The Springhouse mission is to practice and share Sourced Design. In our high school, we have practiced this design for the past ten years. In 2021, we became accredited through the Virginia Independent Schools Association.
During their time at Springhouse, our alumni spend their years learning how to build life-affirming culture in a world that desperately needs it, and they graduate from our high school with a diploma. After graduation, their next steps are diverse – service work, travel, work to gain financial independence, go to college, get lost for a while, and more. They embody our values of connection, individuality, trust, creativity, resiliency, and integrity and stay connected to Springhouse well after their graduation through our alumni network of support.
Learn more about the Springhouse experience through the stories of teen learners, alumni, parents, and staff
At the beginning of every year learners submit their choices for a mentor. This year we introduced the mentor selection by describing the role of mentor. To give new community members a sense for each staff mentor, one pair or trio at a time, we had a few returning learners stand in the center of our circle with their mentor and share reflections and meaningful memories: the importance of having an adult take genuine interest, show up at times of difficulty, share joy and enthusiasm. There was appreciation for being both supported and challenged. There were tears and laughter and lots of mutual gratitude.
Developmentally, the mentor serves an essential role. Many parents experience a change as a young person enters their teenage years. Looking at Bill Plotkin’s Eco-Centric Wheel of Human Development, we can understand this as a natural consequence of the center of gravity moving from the family to peer group, as the child enters adolescence. The mentor can provide guidance and perspective at a time when teens are often pushing their parents away in an effort to individuate.
In our weekly schedule we only have one hour set aside for small group mentoring, so a lot of mentoring happens in the in-between times – a moment in a class, having lunch together, connecting while dancing, checking-in while transitioning from one thing to another. It’s one of the many reasons we are grateful to be back to learning in-person. There’s something that happens for both mentor and mentee when the relationship is marked in ritual as we do. It calls us to a higher standard and helps us align with who we really want to be. That kind of relational accountability, grounded in love, contributes powerfully to a regenerative culture and a world in which I want to live.
This is not an all-encompassing curricular history of Springhouse, and should not be taken as one. It is my attempt to articulate some of the many facets of Springhouse’s curriculum that was impactful to me over the course of my time there and I saw as the foundation to Springhouse’s future.
View the Curricular Memoir below.
After graduating, I was lucky enough to come on as a partial staff member of Springhouse to continue doing the work of building regenerative culture. Part of building regenerative culture requires a deep and connected relationship with the local community. In our case, that is the town and community of Floyd, VA. In order to form a stronger relationship with our local community, we have decided to bring our work closer by forming “Springhouse Downtown”, an art centered space in the heart of Floyd. This space will be an accessible space for members of our community to connect with our vision of building regenerative culture through art and creativity. As the main chunk of my work at Springhouse, I am very excited to share it and use it as a way to create beautiful relationships in the near future.
I was in for a lot more excitement from the weather and climate, partly because the Academy at Charlemont had a hiking group that I participated in. Each day, I had no idea where we would be hiking, but I was in for anything, even snow. Most of the trails I hiked on were very snowy. I enjoyed the snow even though I didn’t have snow boots. I only had shoes, which got soaked by the snow, but even that was not enough to stop me from sometimes going off the trail to step in the deep snow. I did this because this was some of the deepest snow I’d ever seen. It was fun to see how deep my feet would sink.
The trails were in the forest. I had never seen a forest quite like the forests there. One Difference that I noticed included the trees, of course. Although I was familiar with many of the trees, they seemed to grow slightly different. I also noticed trees that I was not familiar with. Another thing that I noticed was that the forest seemed to have less underbrush. All of these differences felt very special to me and I very much enjoyed seeing them. Overall, I am grateful for all of the hikes that I went on and for the opportunity to experience a different climate.
My other experiences at The Academy at Charlemont were very interesting. I enjoyed jumping into a whole new school with a very different schedule than I was used to. Charlemont is a small school, but it felt giant to me because it has a little over ninety students (whereas Springhouse currently has 18). The building itself also felt big and sometimes confusing because I did not know my way around. There was one room in the school which was completely for art. This was my favorite room. It felt very authentic and buzzed with creativity. The whole room had inspiring art everywhere. It was full of art supplies, so I felt welcome to come and make art. I really enjoyed some of the art classes that I was in. Another class that I enjoyed was the photography class. The photography there was all non-digital. At Springhouse, I learned about non-digital photography, so it was really exciting to get to be in Charlemont’s photography class. I learned a lot about photography from it.
