Authored by Erin Brown
It has been a while since I set foot on the grounds of the Gardner School. I graduated from the 8th grade in 2010 with CJ Tyskiewicz, having completed grades 6-8 at Gardner. Despite over a decade passing, I have distinct memories of writing assignments whilst looking out on panoramic views of Mount Saint Helens and running around buzzing on sugar at the Harvest Fest.
When I was 14, I hadn’t the faintest idea how much attending Gardner would shape my educational development and my opinions about education and learning. The integrated classrooms and emphasis on creative styles of learning instilled in me deep values of collaboration and ability to advocate for teaching students in a range of styles to support individual learning. Tahoma class trips to the Grand Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming inspired in me a thirst to learn more about the natural world and engage in more activities out-of-doors.
Endless support and guidance from teachers provided me with the skills and wherewithal to succeed in high school and far beyond.
8th grade graduation was a splendid event that year, during which CJ received Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” as his gift, and I a pair of plaid pajamas. As odd as those seem, both suited us perfectly and reflected how well students and staff get to know each other when the class sizes are so small, and teaching emphasizes student support. CJ’s taste in music and love of classic rock made the vinyl the perfect gift. When I was 14, I had a habit of routinely wearing pajamas to school; because, like most angsty teens, I stopped caring by the end of the week. Mark, the head of school at the time, double-checked the school dress code several times to be sure that I wasn’t breaking any rules. My pajamas were within dress code and became a running joke at the school (I was in on it, so it was good). The pajamas as a gift at the end of the year were wholly fitting.
After graduating, I attended freshman and sophomore year at Seton Catholic High School before moving to Thailand as a Rotary Exchange Student for my junior year of high school.
The encouragement that I had at Gardner to study higher levels of Spanish allowed me to begin high school in sophomore level Spanish classes – a leap that allowed me to better communicate with peers on exchange who were from Mexico and Brazil. While Spanish and Portuguese are vastly different, their similarities outweighed the differences and enabled us to form friendships that persist to this day.
As part of the cultural/ambassadorial exchange, I attended Thamakawittayakom School in the town of Thamaka, Kanchanaburi. I took the “regular” classes of physics, chemistry, Buddhism studies, computer science, PE, and others (I don’t remember my entire course load off the top of my head). During free periods, I often helped the English teachers in teaching English as a second language – assisting with marking papers and helping peers with pronunciation.
After a year abroad I returned home, transferred to Mountain View High School, and enrolled in Running Start at Clark College. My varied educational background allowed me to succeed in yet another learning environment – I thrived at the college level. So much so that, after a gap year to work with young people in Southwest England, I completed a BA with Honours at the University of the West of England in English with Writing and went on to study a Master’s in Information Management from my alma mater.
During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered Saturday mornings at a charity in Bristol called The Hive Avon. The Hive provides life skills and advocacy training for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism in the greater Bristol area. In addition to skills training and support groups, The Hive runs an activity drop-in center, where members attend to do arts and crafts, play games, and engage in other activities. Prior to COVID-19, on Mondays we had a pottery class, music on Tuesdays, and drama lessons on Wednesdays. Their work fostered an immensely important community that was a joy to be a part of.
My first truly professional job was as the Volunteer Coordinator for The Hive. I was hired into the position on the completion of my undergraduate studies. I had been a volunteer for two years and was delighted to take on the role when the previous coordinator needed to move on to other things. I served in that position for over a year whilst studying for my Master’s. Approaches to learning and communicating that I had learned nearly a decade prior at Gardner were essential to my success.
Here I am, in April of 2021, writing about my experiences and the impact that they have had on my life. After 5 years abroad working and studying, I have finally returned home to Vancouver. I am, yet again, in a transitional period, where the future seems uncertain and the past a vivid technicolor. Whilst there are still many questions and unknowns, what I do know is that my past was joy-filled and I have collected dear friends along the way. Whatever the future may hold, there are a million components that make up who I am, and a million more will be added throughout my life’s adventure.
Last, and certainly not least, I’d like to thank Emily for reaching out to me, for chatting about Gardner and life journeys through education and the starting of careers. May your life and the school that you lead continue to grow and prosper.