Welcome to our third annual awards and graduation ceremony. This year, our themes are Happiness & Communication.
As a very young parent, I often said that if my children were happy, led happy lives, that I had done my job. That was my goal as a new mom – my child’s happiness. I am sure that all of the parents here can relate to that sentiment, right? More than anything else, we want our children to be happy. It seems like such a simple thing … when they are babies. Feed them, love them, keep them warm, clean, and safe and all is right with the world.
One day, of course, something happens to change this rather naïve perception. Usually, it is with the help of a toddler. In my case, it was Campbell who enlightened me. One very pleasant afternoon, I arrived home, took her out of her car seat, and she started to cry. When I brought her into the house, she really began to flip out – screaming bloody murder. There was nothing obviously wrong – no bee stings, no scratches. What was obvious was that she was pissed. For about 10 minutes I tried every trick in the book to soothe her. Nothing worked. So I decided to bring her back to where the upset began – the car seat. She began to relax. I put her into the seat, strapped her in and she instantly calmed down. It was then that the little rascal proceeded to undo the buckles herself and climb out of the seat on her own. Arms up, she was ready to go inside. “I do self.” I love this story. It illustrates so much about the struggle of both parent and child to communicate and to understand one another.
As they mature, we all slowly come to the realization that making your child happy is an extremely challenging and complex endeavor. Are there experts to show you the way? Nope. I know – I did the research. There is no one else who can tell you how to make your child happy - no class, no mantra, no magic pill. Happiness means something slightly different for each person on the planet. Obviously, my initial parenting goal needed a little adjusting.
So, happiness. As young parents, we did have something right. In order to achieve happiness humans do need those things – food, shelter, love, safety. The rest of it, I am still trying to figure out. But what I do know is that a sense of belonging is required, along with ongoing, ceaseless, unending communication. Talking it out, checking in often, debating the whys and the how comes, discussing possible options moving forward, problem-solving together, listening with an open mind - and the list goes on. This is parenting at its best. This is what all of you do, as evidenced by your presence here.
Graduation tends to be an emotional day; one that is indisputably my favorite day of the year. I cry, the teachers cry, the parents cry. Of course we do. We cry because we are all so invested in the success of these students. We have put a huge amount of time and effort into helping them along the way and, in doing so, we have also come to truly care for them and to root for them.
There is so much to celebrate and it gets more elaborate every year. This year we have a huge number of graduates – well, at least for Education without Walls – 3 students graduating from middle school and 7 graduating from high school - hence the larger venue. But I want to emphasize that this event, at its heart, is meant to celebrate our community as a whole and the hard work of our community members. This event is not about individual recognition. When a student receives an award here, it is a celebration of their work, of course, but in a larger sense, it is a nod to everyone who helped them to work through their difficulties over the course of the year – friends, teachers, mentors, parents, and peers. Here, we spend a lot of time acknowledging those people who have, in some way, transformed themselves or their community for the better.
Communication – the imparting or exchanging of information or news. It sounds easy enough, but, of course, the reality is that communication is extremely nuanced, very complex, and is often unbelievably challenging. Occasionally, I find myself wondering if some of my students and I even speak the same language. Most of my best work is done through listening, but in order for me to listen, someone has to be talking. This is so important to acknowledge, that communication and the opportunity to problem solve and improve requires multiple individuals working together towards a common goal. This goal, of course, to bring it full circle, is the happiness and success of our students.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD
I have added a few awards, of course, because how could I resist giving out more awards? These awards - for communication – are for both students and parents. But right now, I want to acknowledge the person who has honestly spent hours and hours this year ‘communicating’ with me. She has become an absolutely integral part of Education without Walls. She lets me vent, calls me out on my less attractive behavior, and has been the driving force behind turning Education without Walls from a resource sharing group into a, dare I say the word? - school. Theresa McSpedon, you add so much to this community. We are all so grateful to you for your hard work and dedication to Education without Walls. Please accept this small token of my gratitude and the gratitude of the entire community. Thank you for helping to make this a year of positivity and growth!
Awarded by Lockey Coughlin, Head of School
My favorite student will always be that kid who challenges me. The one who fights for every scrap of freedom; for every nuance of respect; for their privacy and their right to BE whom they ARE. In so doing, they learn to advocate for themselves, and this often leads them to advocate for those around them. Guiding them proves to be incredibly difficult and, annoyingly, they insist on making their own choices on their own terms.
