The First Step

P.S.1's changing course leaves some people wondering what direction the charter school is taking.

She'll look at what changes, if any, have taken place in test scores, attendance and tardiness among Steps Ahead students. "If, after the evaluation, we find that it was successful, I'd like to see it expand. It's very impactful when you can work with small schools. Any relationships we can develop with alternative or charter schools would be beneficial."

Last May, Norvelle hired a researcher to evaluate Steps Ahead at East High. The results showed that school absences among Steps Ahead students dropped by 28 percent while grade point averages increased by 39 percent. Kids also fought and smoked less after completing the program, according to the evaluation.

CYAR's biggest fundraiser is a celebrity golf tournament held every August that raises between $75,000 and $100,000. Donations from individuals and from foundations and corporations, including the Anschutz Family Foundation, the Schlessman Family Foundation, Fox Sports Net and Ascent Entertainment, bring in an additional $60,000 to $75,000 a year. A dinner dance held every February raises about $20,000. CYAR also applied in conjunction with P.S.1 for a $50,000 state Youth Crime Prevention and Intervention grant and a $20,000 grant from the Donner Foundation to get the P.S.1 Steps Ahead program established. CYAR now has an annual budget of $240,000.

Charting a course: P.S.1 charter school was designed to be an urban learning environment for its 240 students.
David Rehor
Charting a course: P.S.1 charter school was designed to be an urban learning environment for its 240 students.

P.S.1's ties to Landmark don't end with CYAR and the Breakthrough Foundation. The new principal, Steve Myers, was involved with est in the 1970s.

Myers founded the Traveling School in Santa Cruz, California, in 1972, to give kids who felt they didn't belong in traditional public schools a chance to learn about themselves and at the same time see the world, traveling to places as close as Oregon and as far away as Pakistan.

Prior to that, Myers told his P.S.1 colleagues at a staff retreat, he'd taught in a small California town, where he'd been criticized for his involvement with est. ("We figured it was just some '70s thing," Reilly says).

Myers wouldn't comment on his past to Westword except to say that there was a group of fundamentalist Christians who were fearful of est. "They equated anything in the humanistic education movement with the Antichrist," he says. "They said the devil had come to town and was brainwashing children. When I went to est 24 years ago, it was a tremendously valuable experience. It gave me a perspective that made me a better teacher and a better person. I learned that when I take risks, I empower myself; when I protect myself, I weaken myself."

While he ran the Traveling School, Myers brought students to Colorado; he says he always longed to return to the state. So when he saw an ad in Education Week for the job of principal at P.S.1, he applied. And he didn't wait long before recommending that teachers attend the Landmark Forum.

Annie Huggins, P.S.1's special-education director, says that when Myers suggested during her November performance review that she attend the Forum, it sounded more like a directive than a recommendation.

"I hadn't been very happy at work, and when I went into his office, I was very scared and very nervous," she says. "Steve told me that he thought I was a talented person but that things from my past were holding me back and that until I worked on them, I wouldn't be able to use my talents well. Steve said he wanted to make sure I didn't feel pressured, but what I said at the time was, 'You're my boss and we're talking about my job, and I feel I'm at a critical point in my employment, so I'm taking what you say, as my boss, seriously.'"

And so she went to the Forum. "It's the same kind of thing as the Steps Ahead launch course," says Huggins, who attended the second Steps Ahead retreat at the Mount Evans Outdoor Education Center in March. "You go to the front of the room and people tell their stories, and you get encouraged to call people you've had bad relationships with in the past. I felt like I needed to have bad relationships because everyone else was talking about their bad relationships. If you don't, they're like, 'You must have some troubles with your parents.' Well, I don't have trouble with my parents.

"I was really guarded when I was there because I'd heard of est, and I felt I was there because of my job, not for myself. My sister had done est, and my family had really ridiculed her for it, and she eventually ridiculed herself for it, so it had a bad ring for me. But I tried hard to get something out of it. People were bawling around me and having these huge emotional outbreaks, and I'm like, 'Jeez, I'm fine.'

"There's this one exercise in which you pretend you're afraid of everyone and then you picture that everyone's afraid of you," she continues. "That was the crux -- that you're the most dangerous person in the world and you create your own fears."

On the last day of the Forum, Huggins recalls, the trainer told the group: "Everything you've done before is preparation for this." He then wrote on the chalkboard: "Life, your life, is meaningless and empty and it's meaningless and empty that it's meaningless and empty." She was amazed that people had paid money to "get" that.

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