.
So, she enrolled in a high school completion program at a local community college and attended classes four days a week, in addition to working her job. And she worked hard and earned her high school degree. And learned many things about herself along the way. She learned that she could survive in this big world. That she could take care of herself. And that she could respect who she was amidst the mistakes she made.
Well, the years went by and young Helen grew up. Before you know it she was teaching at a high school completion program at LCC in the late 80s and early 90s! Who would have guessed?! And she knew many of the challenges these students were facing because she herself had faced them. She loved the students and loved the challenges.
But there was one thing missing for these students and she couldn’t shake it. She knew it well. A sense of community. Of belonging. These students were the small fish in the big sea of a large college and they were lost.
Helen thought about this. And then she thought some more. And soon an idea of a different kind of high school began to grow in her. And she couldn’t let go of this idea. During her quiet times she would be taken over by school dreams…"We could have a high school where the students can help design the curriculum, where they can write the rules, where they have the opportunity to talk things out with each other! We could get a bus and go on field trips, and we could have fantastic teachers, and we could get accredited," and on and on!
She kept thinking and fantasizing but she didn’t know the reality of what needed to be done. And then one day she was sitting quietly in a Quaker Friends meeting and she heard a clear voice in her mind that was distinct from all of this fantasy. The voice was very calm and it said to her, “Stop thinking and do it.” So she acted.
At the end of that meeting she stood up and said, “I have this idea of starting a Quaker high school. If there is anyone else who would like to talk about this idea with me, let’s meet next week.” She still didn’t have any concrete plans and thought maybe three or four people would show up. Do you know how many people showed up? Twenty five! Twenty five people showed up who cared about students in the community. And over time, among these twenty five people, a small group of eight to ten people, many of whom are still active with the school, formed a working group and made plans.
And, yes, you have guessed it by now…they, along with the help of many others, started Wellsprings Friends School in 1994. And Helen? None other than Helen Park, the founding Head of School.
So, how did this group accomplish this herculean task? They worked with the IRS and formed a 501c3 non-profit so they could apply for grants and receive donations. They wrote and re-wrote plans. Helen visited other schools. They became partners in the current school building. They worked for a year and a half, hour after hour, doing all they had to do to open a school, never knowing if a single student would ever attend!
And then finally...they were ready. They opened the school. And the students loved it. They loved the empowerment, and being asked things by the teachers instead of being told, and they thrived on the responsibility, with alternative ways of learning, small classes, and lots of time to talk and forge deep bonds of friendship, just like students do today at Wellsprings.
In 1998, Helen changed the school designation from a Quaker school to an Alternative School so public schools could refer students and the school could accept payments from school districts.
Many years have gone by since the founding of the school. Thousands of hours of work by hundreds of people have been put in over these years. Over one thousand students have walked through the doors of this humble school, along with teachers, staff, board members, volunteers, and parents…all of whom have touched and been touched in one way or another by this school. And this includes you. For each of us reading this is part of this amazing community.
Helen’s philosophy of education is that all learning takes place in the context of a relationship. She believes if that relationship is built on respect, mutual trust, and love, everyone learns more. That is the philosophy Wellsprings started with and it is still evident to this day.
Helen said, “I am optimistic about the future of Wellsprings. The main thing is to keep affirming and encouraging the positive: The beauty, the love, the kindness, and the goodness. Know that no matter how someone is acting, there is a good, beautiful human being in there and we need to remember that. That’s what faith is: Knowing something is there when you can’t see it. Have faith in beloved students, teachers, staff, and parents at Wellsprings doing their best.”
So, why have I told this story, you may ask. Fair enough. Stories, as many have said, give us a way to understand the past, the present, and a way to envision the future. We are each a part of Wellsprings. We are each a part of this very special community. Whether we dip our toes in for a few minutes or are here for decades each of us is part of the fabric of this community. Indeed, without each of us this school would be a different place.
On Saturday, May 4th, from 12noon to 3 pm, we come together with our families to celebrate Wellsprings Friends School’s 25th Anniversary. My hope is that you and your loved ones will be there because it truly won’t be the same without you.
Happy Anniversary, Wellsprings!
Helen Park, founding Head of Wellsprings Friends School