Behind the Scenes of Starting a School…

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When Rob and I decided to create the Chapman Farm School a year ago this month, we knew it would be harder than anything we had ever taken on.  We knew it would be expensive and messy and frustrating. We also knew it would be worth the work.  I have said to myself at least 3,402 times over the past year,  “if it were easy, someone would have done it already.”

I’ve spent a year learning some fundamental lessons that I never saw coming.  Some have knocked the wind out of me, and some have lifted me up.  Here are a few that have really resonated:

  • Things are so, so, SO expensive. SO EXPENSIVE.  However, there are people who will quietly help make those expenses manageable.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary to take 2 (giant) steps back to take 3 steps forward.
  • Starting a school is a life changer- and it alters a family- forever. Most of the changes are positive. Some are very painful.
  • There is plenty of praise and a fair amount of negative energy from strangers (the support of friends and family is what matters the most).
  • Anything involving the government takes FOREVER.
  • Friends from years ago show up in meaningful ways to help.
  • Every success and failure in life has been preparation for this work… and conversely, there is absolutely nothing that can adequately prepare a person for this work.
  • There is an endless string of tasks to be managed and mountains to scale.
  • The gratitude for people who give abundantly of their time and talent to help get started is overwhelming… but so is the guilt for not being able to pay them even close to what they’re worth.
  •  It becomes necessary to both ask directly for and adjust life (in a big way) to support what is needed.

One year in, there is nothing “easy” about it… but with less than two weeks until the start of our pilot program in Norwell, I can already say it’s been worth it.

I just wanted to give a little shout out to the many helpers who have shown up in a big way to give freely of their time, talents, and treasure this first year… I am eternally grateful.


  • Colleagues at the Chapman Farm School- Jenn Cronin, Lisa Grize, and Maureen Kramer (AND their families)
  • Colleagues at Skills for Living
  • The incredibly kind and generous families at Chapman Farm School and Skills for Living
  • Maureen and Kevin Chapman
  • My Mom and Dad
  • Rob’s Mom and Dad
  • Scott & Tricia Morrow
  • Adam Hayes
  •  The Chapman Farm School Board of Directors
  • Jamie LaBillois
  • The Tremont School
  • Katie Judge
  • Rob, Tyler, & Jennie… especially Rob, Tyler, & Jennie.

One year ago, I had no idea if this would work. We still have a million miles left to go… but we sure are on our way.

"When will be enough for you?"


I had a prominent mental health professional call me out in a business meeting a few weeks ago.

After hearing the story of Skills for Living and the emergence of the Chapman Farm School, he took a breath and asked me a simple, honest, poignant question: 

"When will be enough for you?"

It caught me off guard. 

"Huh?" I said. "What do you mean?" 

He repeated his question.

"When will be enough for you? You have Skills for Living- in two locations. You are a public speaker. You are starting a school. When will be enough for you? When will you be done?"

I respected his question- so I sat with it. When will I be done? Why am I doing this? When will be enough for me?

  • Why did Rob and I sell our happy little house in Quincy and move our kids, ages 6 and 7, to a farm in a completely new place?
  • Why did we choose to dive into debt, leading Rob to swap his role as an at-home dad for a job as a mechanical engineer?
  • Why did I essentially double my workload at a time when Skills for Living could already keep me more than busy? 


Because it's not about me. If I'm being really honest, it was starting to be for a little while... but not anymore. 

A year or so ago, I was able to peek around the professional corner. I could see that I was going to have opportunities to expand my public speaking, probably write a book, maybe even franchise Skills for Living. It seemed logical and easy and incredibly tempting. 

...then a llama farm interrupted everything. 

Never, never did I see myself on a suburban farm. Ever. I am a T-riding, sidewalk-walking, local-coffee-shop-drinking, rock-on-the-front-porch-with-my-neighbors, pay-off-the-mortgage-before-I'm-45, city-living kind of girl. 

