The Phoenix School: Making Marks to See Where It Takes Them

By Kristen Higgins

The Phoenix School has wasted no time in beginning many far-reaching adventures this academic year. In true Phoenix fashion, students have already begun engaging with what is the school’s central theme this fall: Peace. Students are asking themselves: What have I done and what can I do that has made and will make an impact? And, more importantly, what does this mean?

September 14th is International Dot Day and the Phoenix School planned accordingly; right down to reading Sir Cumferance, a medieval tale which explains mathematical vocabulary through clever characters, such as Lady Di of Ameter (the epitome of dad jokes, people). 

The Dot by Peter Reynolds tells a quirky tale of a young artist named Vashti, who has yet to discover her inner talents, asserting that she cannot draw. Her teacher responds to Vashti’s discouragement; “Just make a mark,” she says, “and see where it takes you.” 

Soon, Vashti, with the encouragement and faith of her teacher, finds the inspiration and confidence in herself, sprung from just a tiny mark on her paper. She goes on to inspire her peers. 

So now, Phoenix students are being challenged. What kind of mark can they make? How has this created inner and outer peace in their worlds? Through art, poetry, and other creative mediums, students will rise to proclaim their roles in making a difference.

If one did not know better, The Phoenix School resembles, in their style and philosophy, that of Reynold’s teacher from The Dot. In the classroom, there are microscopes, Mac desktops, and shelves upon shelves of books, but the true richness of the school comes from one obvious thing: Art. And not dollar store-bought decor, no – it is art made carefully, authentically, by the students, hung lovingly by their teachers about the room.

Global Connections

At 9 o’clock on International Dot Day, Phoenix students made a long distance Skype call to Belarus, Russia, to join with students of one Olga Tavlay and share their hand-crafted dots with one another, and tell of how they plan to make this world a little more beautiful. Here are just a few of those plans as shared by Phoenix students with their Belarus counterparts:  

The Phoenix School International Dot Day Creative Salem

“I want to donate food and toys to animal shelters.” 

“I want to become a doctor, because there aren’t so many doctors on Earth.” (This young man also shared this dream in Russian!) 

Ellie, 11, shared similar hopes with her classmates; “I want to give towels and food to the NorthEast Animal Shelter.” 

It seems there is a particular fondness for creatures among the Phoenix kids, a most noble affection. Students listened patiently and with genuine curiosity as the Belarus students shared their own dots. 

Then, there were more informal questions.

“How hot does it get in Belarus?”

“What do you do in your school?”

“What kind of trips do you go on?”

“What do you do in your free time?”

International Dot Day offered more than just a single activity – coloring in a dot – for the students at the Phoenix School. It offered something more invaluable: it introduced students to kids their age, half a world away, who are just like them; they like sports, they love animals, it gets hot there like it does here. And, most of all, they want friends. 

The Phoenix School is doing something more than just reading about new places, and students are doing more than imagining. They are experiencing. Geography is useful in theory, but when a child learns that a foreign land isn’t so foreign, and that foreign children are just like them, they are making a connection that can end wars. These children, together, can achieve peace. Just by sharing the weather with their international peers. 

The day I went in to participate in Dot Day with The Phoenix School, I began thinking of a single word that could encapsulate what this school has set out to do. At first, the word was non-traditional. Then, I changed this to avant garde. I kept this word at the top of the Word document, to keep the central theme of this school in mind. Those students made me realize something, however. 

If it is considered avant garde that students are encouraged to use art as their main vein of communication, if it considered revolutionary when students communicate with their peers across the world to discover their commonalities, if it is non-traditional that students learn in an environment which elevates and encourages their voices over the imposition of their teacher, then there truly is so much more work to do. The model that The Phoenix school presents should be standard, not deviant, not unexpected. So let this be the new expectation, a precedence which the Phoenix School is setting and their student are fulfilling; that every day is Dot Day, that every day we work towards making a positive impact on the world, on our communities, and on our children. 

Want to learn more about the exciting programming that happens all year long with the staff and kids at the Phoenix School.. Visit

Mission & Philosophy

The mission of The Phoenix School is to develop global citizens who are compassionate, creative and technologically proficient individuals in a dynamic and interconnected world. Students, teachers and parents of diverse backgrounds join together to integrate the knowledge, values and leadership necessary for students to participate actively within their families and communities, now and into the future.

Kristen is a Salem resident and longtime writer. She's passionate about cats, visual media, and communication through written word. She hopes to bring brutally honest pieces of writing and art to the Salem community. Follow her Wordpress at and her instagram @creativediscourse