“ALPHA was a home to me, and my classmates were a family. I don’t think you can have a better start in life than that.”
I’d say Alpha Alternative School gave me a sense of community and of myself as a valued person, with things to contribute, and also the ability to explore and learn in an independent fashion. The disadvantage was probably that, as a kid who really hated academics, I took every chance I could to avoid the formal learning sessions, and thus have some holes in my foundational knowledge. I went to extremes to avoid my work, such as hiding my math book, a ploy that was sidestepped with amazing cunning on my teacher’s part by presenting me with mimeographed worksheets. Foiled again! When I wasn’t slaving over fractions I was usually playing G-Force or turning bookshelves into apartment buildings for toys with my friends. I also spent a lot of time in the craft cupboard making boats out of milk-cartons or some such, a precursor to the artwork I do as an adult. There were also the parents who came in and taught us cooking, sewing, carpentry, singing. There was a space capsule full of toggle switches and a life size portrait of the Queen we all collaborated on where someone painted her neck green. There was always something going on.
I always felt valued—despite the fact I was a rotten little shirker—but one time that springs to mind is when I wrote, directed and narrated a skit for a potluck night. I lost the script at the last minute and it was a total disaster, but everyone cheered at the end and I felt great.
For me ALPHA really was an extension of home and family, as my mum was a teacher and my sister went there as well, but beyond that I have always thought that my relationship with the other students was more like cousins than classmates. The school was so small that we were always together, many of us from the beginning to the end of our time there, so we had our good times and our bad, friendships and conflicts, like any family. The teachers and other adults interacted with us in a warm and accessible way, like aunts and uncles.
I spent a year at Horizon Alternative School, a year at Central Technical School and a year at Inglenook Alternative School before dropping out. At my mainstream high school I was quite shocked by the students vs. teachers mentality, which seemed like such a barrier to learning. In my early twenties I returned to school as a mature student and studied Fine Arts, which I still practice but haven’t made into a career. I informally apprenticed as a handyperson and have run my own home improvement company for the past decade and a bit.
I believe the democratic nature of ALPHA has made me a more sensible person. I also see that quality quite strongly in the people I went to ALPHA with, now that we are all grown up. I just wish I could still call Committee on people.
ALPHA was a home to me, and my classmates were a family. I don’t think you can have a better start in life than that.
— Maggie Marrelli
Colour photo by Michael Barker
Black and white photo by F. Robert Openshaw
Text and Interview by Ariel Fielding
Maggie Marelli (née Garrard)
- ALPHA 1976 to 1984
- ages 4–12
- Studied Fine Arts.
- Works in Home Improvement.
- Creates art.