At EWoW, these fighters are my compass, because they call me on – well everything. I often seek out their advice, as well, because I know they will give me their honest opinion. Their contribution can be very subtle, going unnoticed over the course of the year. I wanted to find a way to acknowledge these kids. They are always the hardest to say goodbye to and I think, often, that they are totally unaware of how much I will miss them. So, this year, we are starting the Compass Award for these truly one of a kind kids who help me to keep Education without Walls on course without even realizing it. Thank you all so much for your honesty and willingness to ask the tough questions.
James David Irish
Isabella Sage Brodsky
I would like to acknowledge two parents who fill a similar role, although they tend to do it with more style and subtlety, of course. They are excellent, clear, communicators who challenge me often. Education without Walls would not be the same without them. Thank you both so much for your honesty and willingness to ask the tough questions.
Communication: Dawn Parker & Cathy Behuniak
PRESENTATION OF MIDDLE SCHOOL DIPLOMAS
Raising a child or helping to raise a child is a battle on so many levels. Part of the mission is to help them to see the brilliance of who they are as individuals; to help them to see their gifts and unique abilities. Each of us is a crazy, mixed up, one-of-a-kind package. In doing this - helping them to see their own brilliance – we all come to believe in them totally and completely.
Here at EWoW, kids are placed according to their maturity level and academic ability, not by age. These three students are ready to move up to a more individualized and self-prescribed curriculum. They have worked very hard this year, some academically, others socially. We are very excited to see where their high school careers take them.
8th Grade Diploma Recipients
Collin James George
Jacob Atmore Strom
LYONS HEART AWARDS
Awarded by Lockey Coughlin, Head of School
This award is inspired by the Purple Heart, which is earned by members of the United States Armed forces who are wounded in action. It is specifically a combat decoration. I am of the considered opinion that every parent should be a recipient of this award. At Education without Walls, we give Purple Heart marbles and felt purple hearts to students who have worked through an emotional difficulty and / or have pushed through a physical or mental challenge. Leaning on their peers, teachers, and/or parents for support, they are able to work through the issue and come out the other side with a deeper understanding of themselves, as well as the knowledge that they can do it. The Lyons Heart Award, named for former student Ben Lyons, is awarded to students who have worked through continuous and ongoing struggles over the course of year. Because they struggle with forces that they often cannot control, these are the kids who, just by walking through the door, make my day. I am always happy to see them and their successes are much of what drives me through each day. They are an inspiration.
Jacob Atmore Strom
MEDALS: ACADEMIC, SPECIAL RECOGNITION & CITIZENSHIP
Awarded by teachers to students who have shown grit in their studies, as well support for both their peers and their teachers. These awards are given to students who elevate those around them in a class or subject. These awards are not necessarily for the ‘A’ student, but for the kids who show the most character in class.
Photography: Carter Casbarro
From Sarah: I wanted to give an award in Photography to Carter this year if possible. His excitement and enthusiasm is contagious. Carter comes to class ready to learn and is genuinely appreciative of the art of photography. He takes what we have discussed and applies it to his home work assignments and references earlier photographs or topics in later discussions. He isn’t afraid to ask questions, and leaves every class with a thank you. Among a class of high schoolers, Carter managed to hold his own and not only succeed in the class but shine.
Anatomical Drawing: Abigail Baird
Sign Language: Jack Connolly
French: Scarlett Naples
From Helen Brazil: Definitely Scarlett in my class. For all levels: participation, rigorous, motivation, improvement...
Math Lab: Aiden Behuniak
Algebra I: Emma Zychowski
Algebra II: Brendan Parker
Introduction to Calculus: Joshua Diesel Cheung
Calculus BC: Tucker Thowless Webb Coughlin
M.S. Geography: Jacob Strom asks the BEST questions. Future geologist.
Geography: Katie Pollock created a true work of art in Human Geography. Absolutely stunning work.
US History: Scarlett Naples & Isabella Brodsky (Scarlett and Bella did their work on time all the time) Their dedication to the class and their work ethic are wonderful. But I would like to acknowledge Scarlett, in particular. This is a student who, when she started in her first class here at EWoW … I think it was four years ago? She did not say a word. By the end of the year, she had found her voice and it was rather sassy. I loved it. She asked very insightful questions and she has not stopped since. Scarlett, your humility speaks well of your incredible character, but trust me on this, you are truly brilliant.