It was amazing going to Massachusetts and visiting a school there. I feel like I learned a lot from the experience. I very much enjoyed seeing things which I had never seen before, meeting lots of new people, and going on an adventure.
We reached Birmingham by evening. My first impression of it was that it seemed like it was very spread out. By then I was tired, but tired or not, I was in for a big surprise. When I walked into the airbnb that we would stay in, I was welcomed by the sound of Sarah and Jenny singing a karaoke song. I was impressed.
After dinner and the normal buzz of us all settling in, we watched a movie called Selma. It was about the history of the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Sometimes I couldn’t look at the screen, because it was so disturbing. We watched the movie so that we would have a better understanding of the Civil Rights movement and history in Alabama, before we dove into learning all about it.
Diving into the history of Alabama was just what we did the next day. We went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Museum. For me, one thing that stood out was the real, historical artifacts. It reminded me that the Civil Rights history that we were studying in Alabama really wasn’t that long ago. In fact many people are still alive and were there when this history happened. Another thing that stood out to me was how bluntly horrible the history was. Four little girls had died when their church was bombed and they were in it.
Before we left the museum Jenny and I talked to a man who worked there. I told him about the things that stood out to me. He showed us a picture of the father of one of the little girl’s who died when the church was bombed.
Later on that day we toured the church that had been bombed. Rodney Gilliams showed us around. He told us the hard truth that many people had been in the church when it was bombed. A lot of people were injured, including one girl who was blinded. While this happened, she had a vision of the four little girls [who died] turning into angels. Outside of the church were statues that were an interpretation of the four little girls turning into angels.
Before we left the church Rodney played the organ for us. I liked the sound of the organ. It sounded to me like a volcano would sound like in a musical.
The next day we woke up early to drive to Selma. We went there to walk across a bridge called the Edmund Pettus bridge. This bridge played an important role in Civil Rights history. There was a Civil Rights march there. Many people had tried to cross the bridge, and after lots of struggle and physical violence by state troopers, they succeeded. The march was for the rights of African Americans to vote without the difficulties that made it nearly impossible for them to vote. It was also in protest to the death of a man named Jimmy Lee Jackson who was wrongly killed by a white police officer.
The first thing that we did was talk to a man named George Sallie. He told us about his experience with being at this march. He said that he now stays at the bridge every day. After speaking with George Sallie we crossed the bridge.
Once we were across the bridge we went to a museum. We were welcomed in by a man named Sam Walker. As we toured the museum the thing that stuck out to me the most was the footprints of some of the people who had been in the march crossing the bridge: the Foot Soldiers.
Later on that day, we went to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, following the same route thousands of people marched when they successfully crossed the bridge back in Selma. We went to the Legacy Museum, which was the largest one that we went to. There were many memorials and stories of African American people who have suffered greatly throughout U.S. history.
We then went to a memorial honoring all of the African American people who had been horribly lynched. This is called The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and was large with walkways we walked along. Along the walkways were memorials. Written on them were the names of people who had been lynched and where the lynching took place. At the end of the walkway was a fountain that honored all of the people who had been lynched and were forgotten in history.
To finish out our experience, we went to listen to a woman named Sofia speak about a nonprofit organization called the Equal Justice Initiative. They work for the rights of people who are unfairly incarcerated or sentenced to the death penalty. She talked about how unfairly imprisoned people are treated and that often African Americans are sentenced more often and with worse penalties. After listening to Sofia speak, I was both inspired and disappointed. I was inspired because she spoke of hope and change for the better. I was disappointed because I did not know that these things were this unfair.
The next day we had an all school meeting where we talked about everything that we had learned. This conversation brought our studies for this trip to a close. Although our studies for this trip were over, we remember the incredible importance of the Civil Rights movement and the history that we learned.
For me, after having this learning experience, I felt that I had learned incredibly important knowledge and that I experienced opportunities that I would probably never get the chance to have again. Overall, I was grateful to be a part of this important trip to Birmingham Alabama.
