We had the good fortune of connecting with Laila Taslimi, founder of Untitled No. 1 School and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laila, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
It’s hard to think about our non-profit community school as a business, but I appreciate the question about how we aim to help our community and the world. We serve families and our community by nurturing children’s social conscience in nature. Children play a vital participatory role in their community, and the community needs its children to be civically engaged. We want our children to freely navigate their neighborhood and city, to learn how its systems work and who works here, and to develop their potential to innovate solutions where they find improvement is needed. We are environmental stewards, and it’s a precious connection children make with nature when afforded the time and opportunity to be immersed.
Our mission to serve families evenly spread across income levels is unique. It’s unique because schools cannot afford to operate this way and while many schools have a scholarship fund, typically established after their reputation and finances are more secure, they fundraise primarily from within their school community. In our view this sets up a problematic culture of patronage in which families may feel indebted or owed, when instead we want all to come with a shared sense of our equality – both grateful and generous not defined by $. For this reason we do not hold fundraisers. We try to operate as a utopian school to present a model for when all schools can be free for all families and truly desegregated.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Education has been my (third) career for the past 25 years. The challenge has been, how can I use what I’ve learned and believe, how can I put that into action with measurably beneficial effects both in the short and long term? I am constantly trying to grow and improve, and my method has been to seek out original sources of “best practices.” When I wanted to learn more about reading and writing workshop I spent numerous summers at the institutes offered by the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. When I was drawn to the Reggio Emilia pedagogical approach I applied and went to Reggio Emilia, Italy to soak in all I could at their summer conference. The same now when I read a book on a topic I’m hungry to learn more about, I consume the book! The lessons I’ve learned are during the self-talk and self-reflection at such times, combined with conversations with others, especially with those who prod my thinking so that I can continue to change and grow. I believe in social learning, collaboration to nurture one another’s potential.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to recognize my city of Santa Monica. I’m thankful I grew up here and with parents who allowed me the freedom to spend so much time outside of home so that I could really “make this town my own”! There were parks and recreation offerings in my youth that were very formative. I remember fondly the summer of ’73 theater experience with kids from “both sides” of town to put on a play with auditions, rehearsals, and performances across various stages in town. Again this was thanks to my family’s activism and conviction that all people are one – we have to mix as equals!