On Halloween of 1979 John Chamberlain and Marianne Chandler with their two daughters rented a 400 square foot house in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Santa Fe, New Mexico. So began the journey that has become Fayette Street Academy. We home schooled our daughters in their bedroom. A few weeks later two friends suggested that we include their children. As the year progressed other families were interested in our small group, allowing us to purchase our home and the equally small and run down building on the small city lot.
We signed the mortgage eleven days before the school year was to start. Eleven eighteen hour days transformed the rental into our school building and classes began with ten children aged 9 to 12. Smiling students and satisfied parents led to expansion and in two years we had two classes, the older titled the Bigs and the younger known as the Munchkins. We had decided early on that outside philosophies would not be part of the school, but rather that which worked for the current students would be kept and expanded and that which did not serve or excite them would be dropped. Our curriculum at first was basic. Our approach was to meet the children in the moment and help them to grow in their own selves, not to impose outside standards.
The first year our math was a set of flashcards and papers we wrote by hand; our writing was often and focused on creativity, not perfect syntax; our reading was from a small library of second hand and donated books. None of us knew at the time that our oldest daughter would eventually become a teacher and eventually Headmistress. Over the years the curriculum grew, one subject at a time. From those rudimentary beginnings we have grown: now we teach our oldest students three languages, Latin, Greek and Chinese; have a four year science and history program; and include singing, art and yoga.
For ten years we rocked along with our two classes sitting on pillows around tables, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of structured, but ungraded learning. Some students thrived and a few struggled. In 1990 Marianne began to look for techniques that would help those struggling to rewire their neurology. She began taking various workshops around the region, beginning with the work of Paul Dennison, Educational Kinesiology, referred to around here as E-K. We still do E-K everyday. Other techniques were added to directly assist reading, math, physical movement and emotional stress. Soon we were weaving various techniques together for a more effective program. One summer, somewhere along the way, we added a bedroom to our home and enclosed the porch of the school.
1994 was a key year in the growth of the school. Our first grandchild was born and we acquired the adjoining property with its two rundown buildings, and most importantly, a large elm tree. The larger building became the home of our daughter and grandson, the smaller became a studio for Marianne to use for her integrative sessions with the children and the tree became legendary. John, a long time mountaineer, along with a rock climbing friend cut branches from the tree creating free space. They then hung climbing ropes with strategically placed loops throughout the tree and devised a system using climbing harness, nylon webbing and self locking carabiners which allowed young and old to safely maneuver through the tree. The sight of twelve or more high in the tree, some going up, some down, some merely chatting with friends twenty five feet above ground, is a sight to behold. On our climbing days parents and friends gather to watch; a few even join in the climbing.
As families wished us to expand the number of students and the age range, the owner of the house across Fayette Street from the school offered to sell. In 2002 Marianne and John moved across the street. The former home became a fulltime school building. When the Bigs moved to the new building, room was available in the original building for a new younger class, the Minis. Fayette had reached its final size, 48 children aged 6-14, with nine teachers, some full time, some part time. The curriculum had also formalized after twenty years of ‘trial by classroom’ and more importantly input from former students, now in high school, college and beyond. Alumni reported that Fayette’s teaching of the structure of writing needed strengthening. Their creativity in high school and college writing classes was ahead of most fellow students, but their syntax suffered. We found several ways to improve the one without harming the other, and now send strong writers out into higher education.
Fayette is now in the thirty fifth year. From two little girls in their bedroom, the school has grow to include four connected city lots with seven buildings, three of which are teacher residences. From one set of flash cards and a few hand written papers, we now have thousands of pages of work sheets and text on our computer network. Marianne has written a Latin grammar; John has written an Algebra course, four science courses, and ever evolving text for four series of history lectures. The integrative work continues to expand. And the tree grows larger.