I went to two graduations this week, and enjoyed them both. Celebrating the achievements of young people is such a satisfying experience!

The first graduation was of the 15 students leaving the Open Classroom for middle school. It was held in our barnyard, under the pine tree we planted some 25 years ago which is now huge, and providing shade that is often needed on hot June graduations, but this year it was cool, and I chose to sit in the sun. From time to time during the ceremony small children wandered by me trying to catch Thumper the rabbit, who calmly nibbled on nasturtiums and yarrow except when a small hand reached out and she zipped away.

The graduates took turns speaking or singing something they had prepared. Then their parents, teachers and friends had an opportunity to appreciate them. The level of earnest sincerity always brings tears to my eyes. Parents looking their young fledgling in the eyes and saying “take wing!” Younger students remembering the kindness or creativity or craziness of their older role models. and most of all the many small and large moments that the graduates recall.

This group was unusual in one sad way. Along the way two of them lost their fathers–something that affected a third child too, as the men who died had both been surrogate fathers for him as well. Some of the tears I shed were for the dads who did not get to experience their daughters becoming young women. Then there was also our first Chicano student who started with us with no English. His speech was not the longest one, but his parents sitting in the audience were beaming, and so were all of us.

The ceremony went along a t a leisurely rate–starting at 10 and ending at 12:45. Everyone spoke who wanted to speak. Every child had his or her moment in the limelight. Last of all was Skylar, who told me later how hard it was to sit there so long, knowing he would be last, but you wouldn’t have known it from his calm demeanor. In the tradition of his two older brothers before him, he sang a moving original song about his years in the open. A perfect ending.

Many families were graduating their last child. Often it feels harder for them to say goodbye to the Open than for the students, who are so ready for new adventures. This is when I realize how important it is to have a school that welcomes the parents as well as the child. I look around at these adults and can see how much they have grown too. There were tears and hugs.

The second graduation was the next night. The eight grade graduating class was my last 4th grade—half of the class in the film. In their tuxes and strapless dresses they hardly looked like the scrappy young ones who tumbled all over me that June afternoon four years earlier. Tom got quite a kick out of trying to figure out who was who, and ran around photographing them as if he was one of the proud parents!

They had blended easily with the students from the other program and done well in middle school, and they were well represented among those who got up to perform for the several hundred people gathered on the blacktop. This was a group that loved to sing, and they still do.

All but two of those who had come from the Open were given awards. While they certainly deserved the awards, I felt twinges of regret that this is still part of the rite of passage. The ones who didn’t get an award were given a certificate where some special quality was addressed, but it feels to me that the act of giving awards diminishes the certificates, even though I know the teachers tried very hard to avoid that.

But that one off note could not take away from the idealism and confidence you could feel coming from these young people. They belted out their songs, danced around on the stage, and generally and delightfully strutted their stuff. I think I will always come to graduations, even when I don’t know the graduates, just to breath in a bit of that optimism!



For months I’ve known that I had to develop a new website just for AUGUST TO JUNE instead of sharing it with Tamalpais Productions. It needs it’s own domain name, and it needs to more fully represent the finished film–which is getting nearer and nearer to reality! the problem has been that my plate is just way too full with the other aspects of the project to do a good job–especially with my level of computer savy.

So today I met with a former student of mine, Brindl Markle Stugard, who has a business called Moxy Media, as well as being an accomplished musician/songwriter–a stellar example of what a broad education can spur! I laid out my ideas, she explained much about what would be possible, and why one would do certain things. Diane Phillips asked good questions, and we all left the meeting feeling optimistic! Yay!!



I’m spending more time on our facebook page, and less time here. I have no idea if anyone reads what I write here, as I am too internet illiterate still to figure out about page hits. But here I am on a Friday night, just finished making a list of film festivals to apply to, and with a bit of time to update the blog before we go out for Indian food.

