A Message From the Director

The Castle was founded in 2011, the result of multiple inspirations and conversations and dreaming sessions with teachers, artists, and community members in Putnam County, Indiana. Those of us involved believe strongly that children are not data points, that learning is about spontaneity, exploration, creativity, risk-taking… all those things that can’t be easily quantified.

 

We are heartsick about the toll that high-stakes testing has taken on our kids and teachers, about the way it has hamstrung the public education system, about the diminished resources and increased emphasis on compartmentalized knowledge. We wanted to find a way to ease the burden placed on teachers to address an ever-expanding set of standards, and to provide students with hands-on experiences that honor varied learning styles and foster connection-building. We wanted to inject a sense of play back into the school day for the teachers who work so hard to meet the mandates placed upon them as well as for the kids who intuitively greet learning as a joyful process. At the same time, we wanted to affirm the public school system as a crucial component of democracy, equal access and opportunity. 

The “way” we happened upon was initially motivated by a chance encounter with Dave Eggers' TED Prize speech, in which he describes the genesis of 826 National, a nonprofit writing workshop serving kids ages 6-18. At the end of the speech, he makes his TED wish, the “Once upon a school” challenge, where he asks people to use 826 as inspiration to get involved in their own local schools and to find creative avenues for community involvement. It was an “a-ha” moment for me. Immediately hooked by his playful energy, I contacted the folks at 826 National, began a conversation with them, and attended their 101 Workshop.

 

The moment I walked through the door of San Francisco’s “only independently-owned pirate supply shop,” the psychic space I knew we needed to cultivate in response to Dave’s challenge presented itself. 826 National manifests a bountiful, spilling-over-the-seams generosity. It is a welcoming, cheerful, loving space, a space of inclusion and endless possibility. More than anything, the wish to cultivate this same kind of space for Putnam County students is what informs our efforts. The Castle is our “street” name, but our official name—The Putnam County Coalition for Education and the Creative Arts—describes more precisely what we aim to do and who we aim to be.

 

Coalition is key.

 

Putnam County is a rich and lively hub of local talent, containing two colleges (Ivy Tech community college and DePauw University). The coalition embraces the diverse resources our community has to offer, recognizes the enormous capacity for learning when everyone expresses his or her voice, and incorporates the multitude of voices into our programming.  Our goal is to create a ripple effect of energy and enthusiasm for this kind of learning that meets students where they are, that helps each student make connections between their lives and what they are learning.  It is a grand experiment we are engaged in: administrators, teachers, community members, artists, writers, musicians, students (primary, secondary and college) collectively building a space marked by authenticity and fostering creativity.