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Ruby on what Summerhill means to her.

June 27, 2011

When I first heard about Summerhill, I thought it was made up. I couldn’t understand how kids could be equal to adults, or choose whether they wanted to go to lessons or not. It seemed unbelievable. I’ve been at Summerhill for nearly three years now, and it’s hard for me to remember how I ever coped in other schools. Summerhill just feels right.

I think that the best way to truly understand Summerhill is to visit, and to see a few meetings. They’re the heart of the school, and when I miss them I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot. In my last school, a comprehensive secondary school, I was on the school council. We met once a month and suggested our ideas to a teacher, who would show fake enthusiasm before telling us that unfortunately, our ideas weren’t going to be used. The school council was supposed to give us a feeling of involvement in our school, but if anything it just highlighted what little say we had in anything. The Summerhill meeting is completely different. Everyone has a voice that is listened to and respected, and if you have an idea, you can propose it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every single person’s proposals will be carried, but when the whole school is voting on them it makes a big difference. You feel like you have the power to change things.

I think that the meeting has given me so much confidence. Talking in front of a room of people is a scary thing to do in general, but expressing your opinions when you know that not everyone will agree is a lot harder. Once I got over my initial fear, it felt amazing. The ability to speak my mind clearly and with confidence is a skill I’ll keep forever.

The thing that shocked me the most when I first heard about Summerhill was the fact that lessons and exams are completely optional. On my first day I went to every single lesson, because that seemed like the right thing to do. By the end of my first term, I hadn’t been to lessons for weeks. I’m not sure if I was rebelling against the state system, or if I was just too busy. I think I learnt more in that first term than I ever did in my two years at secondary school. I learnt how to climb trees, and how to sneak out after lights out, and other things that I’d thought were too young for me. I learnt how to have fun, which was something I was starting to think that, at 13, I was too old for. Eventually I started going to lessons again. I took an exam last year, and I’m taking more this year. Without any pressure from anyone, I learnt a lot faster than I would have at state school.

I’m 16 now, and next term will be my last term at Summerhill. Although I’m sad that I’m leaving, I’m not scared about life after Summerhill, because being here has changed me. I used to be shy, self-conscious and terrified of adults. Last week I went to a college interview, and the interviewer complimented me on how articulate I was, and how I didn’t seem at all nervous. That never would have happened three years ago.

I’ve mainly talked about how Summerhill has affected me, but it affects other people in so many amazing ways. In the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen other shy children, or angry children, or children who like me had forgotten how to have fun, and I’ve seen them develop into these amazing people with amazing personalities.
Summerhill may not be perfect, but no school is, and in my eyes Summerhill will always be the happiest school in the world.

Ruby McGuire

Sadly Ruby was unable to come but the children who did are, Thomas Fleischer, Charlotte Norton Pring, Sureya Gregory and Chris Norton Pring.

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