As the academic year comes to an end, several staff members prepare to leave or have already departed. Hence, The Woodstocker caught up with some of them to dig into their thoughts and future endeavors.
Ms. Amy Seefeldt, ToK teacher and Director of the CFI, is a very familiar face in our community — one that most of us are probably used to greeting in the hallways, with the guarantee of getting a warm smile and hello back. Her intelligence and immense knowledge of just about everything is palpable through even one short conversation.
As she prepares to leave the school at the end of this year, I decided to try and tell her story — one that has a profound impact on many students, as well as at our school as we know it.
A relatable childhood and an unexpected return
Ms. Seefeldt grew up, like many of us, in dorms, braving the monkeys and the unpredictable Mussoorie weather. She lived in both Alter Ridge and Midlands during her time studying at the school. “I mostly remember feeling cold and hungry,” she said, recalling her experience of living in dorms. “So I can see that not much has changed.”
She studied here from 1987 till she graduated in 1993.
“Our class name was Poison,” Ms. Seefeldt said, laughing, appearing visibly embarrassed. “In our defense, the band was very popular back then.”
Almost fifteen years after graduating, in the summer of 2008, Ms. Seefeldt found herself back on campus. She originally took up a two-year contract as a history teacher with the intention of helping her parents, who were also working as teachers at the time, pack up.
However, her plans were interrupted when the school asked her to become the academic dean. Not exactly knowing what to expect, she agreed and ended up serving as the academic dean for six years. However, midway through this journey, there was huddle. In 2011, right before Dr. Jonathan Long started his tenure as principal, Ms. Seefeldt had decided to move on from the school
“The job was really difficult, and there was too much change happening at Woodstock,” Ms. Seefeldt shared.
However, her plans to leave were again interrupted–the school was not ready to let go of Ms. Seefeldt quite yet.
A reason to stay
Many of us may not know this, but when Dr. Long applied for the principal position, he was interviewed by Ms. Seefeldt. During the interview, she asked him who he believed was the greatest thinker of all time.
Dr. Long’s answer was one that stuck with her. His response was Victor Frankl– a famous psychiatrist, author, and founder of logotherapy.
“When he said that, I just knew I had to work for this man.” Ms. Seefeldt said. She has taught Frankl’s famous Holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning every year since then.
Changes and constants
When Ms. Seefeldt initially joined the school as an official staff member, she tried to prepare herself for the fact that everything would be completely different. Funnily enough, when she came back, she felt that not much had changed. “The culture was the same, and the same kinds of relationships exist as when I was here.” Ms. Seefeldt said.
The single biggest change that she noticed upon her return was that the community as a whole, used to greatly value simplicity, in contrast to our materialistic focus today.
“We didn’t need to be fancy and do things for show.” She recalls that students who cared about brand names were mocked. “Although there were some very wealthy children, brands did not matter at all.”
According to Ms. Seefeldt, simplicity and authenticity are core values of the school that make it what it is, and this is increasingly important for young people to understand in today’s world.
The Center for Imagination: a new approach to education
As Ms. Seefeldt worked as deputy head of Upper Years, she became exceedingly frustrated with the “heavy structures” that dictate modern-day education. With the daily schedules and routines of school, she felt that students were not able to put effort into things that they really care about.
This frustration led her to a meeting with Dr. Long about leaving the school, again. Dr. Long asked her what it would take to make her stay. Ms. Seefeldt wanted the school to support her in pursuing a Master’s in ecological design, which is essentially “thinking, learning, and fixing systems by finding inspiration in nature.”
This was the first spark of the idea for the CFI, which at its core, is “about helping young people find their place and what they should do for themselves and their futures.”
Since October 2016, the CFI has served as space for students to engage in projects that they are passionate about, and learn about things that matter to them, outside of the confines of school every day.
Imagining the future
As she prepares to leave the school, Ms. Seefeldt has several hopes for the future of the CFI and the community as a whole, some big, some small, but none impossible.
She is currently trying to develop a starter kit for this new approach to education. “I would love to see the idea be light and flexible enough that it spreads around India.” Her vision is that there is a paradigm shift in the way learning happens and that the rote learning model breaks.
“The biggest problem is that the dominant kind of education today does not teach resilience and innovation.” Mrs. Seefeldt said.
She knows that there are many other factors that come into this model–people with different socioeconomic backgrounds have access to different kinds of education. The school has several projects in place that help children from local schools pass their board exams or renovate existing classrooms, which Ms. Seefeldt thinks is great, but helping an alternative approach to education emerge would be even better in the long-term.
As we know, the world today has huge issues to be solved– issues that need our generation to come up with new, creative ways of solving.
“What I would love is for schools to equip students to do that,” Ms. Seefeldt said.
Since the creation of the CFI in 2016, students have started a myriad of projects that they are passionate about with the help of the newly available resources and space.
With the student leadership that Ms. Seefeldt has seen emerge in recent years, she is confident that this approach to education works and will equip students to be innovative, resilient, open-minded individuals in a world that needs it.
Just do it
Ms. Seefeldt has one piece of advice for any current and future students: don’t ever be afraid to start something.
“It always feels risky but don’t be afraid to put ideas out there and follow through on them. Every time I’ve seen a student do that, they benefit so much from it,” she said.
Aadya Aryal is the features editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Archita Aggarwal
Photos courtesy of Ms. Amy Seefeldt