Author Archives: chd843

The Split Life, Transformation, and Reintegration

I came to HGSE with a clear mission of what skills I needed to gain and how I would apply them to the nonprofit I’m starting, which is located 700 miles away from Cambridge. I’m coming from that community, and I’m returning back to it, but in the interim, I have been transformed. The best education is transformational, of course, but it is harder to carry that transformation back to a place where I am already known.

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I presented at EdTalks on the Askwith Hall stage about my nonprofit, Dimensions Family School. We open for families in September 2016.

In many respects, I am living a split life. My husband stayed back home during my year of graduate school, so other than a video chat or text message here and there, I’m functionally single. At my permanent home down south, I homeschool my kids and drag them along on my various employment adventures (the perks of being an independent educator!), while in graduate school I have a full time nanny and we have pieced together versions of public education. At home, we drive to almost all of our activities. Here, we use our bikes. My friendships are different; my social activities have fundamentally shifted.

 

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Learning & Teaching cohort 2016 at Field Day and Kickball – a total blast!

Now graduation looms, and I look toward going home, but while I am headed south again, I am not simply “going back.” I am shifting into a leadership role in my community. My marriage has altered and there will be a readjustment period. My kids are a year older, their relationships more tenuous. They have transformed this year as well.

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Two friends, Laura Peters (AIE) and Alice Liou (TIE), helped me transform the TIE lounge into a more comfortable seating arrangement, instead of its prior waiting-room feel. (Future students: move the furniture! Transform your environment! Tinker!)

Growth implies change. It is necessary. Now, as I consider what I want to bring forward from this alternate life I’ve led this year, I know only one thing: Harvard is now within me. I carry the lessons I’ve learned here into the next phase.

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This is from the wall at the Harvard I-Lab, which I’ve used as a place to work in order to separate school time from business activities. And also to drink the free coffee.

The transformation continues from this point forward, and I feel trepidation about the coming changes, yes, but also gratitude for all that has come before.

Thank you, HGSE community and Class of 2016.  I’ve been honored to share this year with you.

Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked in home education networks, independent schools, museum education and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.

 

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Habits and Gratitude

After I was admitted to HGSE, I was very intentional about many of my choices.  Sure, I spent many hours with the course catalog and many more figuring out the logistics of housing and childcare for my kids, but I also thought about the big picture of my experience coming here.  I wanted this school year to be transformative, rather than simply transactional – not simply a master’s degree, but also a time of personal growth.

With The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg freshly in my mind, I created a few mini-goals unrelated to school that I wanted to cultivate while I was here.

1. Healthy living.  Since my budget would be tight, I bought a bento box for lunches and figured out what healthy meals I could pack on a weekly basis (my go-to is homemade granola with greek yogurt and frozen fruit, with a veggie side).  I resolved never to take an elevator or escalator, which adds about twenty flights of stairs to my days!  I started cycling during all but the worst weather days.  Finally, I joined the Harvard gym, which is super cheap and has a ton of free classes.  I’m not perfect, but making just a few of these changes from my former eat-out and drive-around lifestyle has been great!

2. Gratitude.  It is a privilege to be here for a year, and I try to be thankful every day for the opportunity to live here and for the people who have supported me.  I’ve developed a few times during the day to remember to be grateful.

First, any time I cross the Charles River, I’m sure to look up and take in the view.  It’s different every time.  You can take the Red Line, the 66 bus, the Harvard Shuttle, or bike across.  This is when I remember to be thankful for a year of living in Boston.

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The Museum of Science as seen from the Red Line train window.

At dinner, my family also shares something we are grateful for – the Family Dinner Project from Project Zero has some great ideas!

Finally, I take pictures of the beautiful things that I encounter and make them my phone’s background screen.  Surrounding myself with everyday beauty reminds me to be on the lookout for magic moments.

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3.  Adventure.  Don’t forget to go places!  Build in time for all of the amazing things around town and around the state.  I’ve visited most of the museums, DeCordova Sculpture Park, Walden Pond, most of the parks (with my kids), and I have Red Sox tickets purchased for later this month, as well as a camping trip planned in May.  My family celebrated Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation!

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We’ve walked the Freedom Trail and gotten our passports stamped at the National Parks.

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So many amazing things are free; be sure to get a local library card for tons of discounts and free passes!  I also use a few online lists of “best” restaurants and try to get a treat on occasion.

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Clover Food Lab – a great local option.

Enjoy your year at an amazing school in a beautiful town!

Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked in home education networks, independent schools, museum education and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.

HGSE with Kids

I’m at HGSE with four children, ages 13, 11, 6 and 4.