That's why I was so profoundly stunned the first time I drove onto the farm. I stopped my minivan and looked at the winding road in front of me... the beautiful barns... the wide open space... and saw the Chapman Farm School flash before me: It would be small in numbers but vast in space. It would be creative and hard-working, joyful and energetic. The students would be bright- each would have a superpower to share. They would be kind and quirkily delightful... and their campus would be incredibly beautiful... because they deserve to learn in a gorgeous setting.  Kids on the South Shore need the Chapman Farm School- and it would be my privilege to help build it for them.

Aspirations of hopping on planes and giving talks around the country vanished in an instant. They were replaced with the simple drive to go deeper with a handful of kids- to get to know them really, really well... and be a part of their journey to a successful adulthood.

So maybe it is a *tiny* bit about me.  In general, when kids make progress at Skills for Living, they leave. I am happy for them, but simultaneously feel a little sad because I don't get to take the long walk with them and see who they grow up to become. I want to do that. 

I've had enough of expansion. I don't want to grow Skills for Living or increase our name recognition.  My desire to become well known in my field has extinguished. I want to dig in, right here on the South Shore, and make a difference for a community of really terrific kids and families... and I want to do it with my own family right by my side. 

So this is it. Enjoying Skills for Living and building Chapman Farm School is my life's work... and it's more than enough for me. 


A Change of Plans

 The hot air balloon rides will happen... just not on May 4th. We need to make sure we are well grounded with a solid traffic plan before any lift-off can occur!

The hot air balloon rides will happen... just not on May 4th. We need to make sure we are well grounded with a solid traffic plan before any lift-off can occur!

Building a school is a long, curvy, wobbly process.

There are hurdles to be soared over, and potential potholes everywhere.

We recently stumbled into a pothole. In planning our first fundraiser, we thought a lot about a lot- we looked at our large open space and considered vendors, food, and entertainment. We thought about parking and invitations. What we forgot to think about was the traffic.

Our fundraiser has the potential to draw a number of cars- and we owe it to our neighbors to have a rock solid plan for managing the potential traffic… and to build a rock solid plan, we need a bit more time.

We want to be good neighbors.  That’s why we’ve decided to relocate/postpone our Lift-Off! event.

Make no mistake- we will celebrate on May 4th… but we will celebrate in a way that makes sense for all involved:

  • Tethered hot air balloon rides will be replaced (for now!) by an internationally renowned balloon sculpting team and a raffle for a private balloon flight
  • Instead of food trucks, we will have Rob at the grill (because who doesn’t want a burger cooked by Rob Shamitz?)
  • The silent auction will go on (and we have some great stuff!)… inside the S4L gym
  • Seriously awesome S4L student performances will be subbed in for bands
  • There will still be bounce houses… because there are always bounce houses.

We will share more and more information about our awesome-albeit-modified event in the coming days.

 Taking the extra time we need will ensure a much more awesome lift-off!

Taking the extra time we need will ensure a much more awesome lift-off!

Here’s what I need you to know: I whole-heartedly feel this is the best plan of action for our fundraiser.  It is incredibly important to me that we are thoughtful and respectful to our neighbors in East Bridgewater. I have absolutely zero frustration over having to change the venue of event- well, I guess that's not entirely true. I am slightly frustrated with myself for not thinking through a traffic plan. Sometimes my enthusiasm and "get things done" nature makes me work a little too quickly for my own good. I share this "oops" openly for two reasons...

1) I think taking responsibility for (even well intentioned!) mistakes is really, really important, and 2) I always want my students and families to get that no one is perfect- and even people in the helping field make (sometimes many!) mistakes. 

I sincerely hope you will join us at Skills for Living on May 4th for a pretty awesome event...

The Chapman Farm School

Down to Earth Celebration!

Sunday May 4, 2014


Hosted by Skills for Living

76 Accord Park Drive

Norwell, MA 02061

For tickets and information, please call the Skills for Living front desk at 781-584-7098