Mills Healing Plant Tour

On a standardized test, what does a leader look like? How do you build standardized assessments that reward collaboration and creativity? If you wanted to identify the next Julia Morgan, would you rely on the SAT?

 (bryan farley)

The two 5th grade pioneer classes from Melrose Leadership Academy visited Mills College in Oakland, California. Mills College is in our neighborhood, so the students walked to Mills. Melrose fifth graders are the architects who have built MLA into a model for urban education. This year, I photographed Ms. Jessica’s 5th grade students during their neighborhood field trip to Mills. In April of 2012, I photographed the 2011-2012 kindergarten classes  for their expeditionary learning project at the campus creek. That was also our the last year that MLA was at the old Elizabeth Sherman site. The walk was shorter.

 (bryan farley)

During both visits, students learned about native plants and the natural environments supported by a native ecosystem. This year, Mills College students taught MLA students how to remove invasive plant species so that natives can return to the creek bed. Future leaders taught future leaders, so that older leaders could be replaced.

 (bryan farley)

Mills College has been recruiting and training leaders since the late 1800’s. When Mills first opened, many US colleges excluded women. Women were not seen as leaders, at least not the same way that men were viewed. Young men would not have wanted to attend Mills, because … well, because Mills was a “girls school.” Some folks would not want to attend Melrose; it does not look right. The school does not sound right, especially when the students speak Spanish. Outsiders can’t easily measure the school’s value, or outsiders choose to value something else.

 (bryan farley)

And yet, history proved that Mills created and recruited world leaders. As a photography teacher, I am continually amazed that Imogen Cunningham walked the same Mills campus that students walk today. (Imogen was neither a student nor instructor at Mills, but she was inspired there.) When I visit the Mills College Art Museum, I remember that Mills recruited visiting artists during WWII who might have otherwise perished in Europe. Mills College graduates influence the world of politics, educations, art, and other fields.

 (bryan farley)

When educators create standardized tests, we ask questions about the origin of Oakland’s name. When we look for leaders, we look upward and see an Oak tree blossoming. Britta Bullard, the Mills College sustainability coordinator, showed our students something new. The kids paused as their imagination expanded. This is another example of pioneers seeing something that most people will miss.

 (bryan farley)

Friday would have been Fred Rogers’ birthday. Rogers, who asked “won’t you be my neighbor?” may have enjoyed the short walk to Melrose from my house early Friday evening.  Drums echoed through the neighborhood as drummers and dancers rehearsed for the San Francisco Carnival parade. Inside the school, about 100 people assembled for movie night. (There was popcorn and ice cream.)

When you measure API (Academic Performance Index), how many points does your school receive for Friday Night Movie Night… with drums and popcorn?

 (bryan farley)

My favorite plant on the healing plant tour was “The Placebo.” Standardized tests are the placebos of education. Some people feel better when they take them… and some people take a lot of placebos. Do placebos measure leadership or aptitude? If being Julia Morgan were important, wouldn’t we search for the children who are already pioneers?

and watch them blossom?



One Response to “Mills Healing Plant Tour”

  1. Alice J Pierson-Knapp says:

    just checking in with your latest adventure.
    I love to start my day this way.
    love you

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