Changing Lives,
Voices from a School that Works,
by Jane Day, University Press of America, 1994.
Available from the publisher or from The Community School,
Box 555, Camden, Maine 04843 $25
Reviewed by Mary Leue
Anyone who is searching for models or examples of schools that truly do the job they have been set up to accomplish is likely to be open to learning about schools that actually do this. I find this to be increasingly the case as our current school system falls to deliver that "product" in a form that meets the needs of families. The exponential growth of non-public alternatives and the search for "the one" which will meet the need goes on apace, as frantic parents discover in increasing numbers the depth of the jeopardy faced by their children at the hands of the existent schools offered by our society. We in the alternative education "business' are hearing more and more cries for help from such people. Charter schools are springing up in ever-growing numbers, and the home school group is growing rapidly
Because these families come from an increasingly wide range of circumstances, it is no longer (almost) exclusively members of the middle class that are doing the searching. Families whose children are in trouble come from all walks of life - always have - and more and more families who live inside the ghettos of the cities are banding together to seek out better alternatives!
Among other things, this could be seen as the 'message' of this account by Jane Day of the lives of thirty-eight young adults who were lucky enough to have been included among the students of the Community School In Camden, Maine, during the last twenty years.
Thus, what happened to these particular children - what their "presenting problems" were; what choices they made; how they resolved them; what has happened in their lives since that time - all of these considerations, as well as substantive issues like the actual functioning of the school - the "how-to" that helped to create these results - all of these factors are brilliantly presented by the author, who was a teacher at the school for many years. Everything Jane Day Is saying is true! The introduction by Deborah Meier, who also knows whereof she speaks, having been an organizer and the principal of Central Park East in New York City for many years, doubly underlines this authenticity.
But what is even more impressive to me than such an accomplishment by the author is the humanness of the choice she has made to focus on the stories of these thirty-eight people, both as narrated by her and, most significantly, as given to her by the ex-students themselves! For this reviewer, this perspective is the only real "proof of the pudding" - and it eats very well indeed! This book is an absolute must, and reads like a delicious meal! Even at $25 it is a bargain, and delivers exactly what it promisesl Buy it! Read it and smile!
Better still, send the school money to continue accomplishing this miracle! The address of the school is on the school's website at Or you can look at our facsimile Community School page.
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