(Recorded on April 21, 1994)

~ Introductory Text by John Sherin ~

Part One

CONTROVERSY FOLLOWED THE SCHOOL from inception through Village to its newest location inside Brentwood High School. Assigned two additional years to exist, the small band of survivors clung to hope and one another this year.

The first person to speak recalled how it had been usual for her to initiate discussion during her two years. She told how she now operated an ‘electronic cottage’ home business in the south, requiring several trips to New York each year to meet with managers.

The school, she said, “enhanced” her life, enabling her to acquire people skills she uses every day. Comfortable before large and small groups and dealing one-on-one with people, she attributes her abilities to skills learned here. Referring to personally troubled times in high school, she described feelings of being shunned by conventional students while retaining her self-confidence due to the acceptance and support given her by an alternative school family. Everyone seemed well aware of what she was referencing.

Preferring to work at home, she identified with the push-pull of emotions experienced by facilitators who, for reasons of their own, considered returning to second-wave high school employment rather than remaining at M-T. These were career choices, someone said, not simply educational ones.

She wasn’t the only one to express appreciation for her education. Several expressed regrets that schools like this aren’t available to young people today. One young man spoke about his paintings and skills he honed while at school. Growing “mentally and emotionally,” as he put it, he strengthened the inner person he became, applying those lessons in college and every day since. He recalled the camaraderie and sense of belonging he felt. He had “opened up,” remembering being a “ball of confusion” when he first arrived. He told how he found within himself the pieces that at first he thought were missing. The affection of those next to him is palpable. He regretted that what he found during his year is no longer available to students today. “M-T isn’t dead” he said. It lives in all of us. “I learned to feel good within myself. What we received,” he continued, “we were given for a reason; to pass it on.” It has become bigger than ever, “a piece of open-mindedness” we’ve given to others.

An RN shared some anger she felt for the first time tonight that parents had not been more involved with students during the year that M-T was relocated to the high school. She told how her mother had come to visit only once, at graduation; while someone else expressed pride and satisfaction at having had both parents immersed in the school culture during her two years. Their current close, loving relationship, she said, grew directly from those times.

Part Two

A relative of one of those present confessed her love of performing with children and shared the joy she had felt working with Children’s Readers Theater. Another decried the spate of metal detectors in today’s high schools because of violence, student frustration, and a pervading sense of their powerlessness in the system.

A young man growing his multigenerational business enterprise spoke of the lessons taken away and applied to work and life. As a student during the two years remaining, he noted having to “fight the big guy,” losing, and making the best of what they get. There’s always going to be someone with more power, money or influence than you, so “when you can’t beat them, you don’t have to join them.” His sense of belonging, minus the small cliques, in a self-contained system allowed everything to work out. “If family wasn’t there for you, your friends were. You got out of it what you put into it. If you put in 110%, and gave it your all like we did, then that’s what you got from it. We enjoyed it. They were the best two years of my life.” Agreement was reached on the matter of today’s seeming acceptance of schools of choice (1994). It’s as if “we” are what they’re all looking for. People who didn’t know made assumptions about us and now are saying “you were right.” Was M-T ahead of its time? According to them, yes, it was.

Staff members compliment former students for their courageous choices. They committed to having a different kind of education. Still more regrets were expressed on behalf of students today who never got to enjoy the same sense of belonging to something bigger while working with a group of adults they could trust. “I never experienced people there who were insincere,” recalled one young man working in security and law enforcement at a regional airport. His former teacher replied, “I’m still in awe of all of you.”

She admitted to being unable to leave when the time came. She hadn’t had enough. Staying “alternative” was the only way she could think of at this point after 14 years. “Good!” a male voice from the back of the room intoned.

A frequent visitor to other alternative schools on Long Island, she observed:  “No one is doing what we did here, and this is what everyone wants.” She perseveres with her “at risk” students in an alternative program that’s very different from M-T and all the while tries to keep the M-T concept alive in the district.

What do these young people believe? Knowing full well there is no one best way to educate all, M-T will one day be the conventional means of educating most students. Should that happen, a traditional approach may well become the alternative and the world will be turned upside down.