Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Paige Laeyendecker, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.
As a first time participant in the Boulder Journey School Summer Conference, I was both excited to meet with educators from around the country and nervous to share the work from my classroom. Once the conference was in full swing, all my nervousness disappeared. I grew energized by all of the participants sharing their stories. The excitement in the building was palpable.
Over the course of the two days, the conversations surrounding environments, physics, bridging nature and technology, and children’s rights, among others, were so rich and deeply inspiring.
The topic I found to have the greatest impact on me were the many discussions, presentations, and debates around risk. Risk is a very hot topic in the field of education, and many of us were eager to hear and discuss the different perspectives around this controversial topic. In our society today, we have developed an intense fear when it comes to children and the communities of which they are an essential part. I’ll be the first to admit that this fear of the unknown is powerful, especially when working with the children who you love so much.
Granted, safety is and should be top priority when working with children of any age, but do we go too far? Are we keeping children too protected, and is that impacting the way that children are growing and learning?
As part of my role as a BJSTEP graduate student, I was asked to facilitate a small group discussion around risk. I soon discovered that my colleagues’ thoughts around this topic added layers and layers to what I was prepared to share. Joining us from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some of the participants shared their concerns around the different levels of risk taking in different areas of the world and even just our country.
What do safety concerns and risk evaluations look like in areas with low socio-economic statuses? How does the conversation change when a family does not have access to health insurance? I was left speechless.
Following this extremely insightful and eye-opening discussion, our discussion group heard a presentation from Meagan Arango, a mentor teacher at Boulder Journey School. Meagan has engaged in advocacy for the rights of children, specifically in taking risks. One major point that Meagan made was the distinction between a risk and a hazard.
A two-year-old child examines the climbing wall. She stays close to the ground while, together with her teacher, she determines whether climbing is a risk or a hazard.
A three-year-old child takes the risk of going high on the climbing wall. He has enough experience working in this space to know what the hazards are and where his personal limits lie.
Meagan explained that a hazard is something harmful about which we do not have the knowledge to make a safe judgement. When we offer our children experience in assessing their environments and strategies for identifying the hazards around them, we provide opportunities to learn about taking risks and pushing boundaries; we support their confidence to explore their limits and to break through them.
When we look at risk through this point of view, it solidifies my belief that risk is a right of all children no matter their different cultural and societal backgrounds. One of our jobs as adults is to guide children through the difficult decision making tasks of assessing risk. This is a life long learning practice that begins at the earliest of ages.
Being able to work through this complex topic with so many educators from so many different perspectives was an experience I will never forget. It is now our responsibility to extend these discussions through the rest of our careers and lives with children.
How do you feel about the children’s right to risk? How can we keep this discussion going?