I spent my sophomore and junior years of high school at The Meeting School, a small Quaker boarding school on a farm in Rindge, New Hampshire. The school is self-described as "transforming the lives of young people in an atmosphere of love, integrity, and service, with a strong program of academic and experiential learning." I experienced the school as an experiment in combining progressive Quaker values with the practical details of running an establishment of education and agriculture. The Meeting School exists for those high school students whose passion is to live in community and to navigate the intricacies of that life. Being a student did not simply mean attending school; it came to mean that my heart still lives on the school’s rich New Hampshire soil, even though my physical body has since moved on.
I discovered The Meeting School about three weeks before the end of my ninth-grade year at a Quaker college preparatory school in Washington, D.C. Studying for a biology test in the middle of the night, I was suddenly struck by what I felt was the inanity of my education. I had become comfortably content absorbing countless vocabulary words, mathematical functions, and the chatter of the children of doctors, lawyers, and some of our country’s politicians. I felt I had lost my will to have an effect on the world, or even truly be aware of the world, and I had lost touch with my own individuality. I felt I could no longer remain in the fast-paced and impersonal D.C. life, and I walked downstairs determined to convince my parents that I could not survive unless I escaped it. Upon explaining my feelings, I was surprised to find my parents’ overwhelming support. My father, who taught at the high school I attended, told me I did not have to go back to school the next day or the next year, if that was not what I needed. My mother told me about The Meeting School and made arrangements for me to visit the following week.
As soon as I set foot on The Meeting School land, I felt a sense of hope for the possible existence of a true alternative and community-oriented lifestyle. By the end of one day there as a prospective student, I knew that it could become my home. I was amazed by a student body that wanted to be engaged by its schoolwork and was also excited about working on the farm and even chopping countless cords of wood for the New Hampshire winter. I had seen no other school where both students and faculty are so in love with their community and their land. With this prospect ahead of me, I was willing to complete my year at prep school with all of the heart I could muster, in the expectation that I would not be there long.
I did not feel that I had to struggle through a harsh period of adjustment to life at The Meeting School and away from home; somehow the school was already aligned with the changes I wanted to make in my life, and so the transition was easy. I know very few teenagers who would not be elated to move in with five other teenagers, with whom to stay up late and talk with every night. I felt the curriculum of the school would enable me to study in order to prepare myself for life, instead of focusing singularly on college; it was perfect for my goal. In the classroom four days a week, I took courses in Poetry, Holistic Health, Spirituality, Astronomy, Peace Studies, U.S. History through Music, and Outdoor Leadership. None of these classes went into great depth on its topic, and the student requirements were few, but I learned endlessly about my own learning process as well as the subject matter. I discovered how to engage myself to study topics that interested me, but I no longer felt prep school stress. None of my Meeting School classes used a grading or testing system, and we very rarely had homework. Academic work was a struggle for several students still in the process of learning to manage their time, but after my previous school experiences, being there sometimes felt like summer camp. For the two years I spent at The Meeting School, I was happy to sacrifice the volumes of information I might have learned in classes elsewhere for the sense of community we instead shared. I knew I did not need to have demanding classes to be able to learn, and the school’s academic program was in some ways its weakest side. It allowed all grade and ability levels to study a subject together, and did not have features to accommodate the different skill levels. But it did require me to teach my peers often, and also to learn from all of them, an approach rooted in the Quaker belief in that of God in every person.
At The Meeting School, every two weeks brought a new farm chore shift. On each shift, two students were responsible for feeding and watering the animals at 6 am and 4 pm. During my first farm chore shift, the student who was supposed to be working with me was away from school for about a week due to a family emergency; the whole school (including me) came down with a stomach flu about two days into the second week; and although I was not yet aware of it, I had mono. Winter’s freeze set in during my first week, and all of the hoses still had water in them, so they froze and became useless. I do not think I have worked harder in my life than I did in that week, lugging five-gallon buckets of water, compost, and grain across fields of snow to the pigs, and cracking half a foot of ice out of their dishes when I got there. I was thoroughly exhausted the whole week.