What matters here is not the type of math concepts that are taught or how much is covered during class time; it is, rather, the importance of creating a safe environment in which to learn where the facilitator is inspired, vulnerability is taken care of, and challenges are viewed as doorways instead of obstacles to overcome. In just a few short months, I have watched attitudes shift, witnessed smiles and laughter, and heard a learner, who used to fear math, say to me, “H, I actually love fractions now!” This is the power of facing something difficult with support and care. If we let it, math, like any other potential challenge, can become a doorway to empowerment – to knowing more deeply that we are capable.
Read the full article below.
On a beautiful night in early November, as the sun set in spectacular fashion behind their outdoor stage (the ‘dodecadeck’ built by student interns), Springhouse 9th and 10th grade learners gave us their impressive performance of The Man Who Put Death in a Sack.
These incredible teens explored multiple facets of death in their main course during the Fall trimester. In this class, teens delved into the way our mainstream culture avoids death and what consequences follow. They looked at life expectancy around the world, investigated the funeral traditions of various cultures, and had visitors from Gardner Funeral Home and from Blue Ridge Green Burial. Part of their study was the creation of a theatrical adaptation of the Appalachian Folk Tale ‘Soldier Jack’, which they renamed ‘The Man Who Put Death in a Sack, with an alternate ending written by the students.
The story goes something like this… Jack leaves the army after the war and his payment on discharge is two loaves of bread and a nice suit. Along his way, he meets an old man who asks for food and he gifts one loaf of bread to the stranger. In return he is given a magic sack that he can catch anything in. Further along, in exchange for his other loaf of bread, he acquires a glass jar through which he can spot the Angel of Death. The sack comes in handy when he is able to capture some ‘haints’ in a haunted house that he wins by spending a night inside. Later he falls in love with the king’s daughter, and she becomes very ill. Since he can spot the Angel of Death, he captures Death in his magic sack and his beloved does not have to die. The king rejoices and Jack is happy to have his lady alive. The problem is now no one can die. Jack, and everyone else, live for hundreds of years, and all the people in the land are hunched over in old, tired bodies. Jack comes across one of these old folks one day who complains of being tired and ready to rest in death, but unable to do so because some fool captured Death 600 years ago and now no one can escape their mortal coil. So, to put things right, Jack releases his captive from the sack and everyone can die in peace.
After this story played out, the students rewound time, back to the death bed of the beautiful princess, at which time Jack realizes it would be wrong to cheat Death and not allow the Angel to perform the sacred rite that is part of life. His beloved dies. The king laments, and grieves. They have a beautiful funeral and sing an old shape-note song as they lay her to rest in community ritual. As they carry her body to the grave, they sing in harmony,
Why should we start and fear to die?
What tim’rous worms we mortals are!
Death is a gate to endless joy,
And yet we dread to enter there.
I am once again moved as I recall the scene to share with you, readers. Tears well in my eyes with pride and deep satisfaction that my son was one of the students who experienced this momentous learning!
Sarah Merfeld, Ecological Design Lead and co-facilitator of the course stated, “It’s been really meaningful for me to facilitate a class on death. I’ve learned a lot through our exploration … “ A 15 year-old student added, “As a learner in the class, there are often times that the conversations we hold around death are sad or uncomfortable, which is why I find this play to walk an awesome line between the importance of death, and a fun comedy about a lazy man with a magic sack.”
After the performance, the audience broke into groups and shared their responses to questions such as:
In what ways do you see death being put in a sack?
If you could live to be 600 years old, would you choose to do so?
Which character do you relate to the most in this story?
Blue Ridge Green Burial’s Linda Hass built a pine coffin that was on display at the end of the play, and into that coffin audience members placed papers where they had written their response to the final question for reflection: How would you like to live your life more fully?
I was invited to share a little about the vision and mission of Blue Ridge Green Burial, and it was a beautiful opportunity to join forces with Springhouse in a meaningful way. We hope it is only the beginning of collaboration with the regenerative culture builders at Springhouse. We are motivated and committed to provide regenerative death care for our community – regenerative of the earth, regenerative of community, regenerative of family bonds and connections, and deeply regenerative to the soul. Thank you, Springhouse, for providing an education that supports that vision!
For the past few months I have enjoyed making small mushroom earrings out of polymer clay, and while this is only one of my many artistic hobbies, I have decided that they would be a great start to my Etsy shop. I aim to put up new listings of cloth bookmarks and watercolor cards as soon as I can, so keep an eye out! You can access Spring Crafts Cottage through this link and if you are drawn to my shop’s products and would like to purchase a gift for a loved one or yourself, your support is much appreciated!
