Riley Nichols ’21 will be taking a position as a progressive education fellow at Buxton School this fall. Here, Nichols describes her passion for education and how it was shaped by her time at Hamilton.
Could you talk a bit about the program that you’re going into?
I’m going to be a progressive education fellow at Buxton, which is a progressive high school in Williamstown, Mass. The first half of the year, I’m going to be researching progressive education and learning from students and faculty at Buxton by observing classes and participating in all the aspects of the school. Then, over the winter and spring terms, I’ll be developing my own class, which can be whatever I want. And then I’ll be teaching that class to a group of high school students.
What is a progressive school?
[Buxton’s] motto is “live your education,” and they’re really focused on the learning that goes on not just inside the classroom, but all throughout the day. They also have a heavy focus on arts education, which is something I’m really excited about. There’s a ton of studio art classes, and kind of like Hamilton, it’s a really small community with a big focus on interdisciplinary learning. Subjects aren’t just divided; everything’s kind of going together. There’s all kinds of cool classes that combine different subjects.
Is there anything in particular that attracted you to the field of education?
My mom’s a kindergarten teacher, and I’ve always been interested in education. Throughout my time at Hamilton, even as a philosophy major, I was always doing education things … I kind of feel like I majored in education because I was always relating whatever I was doing to educational experiences.
Have you been involved with any relevant extracurriculars?
For my thesis last fall, I did this program on teaching pre-college philosophy where I worked with elementary, middle, and high school students on philosophy lessons over Zoom. I continued that with a winter Levitt grant focused on social justice education. This past spring, I worked with a couple students on an independent study called “Writing the Self” … it was a creative writing program with high schoolers from Pittsfield and from Clinton, which solidified my interest in high school education.
Have any Hamilton courses or mentors helped to prepare you?
The first course where I really got interested in education was called Education, Teaching, and Social Change with [Lecturer in Sociology] Meredith Madden. That has really inspired me … it was a small community of students, and everyone was interested in education in some form. [Professor of Philosophy] Marianne Janack was my advisor, and how she teaches her classes was really inspiring to me. I look up to her so much. She’s so creative, and she’s always pushed me to think about education and how it could be different … she practices un-grading [focused on written feedback, conversations, and self evaluation], and Buxton doesn’t do grades either. That was something that drew me to the school as well.
What will you miss the most about Hamilton?
Probably the sense of community you get and the opportunities to explore. I didn’t realize until probably last year that you can just do whatever you want. If you have an idea, Hamilton has the resources to make it happen. I think that going forward, that’s something I’ll keep looking for.