This oral history interview is an intimate conversation between two people, both of whom have generously agreed to share this recording with Oral History Summer School, and with you. Please listen in the spirit with which this was shared.
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This interview was conducted virtually with Jennifer Wai-Lan Strodl on September 23, 2021. Jennifer is a resident of Ghent, NY, in the Hudson Valley. She founded and was director of the Liberi School, an independent school for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8 that shifted from in-person to virtual during of the pandemic. Jennifer begins the interview by talking about the summer, when she enjoyed time outdoors with her family and continued to navigate COVID-19 as a vaccinated individual. She remembers the joy of the early summer, celebrating her daughter’s thirteenth birthday in New York City.
Jennifer shares that she made the decision to close the Liberi School after a year of all virtual learning. She talks about how this choice was driven by low enrollment, a strain on financial resources, and a passion to pursue a model of education that is more accessible to disadvantaged students (not monetized or more scholarship-based). She considers how to develop writing and arts-based programs that serve students who would not otherwise have access, with particular attention to racial and class diversity. Jennifer reflects on a societal shift in education that prioritizes preparing children to survive, thrive, and problem solve in an uncertain future. She shares her visions for alternative models of education that support children in problem solving and dissolve traditional structures of learning. She mentions project-based learning, makers spaces, and studio-based education, where students come together, learn new skills, and create. Jennifer talks about her experience with grief on many levels. She believes that society is moving out of a period of shock about the pandemic and into a place where it is possible to process the losses and changes in this era of COVID. She shares that writing will become an important way to express grief, move forward, and support healing for all ages. Jennifer ends the interview on a hopeful note, observing that more people are reassessing their work-life balance and where they prioritize their time.
This interview may be of interest to those who want to learn about progressive education, K-8 education, and social and racial equity in education.
Anna Levy is a researcher, strategic analyst, educator and oral historian. Most of her work is at the intersection of accountability politics, structural inequality, historical and collective memory, and the role of civilian movements in economic and political transitions. She uses mixed research methods to map out the pressures and incentives guiding complex systems--including the political economy of organizations or cities in crisis, militarized border bureaucracies, or the shifting legal and digital frontlines of collective civic action, among others. Anna uses oral history to bring out the multiple, intersecting experiences that make up the day-to-day of those systems in order to help inform advocacy, policy and power shifts. She teaches on emergency and disaster politics at Fordham University and is an avid capoeirista. Her website is | Jafsadi.works.
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This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.