To all the young artists out there who create adorable crafts that bring people joy, keep it up and good luck!
As many of you know, our campus was once the home to the Blue Ridge Center for Chinese Medicine. During it’s time as this healing center, the dedicated and versatile staff created a series of cascading terraced garden beds, multiple greenhouses, and in general, an ideal habitat for native and introduced pollinators (like the honeybee!). Since BRCCM left the property and our arrival and inability to more fully engage with the gardens, much of the garden space that was so beautifully maintained has been swallowed into the grass and growth. Our goal as a class is both to document and inventory the pollinator species we have on campus, and to work towards creating more habitat for native and honey bee pollinators.
Our approach has been twofold:
Our first priority has been to learn as much about these species and their unique relationship to the plant realm as possible. Fortunately for us, we have had the joy and wonder to partner with our friends at Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary. Frankly, the level of expertise, care and knowledge from them has been astounding. They are truly an example of what can happen when a vision and mission are held at the center of an organization and we are so grateful for their help and inspiration. So, some nuggets we learned to help inspire you:
1. One native leaf cutter bee can do the pollination job of 20 non-native bees. This is largely due to the highly specific relationship between some insects and plants that have evolved together.
2. Stinging insects are the only producers of formic acid in the world. This acid is essential for creating proteins that make up our bodies.
3. Not only do pollinators pollinate plants by spreading their pollen, they also breathe out this formic acid into the plants. The plants then use this acid to create proteins and grow more, allowing them to create more flowers for the pollinators to feed on and pollinate!
Our second priority is to create more habitat for pollinators on Springhouse’s campus. This is partly in preparation for the honeybees we hope to introduce, but also to support the many native pollinators that are already present. We can do this by planting beneficial plants, and making sure our campus has early blooming flowers, flowers that bloom throughout the summer, and some that bloom through the fall. We are also planning on building a “pollinator hotel”. These structures create habitat for solitary bees and wasps, like mud daubers and leaf cutter wasps primarily by providing holes for nests. These species work alone to collect individual pollen balls for each of their eggs. They then deposit these into holes they have carved or found and seal them up until the spring.
One of the great joys about teaching at Springhouse is being able to engage in this sort of learning myself. My life as an adult rarely necessitates knowledge about pollinators or their habitat, and my time becomes increasingly sparse as my life flows on. To be able to follow curiosity and joy when I am teaching is such a gift to that piece of me that needs wonder. When we then couple this wonder with a real need for our community and the world, the learning holds both the power of wonder and emergence, as well as the gravity and structure of service and meeting the world’s need. This is a powerful place to be, and I am grateful for it.
Jarrah is one of those learners. Read Jarrah’s well-articulated reflective research essay below who has been at Springhouse since he was 12 and is now in his second to last year.
The Red Desert
By Jarrah Callister
The air was cooling down, so I put on a coat for the first time all day. Night swiftly approached over the vast red desert as we sat and stared at the sky. Firey color split the horizon while the sun set over the shrubbery. Over the period of a few weeks, our family had been on a trip up north to the reefs. We saw so many different things from wallabies to turtles, but the single experience that I will never forget is the red dirt. I find it hard to believe that it was dirt at that – more sand and dust than anything, but whatever it was screamed the harsh Australian outback. Through my personal experience with the desert soil in Western Australia, I explore the difference in other soil types as well as the etymology of soil itself.
Although desert soils are very deprived of the same nutrients found in other areas, it only takes ten minutes of sitting on the ground to realize how diverse and abundant plant and animal life truly is. A very common misconception is one that the Australian desert is deserted; however, when I spent only a couple of weeks in it, I realized the exact opposite. According to the Nature Conservancy Australia, “Australia is home to the largest intact desert on Earth, full of wildlife spectacularly evolved to eke out a living in the extreme conditions of the desert.” (The Nature Conservancy Australia, n.d.). This article, as well as an article by the World Atlas, lists prominent species that have called the western Australian lands home. I find it simply amazing how they can all adapt to the harsh surroundings and live amongst this dry earth.