As part of preparing to submit to festivals I am starting to gather testimonials from educators and policy makers. They inspire me, and hopefully will make others curious enough to go see the film! Here’s what I have so far:

“At a time when a wave of standardization is turning our schools into test prep programs and impoverishing our visions of what schools can be, this film reminds us that powerful, engaging, child-centered, curriculum-rich, community-rooted schooling still lives. Never shouting or preaching, this film is both a detailed depiction of a year in the life of a vibrant learning community and a quiet call to arms to defend and expand authentic education for all children.”
–Monty Neill,
Executive Director The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
and chair of the Forum on Educational Accountability

“The film provides concrete evidence that this kind of education is not pie in the sky, or only for the very rich. It’s being done and needs to be done more. As a parent, my heart aches to think how many more children could have access to that kind of exciting, stimulating, nurturing environment but still don’t.”
–Lisa Guisbond
Outreach Coordinator Science of the Eye – Bringing Vision into the Classroom Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“As a County Supervisor, I am treated to many rewarding presentations of art in all of its media forms. What moved me to single out this work for your consideration is its quiet, forceful illustration of children’s natural capacity to become informed, considerate participants in all aspects of life. That is achieved through the filmmaker‘s patient perspective, capturing seemingly routine class encounters as they blossom into individual discoveries and a social framework that will serve the students throughout their lives. The film welcomes all viewers, requiring no formal understanding of the educational theories at work while exquisitely illustrating the full spectrum of human emotion that accompanies the learning process. As the work progresses, it clearly avoids showcasing shining stars, opting instead to reinforce the potential that lies within each of us when encouraged and supported.”
–Steve Kinsey,
Marin County Board of Supervisors

“August To June is an inspiring documentary film about one classroom across one year. With its close attention to all the different ways a teacher works with children, both singly and in groups, the film portrays the full complexity of expert teaching. It also shows how much a teacher can do to support the growth of children as emotional, social, and intellectual beings when parents and school agree to throw off the shackles of standardized testing.”
Helen Featherstone,
Associate Professor Emerita of Teacher Education Michigan State University, Adjunct Professor of Education, Brandeis University, editor:Transforming Teacher Education: Reflections from the Field
Helen and her husband Joseph have been writing about open education since the publication of Joseph’s seminal book Schools Where Children Learn in 1971



We took a 2 week break to rest and refuel…well, we actually brought along the laptop and worked on grant proposals when the weather was bad, but it was a break none the less. We showed the latest rough cut to French friends involved in education and had very lively conversations. While they felt that French audiences would be aghast at certain cultural things (wearing a hat inside, table manners) and envious of others (the amount of open space we have) mainly they felt the film’s message is as important there as it is here. Their public schools also are dealing with more testing and less room for creativity in the classroom.

Today I spent 2 hours with Carol and Steve Rebscher planning fundraising parties at their house. In the process I shared about some of the resources for progressive educators I have discovered as I have researched for the film: The Coaltion of Essential Schools, the Deborah Meier Institute, Tghe Prospect Descriptive Processes. I am struck by how little we know about what has happened and is happening in progressive education across the US. Schooling is a local affair, and most teachers do not have time to look beyond their own community once they leave college. At least that was my case. I read trade magazines (that hardly touched progressive issues) and occasionally caught a book by Alfie Kohn or Jonathan Kozol, but I had almost no contact with other schools teaching the way we taught. Several groups have sprung up that may act as a bridge, but the recognition that progressive public schools have commonalities that are worth exploring is just reaching a larger conciousness. Perhaps that’s another way this film can help: letting folks know that they are not alone.



We got 25 responses to our query about the title to the film! Fifteen people felt strongly we should stick with AUGUST TO JUNE, most adding that a subtitle would be good–with lots of variations on what that should be. The next most popular suggestion was Learning Beyond Measure with 4 people preferring that, then Doing School, with 3. The other titles that one or two people preferred (sometimes a single person suggested several of these) to AUGUST TO JUNE were:

In Defense of school
Real school
What you can’t measure
The case for a meaningful education
Open minds open classroom
everybody in
these children, this place
our school, our lives
one class one year
A vibrant place of learning

We got a few thoughts beyond our list:
Life, lettuce, 4 square, school was suggested by Sara Tolchin
A Whole Child’s Learning World
The Joy of Teaching the Whole Child
Passionately Teaching the Whole Child
A Place for Educating the Whole Child
Educating Whole Children came to us from Liz Lauter
Freedom Learning
Free To Learn 
Learning With Joy were all suggested by Mia and Jasper Thelin, but Jasper prophesied we would be sticking with AUGUST TO JUNE…and thanks to all the feedback, we are!

