On the rocks

On the Rocks

There aren’t any grades at Sudbury Valley School. No standardized tests. No portfolio reviews. No regular assessments. But that doesn’t mean that the kids haven’t devised their own ways to “measure their progress.” One of these ways is by mastering “The Rocks.”

The Rocks are an outcropping of granite boulders of various sizes located in a wooded area of the campus. Some of them are huge, easily 6 feet in height. There are several of these behemoths clustered together with smaller ones at their base.

The biggest of these is Big Rock. It’s tall enough to have served as a cliff in past SVS movie productions, with a little skillful editing and camerawork, of course. Big Rock looms large -- pun intended -- in the lives of many SVS students. How they navigate its challenges is a clear way to mark growth in confidence, athletic ability, and healthy risk taking.

The first challenge? Getting to the top.

Novice climbers can get there via Staircase Rock, using its series of natural steps. More experienced climbers scale Big Rock’s face using toe and finger holds. My daughter made it the year she was four. Getting down wasn’t quite as easy, though, and she found herself stranded until a helpful teenager came to her rescue.

The next challenge? Crossing over.Rocks-Adelaide-Alex-Endelyn

There are areas where you can step easily from one rock to another. And then there are the places with gaps just large enough to make a kid stop and think, “Can I make it? Should I try?” Being able to leap over the widest gap is a rite of passage.

A while back, some folks from New Hampshire came for an Open House. Later on, they did a podcast talking about their impressions of the school. One of the first things they mentioned was how skimpy our “playground” was. Maybe someone should have taken them up to see The Rocks.