Flying Squads 2020

 

The facilitators of the Flying Squads old and new across the country wrote up year end summaries of each of our communities. We hope you enjoy them.

South Brooklyn | Seattle | Austin | Northeast Georgia Mountain | Portland | Brooklyn, Original Flavor


 

South Brooklyn

by Karen Duek (she/they)

South BK Flying Squad started meeting this past September, in the neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

In lots of ways, our experiences have been both shaped and a response to the conditions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. We didn’t yet know what possibilities the changes we needed to make to our lives to care for each other were going to bring about, it looked like a lot of restrictions. We decided from the start that we would not take public transportation, which meant we’d go only as far as we could walk. For the most part, that looked like spending all our time in the neighborhood we all also live in.  

Because of all this time spent locally, we got to one of the aspects of our experience so far I most want to celebrate  – that we got to nurture relationships as members of the community that is entangled together in this little territory. 

We started our days at Jardin Los Colibríes, a small neighborhood community garden/collectively run social space – through the garden, the Squad now has close relationships with some lovely chickens and access to a community that can teach them an impromptu knife safety lesson because there was interest, or participate in a documentary interview asking questions about a muralist’s creative process, or just get to chat about what remote college is like when someone comes by to drop off some compost. 

We were always running into friends, mine and theirs, on the streets, at the parks. Or making new ones with the folks at the corner deli, or the bakery with good hot chocolate that gave us free cookies just because. They’ve named their favorite tree and mapped out their favorite routes to “the park by the water” to either avoid the small slaughterhouses or purposefully go by the “garbage block” in the industrial area and peek at the waste management warehouses that expose part of the city’s infrastructure for a minute, or stop by the Japanese grocer and get some Mochi ice cream for someone’s birthday. 

Through all these encounters, the Squad was practicing being in community with each other, experimenting with tools to help us make decisions together, to listen to each other through conflicts, communicate and honor boundaries, speaking up about what feels important. Creating the conditions that let us play ferociously, turning everything into Beyblade stadiums, dancing and rhyming the names on tombstones, playing so much soccer, climbing trees and wood chip piles and fences, making a movie about the revenge of ghost chickens, playing sidewalk tag, Werewolves and Uno and Kings in the Corner and remembering that we can always get past point the fear of “what else would we do” and make up our own games/life.


 

Seattle

by Susan Milton (she/her)

In this year of so much loss and uncertainty, and so many canceled plans, it feels incredibly lucky and improbable and hopeful that the Seattle Flying Squad has had such a wonderful beginning.

I feel so happy to see how happy the young people are to have found each other. I am so grateful for them and the unique energy that each one of them has brought to our Squad, and I am also grateful for the support and vision of Flying Squad facilitators around the country. My fellow Seattle homeschool parents have also been a great source of optimism and wise suggestions about getting a Flying Squad going here.

We started with a short trial run during the summer and planned a somewhat more official start for fall. A number of families gave it a try and it didn’t quite work for them for a variety of reasons. In the end though, a core group of young people stuck with it, and the Squad somehow became everything I was imagining it could be.

It wasn’t the adding of resources, materials, activities, plans, goals, or expertise into our situation that made it work. Rather, it was the removal of those things that allowed us the space to just be humans in the presence of other humans. We had our creativity, our thoughts, our observations, and our senses of humor, and we had each other to share all of that with. We had lots of nature all around us, as well as some art and a few shops. We had the amazing superpower that is the internet and our smartphones to aid and enhance our experience. All of this was plenty to form a group that feels inspiring and nurturing every week.


 

Austin

by Antonio Buehler (he/him)

Austin Flying Squad was forced to halt operations in March when we shut down Abrome (which is the Self-Directed Education community that Austin Flying Squad runs out of) due to the pandemic. As we (Austin Flying Squad + Abrome) considered our options for the 2020-2021 academic year (for the schoolishly calendared folks) we decided that the only way we could justify bringing people from different households together during the pandemic was to do it in a way that minimized the risk of transmission among the members of the community, and in a way that would not contribute to the growth of the pandemic beyond our community. At the very least we knew we would need to take everything entirely outdoors. This decision was made easier by the fact that we had lots of experience being outdoors in the city with Austin Flying Squad before the pandemic. If anyone could make being fully outdoors for the entire week work, it was a Flying Squad!

From an epidemiological standpoint, next to staying at home, going entirely outdoors was the most important step we could take to minimize the risk of transmission among the members of our community. A close second was to always wear masks when near each other, so we committed to also wearing masks. Because Covid-19 tends to have explosive infection events (e.g., superspreaders), we also chose to break our community into smaller cells or squads of no more than 9 individuals each, and they would stay in the same squad for a three week period, physically distanced from the other squads to prevent any potential cross contamination of squads. We let the families in our community know about our pandemic plan and let them decide if they were willing to take the pandemic as seriously as we were taking it.

Before the pandemic we would meet in the city, but during the pandemic we decided it would be best to meet in nature where we could distance ourselves from others. So since September 8th, we have met in different green spaces with access to public bathrooms over four distinct cycles. Meeting in nature has taken away some of our ability to take up space in the city where we could challenge the adultist notions that young people do not have a right to public spaces, but at the same time it has allowed us to reconnect with nature and take up space in urban green spaces where young people, particularly adolescents, are often assumed to be up to no good.  