We had a great time the other day at school with 4 younger siblings of kids who are in the film, writing the title and subtitle on the white board: AUGUST TO JUNE, Bringing Life to School looks great when written with many a decorative twist, and then sped up by Tom so that it pops onto the screen. Ta da!



I stored this quote a while ago, from the explanation of Open Education in the Education Encyclopedia –

‘Dewey believed that… The school is a microcosm of society, not to be separated from the child’s familiar context of family, community, social norms, daily life–all areas that children need to confront and comprehend. Education is a process of living in the here and now, not
a preparation for future life.

If each child is brought into “membership within a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious,” Dewey wrote (Dewey on Education: Selections by Martin Dworkin, p. 49). Throughout, he emphasized the value and importance of childhood and the influence of social environment upon individual development. All this reflects a long-standing American faith in the civilizing power of education via the common school.’

Yes! But then the article goes on to discuss how and why Open education didn’t take hold in the mainstream, although it did make many inroads. ..basically not everyone wanted what Dewey saw as the crux of education.

Fast forward to the sticky issues that never got resolved and are coming up so intensely today. A few days ago there was a wonderful op ed piece in the NY Times by Susan Engel, senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College, called Playing to Learn
The article is the best piece I have seen in the mainstream media in a long time to describe Dewey’s (and my) understanding of what we are about. So, are we any further as a society in terms of agreement about the goals of education? If you look at how the Obama administration is going about things, you would have to say the answer is “no.”

One more piece for your “to do” list of reading material: The New Yorker” article on Arne Duncan.

You can see where the man comes from. We are so close, and yet so far apart! How do we bridge that gap, which leaves us going round in circles about the acheivement gap?



Oy oy oy I wish I knew if we have chosen the right name for our film! I’ve gotten used to AUGUST TO JUNE, but we’ve gotten mixed reactions to it. For me, it has a lot going for it. It rolls very nicely off of my tongue. I like that many people will recognize that it refers to the school year, and yet it is vague and open ended. But a title is also an opportunity to say something about the content of your ideas. AUGUST TO JUNE doesn’t address that at all. Should it? Well, for the record, I’m going to list all the other titles I’ve come up with, to see if any others rise to the top. If anyone reads this blog and wants to give me feedback, you can comment here, or write me at or engage with me about it on AUGUST TO JUNE’s facebook page!

Here’s the current list. I’ve divided them into three categories, but many fit into more than one:

clearer message ones:
To teach the whole child
instead of tests
No two the same
A small message of hope
Real school
whole children
Consider an alternative
What you can’t measure
Learning beyond measure
Educating for joy
What we can teach
No bubbles to fill
Education As American as Apple Pie
learning all the time
The case for a meaningful education
see them learn
learning is messy
educating for democracy

poetic ones: (maybe subtitled: bringing life to school)
with their hands in the dirt
poems, portraits, and chickens
the inner life of a classroom
Poetry Chickens and Blob Tag
Loving School
Cus all birds sing
In the fullness of time
curiosity, creativity, and compassion
los grandes amores de muchos colores
A learning world
everybody in

neutral descriptive ones:
a place of learning
these children, this place
our school, our lives
Reflections on a last year of teaching
A year in an open classroom
A year in a classroom
one class one year
26 plus
26 kids
a learning community
portrait of a classroom
We were 8, 9 & 10
Amy’s last class



The screening in Boston was in a brand new building at Northeastern, filled with very comfortable chairs. Lou Kruger, director of the School Psychology Program was our host, and Barry Chung, the chair of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, came by to welcome us. Our son Jesse came with us, and we relied on him several times, as he guided others to the room, helped with the computer set up, and trouble-shot during the screening at one point.

