Celebrating Fairhaven at 20

Twenty years ago a Sudbury type school was established in the state of Maryland. Its group of founders, with help, bought twelve acres in a wooded area, built a large structure with their own labors (and with a little help from their friends), and opened the Fairhaven School. SVS staff and Fairhaven’s staff became friends and colleagues, a close relationship with visits back and forth. Ten years ago I was invited to be on their Diploma Committee, and now one of the graduates I interviewed back then, Richard, is working as a staff member.

This year, as part of their ongoing twentieth year celebrations, I was asked to give a talk to the community, parents, students, staff and whoever wanted to come. I came a day early in order to experience daily life at this school. I sat in on the JC, walked around the building and grounds, and talked to students and staff. It turned out to be a profoundly emotional experience for me, far more than just a lovely visit with old friends – which it obviously also was.

The minute I walked into Fairhaven I was struck by how aesthetic the buildings as a whole was, as well as each of the rooms. I wish that I had photos to show you, but I was so taken by the people I met that I just didn’t get around to it. (If you want to see some, you can find them on their web page, www.fairhavenschool.com.) In short, I found the buildings to be, comfortable and inviting, clean and orderly, airy with lots of sunlight streaming through the large windows.

And the students: they are busy with their activities, calmly focusing on whatever they are doing – drawing, reading, using their laptops, and of course talking and laughing and walking and playing outside.

The JC was interesting to me because by and large it was like ours. It is run by the clerks, with members paying close attention to testimony, thinking hard and creatively about giving appropriate sentences, which were accepted with no arguments because they were clearly fair. 

The reason I was so moved by my visit was that it gave me perspective on our own philosophy of education. When I am staff at SVS, I deal all day with the details of doing my job, but being at Fairhaven as a visitor, I got to see the whole picture all at once, and what I saw was just a beautiful affirmation that allowing young people to be responsible for their own time and education really works!

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.