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Furthermore, my husband is still in North Carolina, holding down the fort and putting food in our bellies while this grad school adventure unfolds for the rest of us here. (How do I do it? With an amazing nanny!)

One of my biggest worries about applying and attending was the nebulous idea that Harvard might not be “family friendly.” Here is Dean Ryan with my younger children at the Halloween party:

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He read to all of the children at the event, but he took time to connect with my kids in a kind, gentle, genuine way prior to the formal start of the event.  That’s how it feels here.  Family friendly isn’t a platitude.  It’s real.

When I was trying to determine if I could really move away and do this with kids, and if HGSE was really genuine about its commitment to student parents, this is what finally convinced me:

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Watch at 1:14.  That was the moment that I knew HGSE wanted success for families, not just in a token way, but sincerely acknowledging the balance that student-parents need to manage on a daily basis.  The downside is that I miss out on a lot of evening events.  The upside is that I put everyone to bed and get quite a lot of homework done!

When I needed to come late to class this week to attend my son’s first grade author event, my professor wrote, “Take your time – you are in the right place.”  Indeed.

Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked in home education networks, independent schools, museum education and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.

The Courage to Ride

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My husband is a cyclist.  He wears tiny spandex shorts and rides more than 10,000 miles a year.  I have not been on that journey with him; the roads seemed too scary and dangerous.  When I moved near Cambridge, driving became much more difficult.  I started riding the bike path to the subway to get to HGSE.  Slowly my confidence improved, and now I ride directly to Harvard each day through crazy mazes of traffic.  I still remember being too scared to tackle the roads, but now I also feel a surprising love for the daily bit of exercise and connection to my new home, thanks to my bike.

Now, for those of you considering Harvard, I’ve got an analogy for you.  Let’s get personal for a moment, shall we?  I grew up in poverty.  There is no father on my birth certificate, but there were a string of “dads” that exemplified bits of terrible humanity.  I went to an inner-city public school system with widely varying teacher and programming quality.  My mom was partially disabled and only worked the lowest paying jobs.  Harvard was so far away from a possibility that it seems laughable that I ever made it here.  And yet here I am!

Last week as I began my commute, there were two fancy bikers with their clip-in shoes and team jerseys.  I looked just like the picture above; fifteen pounds in my backpack, jeans, heavy bike with flat pedals.  And wouldn’t you know?  I blew past those fancy dudes, with their bikes that cost more than my car, because I had places to go.

It doesn’t matter what baggage you carry, or what metaphorical “bike” you ride to get here.  Your backstory is not your destiny.  It doesn’t matter that some people are better equipped than you, or that they can theoretically go faster.  What matters is that you move forward.  You can’t get into Harvard without applying.  And that baggage?  Well, it makes me smarter, more engaged, and more connected to the work. I’m a better educator as a result of my upbringing.  Be brave.  The ride is totally worth the risk.

Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked and learned alongside her four children in home education networks, independent schools, and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.

The 5th Class

School has been in session for just over a month now, and I’m settling into the weekly rhythm of classes and homework. One vital aspect of the HGSE experience is what they informally call “the 5th class” – taking advantage of the amazing guests and experiences that are available at the Ed School, across the Harvard campuses, and within the larger community (such as MIT or greater Boston cultural events). These guests can often throw a wrench into my carefully constructed study plans, but they are so interesting and unique that it’s worth the effort to attend.

This is Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, posing for me after I awkwardly asked for her photo.

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She had a large lecture for the community and then a smaller luncheon for students across the Harvard campuses. She had briefly mentioned her high school as a transformative place, and I was able to ask her specifically about its impact and get details about their unique programming.

It’s only been a month, but I’ve met Mitch Resnick, MIT professor and creator of Scratch. Jie Qi, an amazing crafting artist and creator of circuit stickers also visited campus. Elizabeth Warren was here, as was Dr. Davis, the current superintendent of one of the school systems affected by the unrest after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. There were several executive directors from arts institutions and educational nonprofits that dropped into my classes for questions, and I attended a presentation on hip-hop culture from the person who quite literally wrote the book on it.

Right now we are in the midst of the inaugural Teaching and Learning Week, where there have been open classes, unique presentations and daily emails about experiences in teaching and learning across the HGSE campus.  At one of these open classes, I brought my two daughters to meet one of my heroes, Alfie Kohn.

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The class content is great, but the unique campus opportunities are unparalleled. I’m grateful to be here, and thankful for the many staff members and student organizations that use their talents to bring such interesting people to HGSE.

Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked and learned alongside her four children in home education networks, independent schools, and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.

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