Social Science: James David Irish The best thing about teaching the same kids year after year is when you ask them a question about last year’s material and they remember it! James loves a great story and is an absolute joy to teach – plus he remembers everything I teach him.
Heroes & Legends: Collin James George
AP Literature: Abigail Baird & Mary Louise Mapes Houldin
Book Club: Hayden Hughes
Analysis & Critique: Joshua Diesel Cheung
Literature & Language: Jordan Kusterer
Etymology: Fiona Louise Binzen
Writer’s Lab: Dmitry Marker, James David Irish & Scott Emmett Taylor
Isabella Sage Brodsky
Science through Film: Broghan Dowler & Jack Connolly
Middle School Science: Ariel Battlestein
From Michelle George: Ariel is another student I have seen grow and learn about grit. I remember she barely talked the beginning of the year and she hesitated to participate for fear of making a mistake. Over the year she has learned it’s ok to be wrong or make a mistake and it appears to have reset and just relearned how to enjoy learning for the joy of learning. She has gotten better about talking about what is bothering her, too. Great job Ariel!
Middle School Science: Aiden Behuniak
From Michelle George: Aiden has shown the most improvement and growth in my class. When I first met him he would fall out of the chair on purpose to see the reaction. He didn’t want to ask for help and didn’t want to do assignments or presentations. Over the year I have seen him grow into a young man who is learning when to ask for help, retains more knowledge than he lets on and is learning how to do appropriate research for presentations. He is supportive of his classmates in and out of class and is learning how to talk about when things people say are bothering him. Thank you, Aiden for your hard work!
Physics Lab: Maddy Stevens
From Mike: My award recipient for Physical Science Lab is Maddy Stevens. She was always engaged; asked amazing questions, followed through on all the lab work, and was perpetually curious!
Excellence in Science: Tucker Coughlin
This year, Tucker worked as a TA in the Physics Lab and acted as a substitute teacher for a few physics classes. Over the course of his work here at EWoW, he has taken into to physics, physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy & physiology, AP computer science, and truly loves science deep to his inner core. Tucker, thank you for helping out this year and for, hopefully, conveying some of your love of science to our other students.
Marthe was going to be here to give out these awards herself, but she is sick today. On her behalf, I would like to say that this group of kids lights up her world. She is always energized and glowing when she comes back from hikes on Mondays. The kids look a little tired, but not Marthe. She wants to would like to acknowledge these kids based on their most admirable character traits when they are out hiking, as follows:
Grit: James David Irish
Social Intelligence: Brendan Parker
Zest: Dmitry Marker & Jack Dyson
Self-Control: Emma Zychowski
Curiosity: Elijah Battlestein
Optimism: Skyelar D'Angelo-Sylvia
Gratitude: Scott Emmett Taylor
COMMUNITY SERVICE: REBUILDING TOGETHER LITCHFIELD COUNTY
Awarded by the RBTLC House Captain
Outstanding Volunteer: Tucker Coughlin
Awarded by Lockey Coughlin, Head of School
Support of Students & Staff
The note on the medal tells the recipient what, specifically, their award is meant to recognize, but in a more general sense, these awards are for taking on projects and/or work that have supported our community in some way. The dedication and efforts of these individuals are so much of what has made this the incredible success it has been for all of us!
Fiona Binzen: Radix Assists
Josh Cheung: Radix Assists
Morgan Humeston: Radix Assists
Tucker Coughlin: I.T. Support/Radix Assists
Isabella Sage Brodsky: Yearbook/Event Planning
Hayden Hughes: Leadership & Exceptional Character
Scarlett Beatrice Naples: Event Planning
Jack Connolly: Exceptional Character
Dmitry Marker: The Flash
Skyeler D’Angelo-Sylvia: Talent Show
Chase Harrington: Best in Show (Talent Show)
Meredith Kusterer: Pod/Catering
Kristen Dowler: Pod/Catering
Michele Zychowski: Pod Extraordinaire
Susanna Marker: Pod Extraordinaire
Jason Behuniak: Flag Football
Theresa Mcspedon: Queen Of The Carpool/Talent Show
Al Sylvia: Talent Show
Monica Rodriguez: Talent Show
Cara Hughes: Math / Sub. Teacher & Talent Show
Michelle George: Parent Organization
Lynn Harrington: Parent Organization
PRESENTATION OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS AND GIFTS
Diploma Recipients, given in order of time at EWoW.
