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Be My Guest: How School Changed My Life


The following is the mission statement that 12th grader Cody Bogausch recently submitted to the graduation committee at the Harriet Tubman Democratic High School. HTDHS began as the high school extension of the Albany Free School, and I teach math there three mornings a week and also serve on the advisory board. I asked Cody if I could post his letter because of how beautifully it expresses the enormous difference a school that gives students a voice in their education and supports every aspect of their developing selves can make in a young person’s life.

Although it seems like an eternity ago, I remember the day I visited the school for the first time. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had no idea what an incredible and life-changing place I was walking into. At the time, I was struggling to stay happy and motivated. My family had been all but destroyed by alcoholism, my grades were non-existent and my desire to participate in school was gone. I was very unhappy with my life and myself. I walked in here that day very nervous, but my nerves quickly melted away as I spoke with Liz about this school and the kinds of things I’d be doing here.

This place was amazing; it was the perfect solution to my problems. Education at my pace, centered around my goals. It’s direct democracy in practice. I knew by the end of that conversation that I had to go to this school. And so I did (although not immediately after). It was amazing how quickly my life picked up and turned around once I was attending school here. I was happier; less stressed out. I had time to be myself and think. I enjoyed my time at school! I was less angry, less short tempered, more reasonable, smarter even!

This place has allowed me to harness potential I didn’t even know I had. I’ve learned about music, math, science, literature, writing, computer programming, philosophy, sociology, history; things I didn’t even know I was interested in. I learned how to teach. I learned how to debate, and how to know when I’m wrong. Most importantly, though, this school taught me how to learn. It has taught me how to teach myself. How to be self-motivated. How to do work even when I don’t want to, even when someone’s not telling me I have to. This place is beautiful and I am so unbelievably glad I found it. I wouldn’t be a speck of the person I am today without this place. Thank you.

I plan to use the things I’ve learned at this school to guide me into my adult life, whatever that may consist of. I’ll be honest; I don’t really know what I want to do yet. I don’t know what I will do with my life or how I’ll do it. What I do know is that whatever I decide to do, I’m confident that the things I’ve learned here will be an asset in overcoming any challenge that presents itself to me. Thank you, again.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. cody; that was beautiful. chris, thanks for sharing it. had me tearing up with pride.
    i felt proud of you, cody, and proud of the school!

    congrats to mary leue and to you, chris, for all that you both gave to albany free school,
    and to every single person who helped make albany free what it was and what it is…
    and congrats to all who moved on to create harriet tubman and make it too a special place!

    i wish you the best, cody!

    June 6, 2014
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      Thanks, Roger; I will pass your message on to Cody and the school.

      June 12, 2014
  2. Last Friday was the last graduation of Upattinas School in PA. It consisted of a tradtional graduation for those who passage it rightfully was. But it then became an evening and extended Saturday afternoon of celebration for all who came from near and far to celebrate what had been and was still to come for those touched by our school over its 43 years.

    We heard so many similar testimonials to Cody’s. And in our hearts we know that he is right and that there are so many young people out there who are all right and going forward with faith and confidence because of our kinds of school – there for them when they needed us.

    Thanks Harriet Tubman for taking up
    the vision and carrying the torch.

    June 11, 2014
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      Amen, Sandy. Later I will raise a glass to you for the grace and the wisdom and the compassion with which you guided Upattinas all these years. I am filled with gratitude as I think about all the young lives you helped to change and what an incredible difference it is making in the world. Well done.

      June 12, 2014
  3. Lisa Niebels #

    Inspirational… giving Cody a chance to be in control of his education through thoughtful choices changed his life.

    I had the opportunity to attend the Albany Community School, which was the first attempt at creating a free school high school. I am so happy that a new plan has been made and that a free school secondary education is now happening.

    Currently I am working with a friend to create a space like that for adults who may want to continue their education in a unaccredited way. I was wondering if there have been any similar efforts made to engage the greater community in Albany and if so could you share the information please and thank you. -Lisa

    September 14, 2014
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      Yes, Lisa, I remember you! The Community School was just starting up when I first arrived in Albany. And yes we are fortunate to have another democratic high school now, though it unfortunately is on very shaky financial ground at the moment.

      As for adult education, we did have something going for awhile called the Learning Exchange whereby people freely shared skills and knowledge, but it eventually lost its oomph.

      October 26, 2014

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