One of best things about Makarios is the sense of community. Everyone knows each other, everyone helps each other, and everyone has a place in our school- except when they don’t, because they’re new. A prospective student’s trial week and a new student’s first few days can be some of the most interesting things to experience at Makarios, and it really solidifies the sense of community each and every time.
What it’s Like to be a New Student
Being such a small school, it’s easy enough to learn everybody’s name and personality; however, it can also be intimidating to be new in a place where everyone has such close bonds. It’s different than being new on the first day of public school because everyone is relatively new and in larger schools, there are often faces you haven’t seen before, or people whose names you know but personalities you know nothing of. On the contrary, everyone at Makarios (including staff and students) seem to have known each other for years. It can seem like a challenge to find your place in this environment, and I’ve observed many new students feel this way. Finding one’s place in the school consists of both their internal and external self, and there is a sequence of events and feelings each new student typically seems to follow.
Phases That New Students Go Through
First, they meet people and try to get a grip on how the school runs. They quietly explore all the rooms and equipment, sit in on School Meeting and Judicial Committee trying to figure out what all this is about, why everyone keeps “making motions,” and what “seconds” are in non-time and non-dinner terms. New students often passively observe other students working on projects, playing games, or whatever else is happening that day. They’ll get asked their name and introduced to many currents students, and perhaps invited to play a game--an offer they frequently pass up the first time out of shyness. There is typically a period of boredom in which the child knows there are many options in terms of what to do, but is too shy or overwhelmed to engage in any of them.
Next, a new student will usually spend some time alone doing something they find at the school which interests them. This is the first step in really finding oneself at Makarios- the internal self. They might spend time in a particular room which has a lot of things they find interesting, or read in the common room, or play a game on the computer. They find comfort in doing what they enjoy doing, along with finding confidence in the knowledge that there’s something at Makarios for them. Once a new student feels comfortable enough in themselves just being in the school and feel that they have a safe place to go back to in case their social endeavors don’t work out, they’ll usually gain the confidence to go out there and find their place in the school.
The next step in new student transitions is finding the external self. By external self, I mean the personality that they broadcast to others and their place in the social context of the school. Will they be the smart one? The funny one? The dramatic one, or maybe the athletic one? Will they be a part of the daily dungeons and dragons adventures, the trivia games, or the Lego creations? When a new student finally feels comfortable enough to join in on a game or bring up a new project they want to work on with someone, they start finding their external self at the school. This is usually the time when a new student starts to get extremely excited for each new school day and it always seems that parents are picking them up “too early.” It’s an incredibly rewarding time when a new student finds their place at Makarios and feels that the school is “their place” as much as any other student does.
The Rewards of Finding Their Way Past “New Student”
Each time I observe a new student finding their internal and external selves at the school, I am reminded of why Makarios is so much more than a school- it truly is a community. It is a community where every person has a place and a voice in how things run. It is a community where members are there for each other and constantly inspire others with their unique interests and projects that they work on. It is a community where students can always count on having a round of trivia in the common room, a friend to make a movie with, and know who to ask for help if they want to make a baking soda and vinegar volcano.
Makarios is more than just a school because it is a place for interest-directed learning for the individual, and also a place with a whole community of resources and friends and mentors for support and inspiration. Members of Makarios all know each other well enough that they always know which student or staff member to go to with an idea or question or proposal. Watching new students find their niche in the school and so quickly become an integral part of the whole community is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a part of Makarios.