Joshua Diesel Cheung
Josh has been here at EWoW for a little over a year. While he has been here for the shortest amount of time of all of our seniors, he has contributed a great deal to our community. He participated in every community event, helped out, of his own accord, with the middle school kids, playing games with them at Young’s Field several times a week. He speaks, what?, four or five languages with varying levels of proficiency, he is a beautiful piano player, and he is almost too smart for his own good. His potential to do good in the world is limitless. Josh never asks for recognition, always takes correction with aplomb and is a generally humble, good kid. What struck me most about him is the way he advocates for the younger students here. Although he may not even know it, Josh is the reason why the middle school students’ schedules changed in the middle of the year. He felt very strongly that they should have more time outside, among other things. I agreed, so we made the change and it was a good one. Thank you, Josh, for your hard work, humility, community spirit and quiet leadership.
Kate has been at EWoW for two years. Academics are not her favorite thing, but she really put in some strong effort this year, pushing through to achieve her high school diploma and impressing me with her insight during class discussions in my US History class. Kate is a kind, open, warm, young woman who has defined success for herself already. I have no doubt that she will thrive in her post-high school life no matter where she finds herself. Kate, it has been a pleasure to get to know you these past couple of years. Thank you for your hard work and effort in achieving this diploma and good luck to you in all of your future endeavors.
Fiona Louise Binzen
This is Fiona’s second year at Education without Walls, although I have known her and her family for far longer – 13 years, I think. It has been a pleasure to watch Fiona grow into the remarkable young woman she is today. Fiona and her parents came to Education without Walls looking for a smaller, more intellectually stimulating classroom environment. Since then, Fiona has proven herself to be an adept student who is knowledgeable and perceptive, with great interest in language, communication, social justice, and history. Fiona has been an immense help working with our extremely kinesthetic, active middle school students. There is an indefinable charm to this young woman, who works hard at everything she does. Her uplifting, warm presence will be greatly missed by all of us here at Education without Walls.
Max Rodger Browne
Max is fiercely independent, incredibly bright, unassuming, and introspective. While Max will surely identify themselves as a writer first, they are also quite talented at mathematics and science, with an innate ability in both subjects – in every subject, really. A quick, insightful, and logical mind is one of Max’s most fabulous assets, however it is their unique perspective about almost everything that I find fascinating and which makes Max a pleasure to have in my classroom. Watching Max find a strong voice in class discussions this year has been a lot of fun. I know that whatever Max chooses to do in the coming years, they will do so with a fierce determination that will help them thrive in all aspects of life.
After four years here at Education without Walls, Ethan moved on to community college this past year. But, even though he did not take any classes onsite, he still has put in enough time and energy to earn his high school diploma. I have known Ethan since he was, maybe, 7 or 8 years old, but it wasn't until he joined us at Education without Walls that I really had the opportunity to get to know him well. He certainly has the ability to accomplish anything he sets his mind to. Ethan is an incredibly insightful young man, who has a unique voice, particularly in his writing. No matter where life takes him, I am confident that his hard work has set him up with a foundation for future success. Congratulations, Ethan!
Isabella Sage Brodsky
Bella is graduating after three years of high school. When she asked me to help her accomplish this goal, I agreed, of course, but I wasn’t really sure that she would be ready by the end of this year. Now, I have no doubts at all that she is ready for the next step in her education. She has proven herself over and over and over again this year on so many levels. She is a quiet, even reserved young woman, who leads by example, is a wonderful listener for her peers, and looks deeply into the social currents that run through Education without Walls. Her presence helps to ground the other students. She was our event planner this year, and, along with her partner in crime, Scarlett Naples, she pulled off the Winter Ball, the Prom, the infamous lock-in and created another EWoW yearbook. Bella, thank you for your hard work and dedication to this community. Congratulations on your many achievements!