We lost a few folks to an important hearing on education at the state capital, but still had a great turn out: Ayla Gavins, principal of Mission Hill Pilot School, Monty Neill and Lisa Guisband of Fairtest, Jay and Helen Featherstone –authors and professors of education who have written widely about the english primary schools and progressive education, Emeritus professor of education at Leslie College and longtime consultant on Open education, Brenda Engel, Harvard professor and student of Piaget, Eleanor Duckworth, Berklee College teacher Dave Scott and his wife Renee, film maker Ed Howe, and Center for Independent Documentary director, Susi Walsh.

People were so positive, it blew us away. Here are some of the comments that people mailed me in the days following the screening:

Ayla Gavins “What a privilege it was to view your film. I loved it! My first thought when the film ended was that I wanted to watch it again.”

Helen Featherstone “It was terrific to meet you and I really really like your film. We talked about it a lot on the way home and then again this morning. One other thing that your film does that is important is that it dispels the notion that teachers in progressive schools have no standards and tell kids that every thing they do is WONDERFUL: I was very impressed by the way in which you pushed kids, insisting that they really do the assignment. But of course that is just one little thing. The main thing is that you and Tom have succeeded in showing what a school year looks like, for kids and for others.”

Jay Featherstone “I really think it’s a wonderful film, and will be happy to write recs or whatever.”

Monty Neill “It was a pleasure to see the film and be with folks. I’d be happy to dialog with you re: intro, closing, text, narration to help with ‘political location’ as it were. And I’d be pleased to provide a quote, etc.”

Lisa Guisbond “I’m percolating my thoughts about the film, which I found beautiful, engaging and profound. I’ll email them to you soon. What an idyllic world you created for those adorable, incredibly fortunate children. Seems like an educational garden of Eden. Feeling a bit sad that neither of my boys have had such an educational experience, or only in little morsels here and there, not as a daily diet. Sad that so few children have had this”

Louis Kruger “The film was excellent, and very well received by the group.”

Feedback included wanting more subtitles or improvements in the sound, so that important conversations weren’t lost, more clarity as to who was a teacher and who was a parent, wishing that we had filmed a teacher meeting to give more of a sense of how the team works together, and (the biggest subject of conversation) where and how to elucidate simply and without sounding smug the need to move away from standardized tests and one size fits all education. Several people felt that the first 20 minutes were confusing, and that the film didn’t take off for them until around the winter holiday section, but others said that complexity mirrored what was going on for the children, and was why the later parts of the film were able to be so compelling. Susi Walsh was effusive about the beauty of Tom’s images. People talked about the way Tom has captured children’s expressions and the way we see them develop in the course of the year. There was a wish that we could show more specific examples of how one or two children had grown academically. Some people hadn’t caught that it was a public school.

Everyone present seems willing to give us glowing endorsements. Jay is already thinking of ways he could use the film as he works towards creating a charter school with an arts focus. Helen suggested I try WT Grant foundation for funding, and although it seems like a long shot, I will pursue that, especially as she has received funding from them, and is willing to write on our behalf.

The following night we showed it to Tom’s extended family (including two young cousins who sat spellbound to our great surprise and pleasure). Much praise, and many questions followed. It is clear that we will need to have some explanatory material about the school and the district–maybe as part of the dvd package, or as a written insert.

Our daughter and son both gave us excellent suggestions and feedback. Suddenly this feels like a family effort! Keja made a comment that I have been thinking about a lot. In terms of what we want the film to accomplish, by having me the subject of the first and last scenes, we give the message that this film circles around the teacher. If we don’t want that to be the message, the first scene needs to change. Hmmmm. That is certainly part of our message–giving teachers the wherewithal to teach well is crucial, but is that the main message? I’ll get back to you on that!