The experience has been fabulous. Being outdoors in nature under the sun each day in a way that is much safer than congregating indoors has helped our community members maintain connection and community in ways that they appreciate. We have been able to find ways to deal with extreme weather conditions such as the Texas summer heat, and extreme (for Texas) cold weather conditions such as the almost freezing temperatures of winter! We have pushed ourselves physically as we have climbed up hills and rock faces. We have faced our fears of going off trail and jumping off of elevated spots into the cold waters of local streams. We have also found ways to establish community norms in a community that keeps switching up the composition of squads, and we have found ways to entertain ourselves without the benefits of power outlets. 

In many ways, Flying Squads was not only perfectly suited for adapting to the constraints of this pandemic, but it is also the perfect antidote to the failings of our society to center the needs of others in the ways in which it responds to this pandemic, economic strife for scores of millions, and an uprising against racial injustice and police brutality. We get to practice each day, in public, recognizing the humanity of each person by stripping away hierarchies and validating the right of all people to take up space.


 

Northeast Georgia Mountain

by Jeana Jones (she/her)

In March of 2020 I closed down my Agile Learning Center for what we thought would be two weeks due to Covid 19. We never re-opened our doors. In the midst of all of the changes the pandemic handed us we found ourselves experiencing even more upheaval in August. We moved our family to the base of the Northeast Georgia Mountains, 15 min from the South Carolina border. An hour from our family, friends, and agile community members. This was an over all great opportunity for our family, one we discussed and decided on together, however it was still a lot to navigate. We have grown exponentially this year, both as individuals and as a family unit. This was a vital season of rest and a chance to reset. It allowed us the ability to look over where we had been, what we’ve accomplished, and to make plans for our next chapter.

Which brings us to the growing and building of the Northeast Georgia Flying Squad.

Our numbers are few (ok, it’s just my kids and me but do for one as you would if you had many, right?) but we didn’t need many for our first act of making the city our own. We called it Project VandalEYEs. We added various sized googley eyes to city structures which ended up being quite comical. Like Big Brother is Watching You… but way less privacy infringement. This was good practice on being super secretive, looking for creative visual angles, and led to a great discussion on rules, laws, why we have them, and why some are arbitrary.
We do parkour at the park, each having different goals like a complete slide down the railing and Kong hopping the benches, once again getting us creatively looking at the spaces all around. We play Pokémon Go, explore the river, and we have big plans for drama performances in the outdoor amphitheater. We can walk from the park to the city where we have been stopping by the local pet store with one goal. Socialize the Chinchilla… this has been an exercise in steady hands and patience. That tiny little fur cloud has some serious trust issues. We believe we can help.

The Northeast Georgia Mountains host ample outdoor play spaces for adventures while giving us places to eat, shop, and give young people the opportunity to be an active part of their public spaces in the safest way possible amidst a global pandemic.
In all of our reflection the one thing we have agreed we miss and need most is like minded community. Friendships. We need others to play, explore, and collaborate with. Humans need others, both those close in age and older mentors, to network and skill share and continue the journey of life long learning. It’s time to move forward. We need the freedom to fly.


 

Portland

by Bria Bloom (she/her)

Portland Flying Squads are on a somewhat unwelcome hiatus. Though we still frequent our Discord channels, chatting, sharing stories and books, and waiting for the time when we will meet in person again. I recently reflected on our very first day with Flying Squad, which brought me right to considering what it all is (and missing it immensely!) Check out that story here.


 

Brooklyn, Original Flavor

by Alexander Khost (he/him)

I sat over dinner tonight having a conversation about how childhood is dying a quick, sudden death and how young people’s lack of control over their own lives is to blame. I won’t go into the statistics– there are plenty of those in the papers– and they are grim. It is at moments like my dinner conversation that I realize that Flying Squad– that is, allowing young people to have complete control over their time and decisions– is indeed a form of activism and civil disobedience.

This is my third year running a Flying Squad and what I would say has interestingly changed since the start of the pandemic has been the lack of public disapprovement. In past years, we were challenged, “Shouldn’t those kids be in school?!” This year, as the world itself kicked into survival mode, there has been a gentleness and an understanding that seems to come most naturally during communal moments of trauma (like wars and pandemics and natural disasters). Instead, this year, people have looked upon us with a smile and a sense of satisfaction.

As for our Flying Squad, it has mostly been a reunion, as we all knew one another in this same sense pre-pandemic (only now with face masks). Our coming together on a regular basis literally has been the most healing part of this year for me, and I can see on the faces of the young people I am with that the same is true for them. We have found meaning and delight merely in the sheer joy of coming together.

We invented a game called Kennis, merging a kickball with tennis that has given us hours of joy. We built and rode a go kart and played many games of tag. We socially distantly huddled around fires and carved many knives and spears. We made stupidly wonderful videos. We dug holes into ancient park ruins (or perhaps park drainage systems?) and dreamed of our own forts and secret passages. We walked through fields with friends and confided our own imaginations.

This group of young people I spend my time with is certainly the brightest point in my day, my week, my current life. I like to think they might feel the same. During the dark dark days that comprised 2020, a group of young people and I beat the odds and found meaning in one another. That is what Flying Squad means to us.