YELLOW SPRINGS — Housed in Yellow Springs, the Antioch School — which provides alternative education to area students ages 3-12 — will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary at a public held, ticketed gala on Friday, May 6.
The event will start at 6 p.m. at Antioch College’s Foundry Theatre (920 Correy Street, Yellow Springs).
Founded in 1921, the Antioch School is the oldest democratic school nationwide, with a mission statement that refers to the unique program as: “A place where children pursue their innate curiosity whenever and as far as their abilities can take them. Children are encouraged to risk, to make mistakes, and to try again, as they find their own unique ways of learning. The Antioch School is a place where childhood is respected.”
As a democratic school, Antioch School eschews traditional test-taking and utilization of grades to mark a child’s progress. Instead, the program aspires to be one of “self-directed learning” while “valuing each voice equally as part of the school community,” as per school promotional literature. This in turn manifests an education that is “fluid and empowers each child to follow their own learning path through uninhibited exploration, nature, and freed — all under the watchful eye of their teacher.”
In alignment with its “democratic” philosophy, Antioch School is both a nonprofit organization and employs a robust staff of administrators who work to develop donations, grants, and other endowment programs in order to distribute needful scholarships and financial aid as needed to local families who wish to enroll their students.
One such Antioch School staff member is Development Coordinator Chris Westhoff who is currently in his first year in his role. Westhoff, 38, is a Connecticut native who currently resides in Logan County though is looking to move to Yellow Springs presently. For the past few years, Westhoff has worked as an artist-in-residence focusing mostly in theater arts at various schools across Ohio. Antioch School was one such program.
“I’m really drawn to the school and to the educational values and model,” said Westhoff, who explained that it was when the position of development coordinator became available, he jumped at the opportunity to become a full-time member of the Antioch School team. “When the job was posted, it seemed like a wonderful way to engage with a school I’m familiar with and see about making a path forward for both the school and my family as we try to make our way into settling in Yellow Springs.”
Westhoff elaborated that his dedication to and admiration for the 100-year-old school is based on the school’s values that are “fundamentally about letting children lead, to underscore the significance of play in their education and development, and that through play, they come to so much understanding and cooperation. We operate as a group at Antioch School. Because there is real ‘wisdom in the group,’ as we like to say there.
“When we say Antioch College is a ‘democratic school,’ that’s what we’re talking about,” said Westhoff. “We’re talking about giving children agency. Just like how the teachers have agency. We also have a very engaged and dynamic board of directors. And a beautiful team of faculty that are really unparalleled in their craft. Fabulous teachers. And, of course, we are lucky to have a beautiful set of families that don’t all share the same belief system or political orientation, necessarily, but do all wholeheartedly support the educational model and approach of individual agency, learning, play, and this wisdom of the group.”
The upcoming celebratory gala on May 6 that Westhoff is personally spearheading will also as an auction event. Profits generated will go toward a scholarship fund so that Antioch School may be able to allow even more area students in financial need to be able to attend the program in the future. Cash donations will also be accepted. Due to complications resulting from the COVID pandemic, this will be the first such annual Antioch School gala since 2018.
Concurrent with the live and silent auctions that will take place, there will also be catering by such local eateries as Current Cuisine, open wine bar, and live music entertainment provided by musicians Joe Troop and Larry Bellorin.
“Whether they have a student at the school or not, we really believe we have a very special event with this gala coming up,” said Westhoff. “It will be an amazing experience just for the food, music, and opportunity to support and recognize this beautiful school that exists in our community, has taught so many students who have gone to become musicians, writers, politicians, and so much more, and that we know will last at least one hundred years more.”
$65 tickets ($30 of which is tax-deductible) can be purchased online or by contacting the school during school hours at 937-767-7642.