Soil types can vary drastically in their color, texture, mineral composition, organic matter, as well as biological life. All of these factors can completely change the way that the soil feels. I think that it’s really important to experience vastly different landscapes and the soil that comes with it. My home was located in the center of a karri forest for most of my life in Australia. Our house was built on an extremely nutrient dense soil called Karri Loam, a rich red colored loam with a greater concentration of organic matter, considered highly fertile by West Australian standards (McArthur, 2004). I really remember how harsh and shocking the desert felt after playing in this forest dirt, and how the entire feeling of a place can be so strongly influenced by the land itself.
Although a lot of my findings on the etymology of the word “soil” spoke to its origins in a very literal sense with things such as “mud” and “dirt,” I also discovered that it traces back to the English word we use for “soul” and ties into the word “ foundation.” I find it really interesting to think about its relation to the people who inhabit the land and if there is a correlation between the word “soul” and the people’s mindset as well as the way a culture as a whole acts. A stereotype of Australian people, just like the desert soil itself, is the harsh and toughened attitude they hold. Although no one is alike, I do think that there is some merit to the statement. In my time living in Australia, I found a common mindset is of independence and being able to fend for oneself; this could quite possibly be where the stereotype stemmed from. From a purely opinionated perspective, I see a similarity in the humans and the land, as well as how the earth that they live on reflects in their society.
About five years ago, our family moved to Virginia so my mom could reunite with her family. I remember waking up in a hotel, running to the window, and screaming, “It’s a Christmas tree!” I had never seen a North American pine. Though small, this was the first moment I realized how much my life had truly changed, and how everything to come would open my eyes in a new way. It wasn’t long after that that I ran into the woods and experienced the new and rich soil. So from searching in the red sand for metals with a magnet, to looking for crawdads in the Virginian creeks, I’ve never strayed too far from the dirt.
Dwevedi, A., & Arvind, Kayastha, A. (2017). Desert soils. Desert Soils – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/desert-soils
Etymonline. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymonline.
McArthur, WM. (2004). Reference soils of south-western Australia. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA.
Nag, O. (2019). What Animals Live In The Australian Outback?. WorldAtlas.
The Nature Conservancy Australia. (n.d.). Desert Dwellers. The Nature Conservancy Australia.
It’s with this question that so much of our learning begins. It can take on different qualities, all of which are important. There is the why of innocent curiosity inherent in little children. The poet Mary Oliver knew a lot about rediscovering this attitude of wonder:
“..Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”
There is the “why?!” of questioning and rebellion that pushes back against the status quo. This quality of why is also important, especially when it is rooted in ideals of justice and equality. There is also the why that comes from those wise enough to know how much they don’t know; the humble wondering at something taken for granted; the genuine question a mentor asks of a mentee to further their becoming. All of these qualities come into play when we approach our learning and our educational design at Springhouse.
In our culture, turning our questions toward how we structure education is something that, broadly speaking, isn’t really done. Although, the COVID-19 pandemic might be forcing the conversation. What is education for? Why go to school? For many people the answer is about job preparation, and acquiring the tools for survival. If that’s the case, then how well does an educational system do this that hasn’t seen significant change in over 100 years while the world has shifted dramatically? Why memorize a pile of content only to forget it after the scantron hurdle has been cleared? After 12 years as mostly passive recipients of standardized curricula are young people leaving school ready to navigate the challenges of a more and more uncertain future? At Springhouse we focus more on skills to be practiced than content to be memorized. Our competency framework includes things like Adaptability, Perspective Taking and Collaboration, as well as more traditional school skills like Quantitative Literacy and Close & Critical Reading. Our learning goes beyond the theoretical, embodied in real life situations like community internships and service work.
But is that where it stops? At Springhouse we recognize that learning the steps to a survival dance is important, but we also endeavor to learn a sacred dance, a dance unique to each individual, a dance that brings us more alive. Through rich and varied experiences, learners build relationships, receive feedback and get to know themselves more deeply. As we listen for what this learning community wants to become, we are understanding it more and more as a place where people learn to connect to the vitality within themselves, their community, and the Earth. From that place, we can courageously love and serve a world in need.
I was so inspired by the opening of our 2020-2021 school year. This summer it was sometimes hard to keep sight of our why as we planned around pandemics and uncertainty, but coming back together was a powerful reminder. While our first day was held virtually, the vitality on the Zoom call was palpable. There was connection and creativity, laughter, earnest calls to responsibility, and a willingness to do what needs to be done to keep close to the life source we access when we are in community, learning together. After a strange quarantined summer, it’s a life-giving joy to gather with the Springhouse Community and ask more questions.