Last year, my farm chore shift was the third and fourth week of school, and I had a much easier and perhaps more enjoyable time caring for the cows, pigs, turkeys, guinea hens, chickens, horses, and sheep. Despite the struggles, I am grateful for both farm chore shifts I had, and I decided to help my friends many afternoons when they had chores. I loved being in that kind of intense contact with the earth I lived on, roaming its woods and fields, sitting by the pond, feeding the animals, and gathering hay. Quakers share this value in honoring and stewarding care for the Earth.
As well as farm chores, every student helped with one community meal each week and two meals in our separate houses. Both students and faculty came to the school with varied interests and ability in cooking; and so the quality of our meals varied as well, although almost all of our ingredients were organic and many were from our farm. On Tuesday and Friday afternoons, the whole community had work-study, during which we worked on different projects around the school. Over the course of my two years, I had work-studies chopping wood, cleaning barn stalls, revising the admissions process, shearing sheep and cleaning wool, making granola, raking leaves, and shoveling snow—among many others. Although I was not always completely enthusiastic about my work, this was one of my favorite aspects of the school because we were all a part of it. By attending the school, each community member agreed to complete any work that was asked of them, no matter how menial or dirty. In fact, the dirtiest tasks sometimes became students’ favorites. As in the Quaker tradition, the school emphasized the dignity of physical labor, a value I have come to believe in strongly, as do many students who have studied at The Meeting School. Even after only one year at the school, it would be hard not to be instilled with a sense of the beauty of hard work in community.
On Wednesdays, instead of having class we had brunch in our houses and then gathered for community meeting. Following the guidelines of a Quaker meeting for worship with a concern for business, we made many of the school’s important decisions through Quaker process. Similar to the process of coming to consensus, we searched for a sense of the meeting—a decision that the group is led to by the conflation of that of God in each person present. The meetings were run by a clerk, always a student in our case, whose responsibility it was to help the group through its development and to verbally name the decisions that are made. During my two years at The Meeting School, I spent half a year in the positions of alternate clerk, recording clerk, and then clerk of the meeting. Through filling each of these roles, I found myself empowered within the community and decided to serve on several committees, including the Admissions and Marketing Committee, the Nominating Committee, and Ministry and Counsel. Because I lived at the school and spent almost all of my time there, it became invaluable to me to be a part of giving guidance to the direction of the school. I was especially involved and invested in Ministry and Counsel, a committee of students and faculty charged with maintaining the emotional and spiritual well-being of the school. In our meetings we planned meeting for worship; discussed ways to help students and faculty who were struggling with issues in their houses, relating to parents or peers; and many other issues. Helping others resolve their personal and social situations has always been a passion of mine, and the committee supported me and gave me a very constructive means for such efforts.
On Wednesday nights, our community gathered for an hour of Quaker meeting for worship. I had been a regular attender of Quaker meeting with my parents as a child, but had never found myself at home in its spiritual practices until I went to The Meeting School. In our evening worships, we usually sang for half an hour and had half an hour of silence, sometimes with a guiding query to consider. Out of the candlelight and silence, community members were encouraged to share from their hearts. This experience was often deeply moving and brought our community together, regardless of our individual spiritual or religious beliefs outside of the meeting. It allowed me to find the aspects of Quakerism I identify with, a process I needed to complete in order to come to the religion of my own accord, instead of inheriting it from my parents. I now consider myself a Quaker, although I am not currently attending a meeting.
While I lived at The Meeting School, I had the sense that I was in exactly the right place for me, learning the lessons I needed in each moment. Having moved on to college and now discussing my high school experience with my new peers, I am continually struck by how wonderful and unusual my education was. With the new perspective of life beyond The Meeting School, I am still enamored of that life. I know no other institution with intentions so close to those of my own heart, nor any group of people so dedicated to living their ideals. By attending The Meeting School, I was able to realize much of my personal value system and to cultivate those qualities in myself. I could ask no more of a high school experience.