Come to the Feast: An Interview with Mom and Educator Maria Dubois

In this interview with parent, educator, and board member Maria Dubois, she explores Cambridge School's educational philosophy and its outworking in the life of the school and her family. 

Q: You have been known to say that Cambridge presents a feast. What does that feast look like?

Maria: Learning is a feast. When you come to a place of learning, every child is unique, and each child is going to have a taste for something. Each child may be drawn to a specific flavor of the feast. Some kids are drawn to those things that are large, that they can clearly see. Some children may not be interested in eating at all; they just want to get it done, so to speak. Our job as educators is not necessarily to shove everything down their throats but to make offerings. "This is what God has made, and this is a taste of His Kingdom. This is a taste of His Creation, and you may partake of this to the extent that you recognize it. It's whole and good, and it's growing." Sometimes there is ice cream, but there are also things that are just good for children to take in. But it's an offering, and it's an abundant offering. We should consistently be offering this feast to our students.

Q: Is there an example of how this has played out in the classroom?

Maria: Sure. There was a time when I was teaching sixth grade science, and I had borrowed grocery carts from Trader Joe's. I wanted the kids to experience momentum, not just learn about it in reading. I was setting it up in the gym in the morning, and this student had come in. She was holding her books, and she looked at me. You could see her taking it in, and then she just sort of whispered, "This is going to be fun." And the key wasn't that the experience was going to be fun, but the key was that she was available to taste something. She was available to recognize that she was going to take something in. She was going to have an experience, and it was going to be hers. It was really, really beautiful. Then, I had the privilege to watch the students in the carts, using their bodies to experience momentum, as opposed to reading off of a piece of paper and completing a formula. No, they were in the momentum, and I would say that is the feast.

Q: How do you feel as an educator, and as a parent, in those moments?

Maria: What I'm thinking in those moments is: "This is the wonder. This is the piece. This is what I would hope lasts in the educational process." For the most part, a lot of the formulas, a lot of the standard parts of curriculum, they'll fall away until the pieces have to be picked back up again, but the "ah-ha" is such a precious part of learning. That, for me as a parent, makes me feel like there's eternity. This is eternity. This is the deposit that I want. As an educator, it makes me feel like, "This is why I'm here. This is why I've invested this time, this energy."

Q: What is the role of wonder and imagination at Cambridge?

Maria: Wonder and imagination are key, and I would say that in order to fully embrace the truth of who God is, you have to have the capacity to imagine. Without practicing imagination, it's often hard to make that bigger leap into the depth of who He is. And so, I feel like when we practice wonder with our children - about why something happened or what if it were something different. I remember when I was teaching sixth grade, and we were studying William Wilberforce. It's so easy to just, you know, take the magnitude of abolition and think, "Oh my gosh, how are you going to cover this?" Your tendency is to draw back and just start covering key points because you want to get through the curriculum, but when you take the time to actually think about what's really happening and recognize each individual piece matters to God, that's the place of wonder.

So, we read a biographical sketch about William Wilberforce. We were going through all the key players, but there was one sentence that just stood out to us. It was about his boyhood. He had lost his father, and his mother had a hard time continuing to manage the family. So he went to live with an aunt, and I thought it was so striking that the aunt was unnamed. Yet the aunt brought him to church every day. We as a class were wondering - what was that deposit? The regular, everyday piece of being alive. He didn't just become William Wilberforce the abolitionist; he was a person first. And that's the key to wonder, that we each have something in us that's bigger, that God has made. But we have to consider and wonder what is possible, and what is the truth He has designed for us? 

Q: What does parent partnership mean to Cambridge?

Maria: Parent partnership is a key place in our foundation as a movement in the educational process. When we partner with parents at Cambridge, it's not just volunteering; it's recognizing that we are a community of learners. As a community each of us has a place in the growing up of our children before the Lord. There's a classic example that we use that our educators, our faculty, are on one side of the triangle, and then our parents are on the other side of the triangle, and they're both leaning in with Christ as the foundation. Our children are underneath that tent, that housing, and the reality is that if one of those sides pulls apart, the educational process will fall. Parents know their children. They know their children, and there's an intuitive sense of who they are and how they learn. The educators are the ones that hold the beauty of the curriculum, and they're the ones that are making the deposit. In order for the children to fully embrace the curriculum, the parents need to embrace it as well.

Some parents are going to be in the classroom; for others, their daily task is just to sit with their child and read, knowing that the process might even be painful. Parent partnership is key to the formation of a child's identity as a Cambridge student.

Q: As an alumni parent, what would you say is the mark of a Cambridge graduate?

Maria: The mark of a Cambridge graduate is one who has truth written on his or her heart. So, a deposit is made, and it is up to that student to embark on the journey to discover the full expression of what has been learned or discovered.

Q: Is there an aspect of Cambridge's educational philosophy that initially captured you?

Maria: Yes. When we were looking for schools for our oldest, we followed the standard process. "Are we going to homeschool?" "Should he attend the local public school?" "What is God calling us to?" We went on a search, and, to be honest, Cambridge was a check the box of Christian schools. We had identified a school that we thought we were going to send our son to. Fortunately, we attended an open house, and it was most certainly the integral connection in the curriculum. Recognizing that learning takes place in relationship really resonated with me as a teacher. Infused in that is the truth of Christ and the reality that Cambridge isn't teaching about Jesus; Cambridge is looking for Jesus in the educational process. That's what brought us here.

Q: Can you dig a little deeper into what integral means?

Maria: I would say integral education is about learning in relationship. You have a relationship between student and student, student and teacher; the relationships with parents is also critical. What I think is key in integral is that you can actually have a relationship with your learning, and you can find pieces that are connected throughout. We don't cut into separate entities those things like science or math or history. We weave them together so that you recognize that there is a whole that we're learning about. And isn't that the truth of God? He is whole. And I think that He would desire for us to know that wholeness as we approach His creation and learn about it. 

Q: How about classical? What does that mean to Cambridge?

Maria: Classical is that which lasts. It's those things that you would find resonate truth through the ages. We find that in art and in music. We find it in literature, but it isn't just your standard "classics." I would say classical is those things that bring out truth that inspires and lasts and endures. 

Q: Can you describe an experience you've had that captures the essence of Cambridge for you?

Maria: One of the very first memories that I have of Cambridge having made a true deposit in my son, my oldest son, happened very early on. ... When I came through the doors as a new parent at Cambridge, I pretty much had to peel my son off of me. He was just one of those kids, and I just had to peel him off, get him into circle time, and leave. It was an amazing thing to watch him become more independent. By the end of that Kindergarten year, probably a week after school had ended, he was sitting in my bedroom. Summer had just started, and he was crying. I was like, "Buddy, why are you crying?" He said, "Mommy, I think I'm school sick." I think he really did just miss being in that atmosphere. 

Another one just happened a few days ago. My middle school son was on the playground, and they were learning about World War I. I saw him and a friend army crawling on the ground in the playground. I thought, "I don't know what you're doing, but I'll have to wash your pants when you come home." I never asked him about it, but, later that night, he said, "Mom, during recess we were playing a game that we were World War I soldiers. We were trying to get into the Gaga pit without anybody noticing. But then we were in the Gaga pit, and somebody just let one go, and it was awful." They ran out and his friend was saying, "We got mustard gassed!" That's Cambridge. That's the beauty of Cambridge - that a 13-year-old can still play.

Lisa Bond