Nuweetooun School, celebrating an improbable institution

Lorén Spears is one of my heroes. The last time I saw her, she was standing in the rain in front of her Nuweetooun School in rural Exeter, RI. The little bridge over Roaring Brook had just been swept away in the massive March floods on March 30. Clearly, our appointment was canceled. I don’t think she saw me wave before I turned around to go home.

It turned out that Lorén was OK, but the school wasn’t. FEMA won’t help pay for the extensive damage it suffered. The loss of the bridge was a final blow, limiting access to a dirt road in poor condition for at least the next two years. I got Lorén’s email announcing a two-year hiatus for Nuweetooun this morning. Rather than mourn, I want to celebrate the seven years that this improbable institution served its community so well.

The Nuweetooun vision was challenging from the beginning: create an accredited, private, alternative K-8 school serving Native children and drawing on Native knowledge, history and values to inform a rigorous science and literacy curriculum. Actually, that was the easy part. At least Lorén made it look easy. It was definitely fun.

The hard part was paying for it. Tuition collections fell far short of costs, so the difference was made up with grants, a little bit of earned money and some individual contributions. Even then, there was always another bill to pay.

Yet, this exciting little two-room school in the woods has flourished educationally for seven years, and so have its Native students. How? Because of the inspired labor of love provided by Lorén as master teacher and by her extended circles of family and friends. Hundreds and probably thousands of hours of unpaid work, infinite patience on the rent money and the chipped-in services of craftspeople and others made it possible to hang on from year to year.

Sure, that’s no way to run a business, but Nuweetooun never has been a business and never needed to be. It has been a circle of people helping each other create something wonderful. I hope and expect that something wonderful will happen again and that we’ll see a new bridge on Roaring Brook and new students at Nuweetooun in two years or so.

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