Maddy Olivia Stevens
Maddy is an environmental activist and successful entrepreneur, building her business for almost five years now; she is intensely focused, and where she focuses, she finds success. Maddy is a personable young woman – friendly and warm with a huge smile and an unassuming air. Concerning ideas and projects, she shows enthusiasm, individuality, and drive; regarding people, she shows compassion and understanding, her truly gentle and supportive nature shining through. As a student, Maddy is conscientious and inquisitive, certainly a pleasure to have in the classroom. Her unique educational background, where she was given the freedom to choose her own focus and how she would spend her time, has helped her to develop strong personal and academic integrity. We have been so fortunate to have such an incredible young woman attend EWoW for the past few years, and I wish her the best of luck in all of her future endeavors!
Tucker Thowless Webb Coughlin
Tucker, obviously, has been here at Education without Walls the longest of all our seniors – 7 years is a long time to stay in one place and he is more than ready to move on. Even though he is a young senior and will be entering college in the fall at 17, Tucker is mature beyond his years. People often forget that he is a student here and he, himself, considers himself to be part of the staff on many levels. He jumped in to teach video editing this year, was the TA for the Physics Lab, helped a lot with IT, took a ridiculous number of classes – all his choice, except one – and generally rocked his senior year. I am confident that Tucker’s experience in college will be extraordinary, that he will make the most of all that is offered to him, and that he will contribute to his new community in a powerful and meaningful way.
These next few awards are a big deal here at Education without Walls. They are awarded only to students who have challenged themselves academically, exhibited leadership abilities and skill, and who have a record of community service. This award is only given if there is a student who has earned it, which is not easy. They are awarded based on the votes of the staff, PoDs, and teachers here at Education without Walls. In the case of a tie, the most senior EWoW student wins. And we did have a tie for the first time this year.
PRESENTATION OF FIRST IN CLASS AWARDS
See if you can guess the student before they are named ...
This sophomore is taking the third heaviest course load of all of the students. He is known for always completing his homework. He leads in a very quiet way, by example and with the very occasional ‘not cool bro’ comment. He is always happy to help, when asked. He has just completed his second year at Education without Walls and often wears a red sweatshirt. Got it yet? Brendan Parker, come on up.
This junior is a true homeschooled kid. This year she took three classes at Education without Walls, but she also took a number of challenging classes at other facilities. She has helped put together some of our most successful social events here at EWoW, including the Winter Ball, the Lock-in, and the Prom. She leads by example, is incredibly humble and, I think, still has no idea of either her effect on those around her or her intellectual brilliance. Scarlett Beatrice Naples, come on up.
Our senior recipient of this award takes a pretty challenging course load, as well. She has helped out so much this year with the middle school students, shepherding them from place to place, keeping an eye on them, assisting in their cooking class and, I know, genuinely coming to care for them. She also is a fierce young woman who loves knowledge and the pursuit of the truth. She has challenged me quite a bit this year and I thank her for it. Fiona Louise Binzen please come up to receive your award.
FIRST IN SCHOOL
This student won this award by a unanimous vote of the teachers, PoDs, and staff here at Education without Walls, so most of you already know who the recipient is. Academically, this student is internally motivated and exceedingly curious; artistically, he is project-oriented, driven, and diverse; and socially, he is highly extroverted, open, and supportive. Hard work and perseverance have helped him to find balance … perseverance being the key word. He will wear you down when he wants something.
Tucker approaches his academic and intellectual life in a way that makes me think, yes, he likes to play with his food before he eats it. It is never enough to feed him information. He wants to go deeper, to know why and how things work, at ease examining a concept until he understands it. Artistically, Tucker loves a big bite. He tackles large canvases when he paints, complex storylines when he writes, and, most recently, creates full albums, including the cover art and liner notes. Tucker is a self-motivated learner and creator who does not doodle or fiddle, diving headlong into projects.
As you all know, Tucker is highly extroverted, preferring to be around other people much of the time. He enjoys hanging out with whomever is around, including our younger students. Because of this, Tucker is also an excellent tour guide and ambassador for Education without Walls.
All these elements come together to form a human who respects individualism, enjoys problem-solving, thinks creativity, loves conversation, and lives life to its fullest. He laughs often, with a generous sense of humor, believes genuinely in the dignity and equality of all persons, and is, in my humble opinion, an awesome kid.
Tucker Thowless Webb Coughlin, please come up to accept your award.
Final Thoughts from Our Seniors - we missed this, as well as pictures of them in cap and gown - we may get videos and pics after the fact. Hopefully, we will, and they will be posted on the website.