We got to Brooklyn on December 21, and it has been a flurry of activity ever since. At 3 pm on the 22nd I found myself waiting in a drizzle in front of Junior’s restaurant across the street from Long Island University. Howard Katzoff and Fred Spinowitz were meeting us there, but Tom was still at LIU dealing with projectors that wouldn’t show our video! Luckily for us, the technician at LIU hadn’t gone home yet, and Tom joined us before the cheesecake arrived. I have been corresponding with Howard for several months, since discovering his website,, which is sponsored by the Orion Society’s Whole Child Education Initiative. Meeting him in the flesh was like meeting an old friend. When we started talking, it turned out that Fred (who is a former middle school principal, and now supervises student teachers when he is not painting) had just visited the junior high school that I attended! The conversation flowed flawlessly from memories of Brooklyn in the 50′s and 60′s to the politics that surround teaching. The pump was primed for viewing the video, and we strolled over to LIU, where the group grew larger with the addition of Lynn and Michael Hassan, and Marita Downes of LIU. Jerry Mitnz of AERO was delayed in traffic, but arrived about a third of the way through the screening, and right after him, my former student, Sara Hotchkiss. Jerry brought two students with him, who also contributed to the conversation.

Tom recorded the feedback, and I will be interested to hear it when I get back to California to see how well it jives with my memories as I am recording them after three more screenings, and may be mixing them up, but here goes. It has been very gratifying to see how much people basically enjoy the film, and relate to the children, the teacher, and the subject matter. Marita had to leave early, but as she left, told me it had been a privilege to watch the film. Jerry Mintz wanted more information about the structure of the school, and the community, but he missed that part of the film. For his philosophy of education, the school we show is not democratic enough, but he saw the value of showing what is possible in a public school setting. He would like more narration, and more comparison–wondered about using a student to narrate his or her perspective on what was happening.

Everyone felt my narration was appropriate, and that the more personal narration was the strongest. Fred would cut some of the social/emotional content. He and Howard disagreed on that point, but agreed that we need to find ways to spell out more clearly the context of the film in today’s narrowing of instructional practices, but do it unobtrusively, and without an ax to grind. Lynn spoke strongly for keeping the social/emotional as a major component. Howard talked of the fine line we have to walk, between creating a dramatic and artistic product, and advocating for relevant education. Sara was pleased to see how similar the school was to the way it was when she was a student, and applauded Tom’s photography. She reminded me that her dad has been involved in fundraising for the Ojai Society’s school, and I will contact him when I get home, in case he might have some leads for us. We left this first screening feeling awed and buoyed by the experience! Guess I’ll have to write about the other screenings another day, as it is almost midnight!



A few days ago Tom put his entire 2.25 hour first assembly onto 3×5 cards, each scene with a number. He color coded them, green for act 1: Introductions, yellow for act 2: Understanding the issues, and blue for act 3: Resolutions. Of course it is not as simple as that. You don’t introduce everything right away, and some issues will not be resolved, but it is a helpful way to give form to what we want to accomplish.

He taped the cards in sequence onto the walls of our editing room, and then gave me a stack of white cards to begin my process of rethinking some of what he has created. I put parenthesis around scenes I think we could eliminate, take some cards off the wall all together, and add cards where I think another scene belongs. I change the order, and write question marks when I can’t make up my mind if a scene is right or not. Not unexpectedly, I have added more than I have taken away, but at this point that’s okay. Things are feeling less chunky, more intertwined. Eventually some scenes that we love will have to go, but I console myself in the knowledge that they may reappear in the shorts we will make once the major film is completed.

Now Tom starts to re-edit. His first goal is to shorten the introduction, which felt long and confusing. Initially we had imagined many places where we would present a montage of images, followed by a well developed episode. But as we work with the material, the montages of many children doing many things, seem to be falling away in favor of longer scenes. Unfortunately that means we will not be able to show as much of a range of the activities of the year, but it felt discombobulating to pack as much in as we were doing, and didn’t give time to develop anything. I am playing with how we can use shorter, more focused montages–for example of the children’s portraits, to introduce certain kinds of scenes, and to emphasize themes.

I find all this so exhilarating. Maybe this just shows my age and lack of computer savy, but staring at the wall of cards, I feel the wholeness of the project for the first time.