The Folk School Alliance Newsletter
A project of Folk Education Association of America
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Folk Education Association of America Board of Directors 

Jennifer Rose Ramsay
     Escobar, Chair

Mary Cattani, Vice Chair,
    Newsletter Editor
Dawn Murphy, Secretary
Kimberly Coburn
Jerry Jackson
Marilyn Jackson
Geraldine Johnson

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Folk School Alliance

news | Spring 2020

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). 

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if you have comments, news to share through our newsletter or would like us to feature your organization!

Coronavirus Chronicles:

Editor's Note

Updates From the Folk Schools....

Tell Your Story and Be Part of History!


Photo Courtesy of Highlander Center

Coronavirus Chronicles

In March 2020, as the Novel Coronavirus began it’s inexorable spread, the United States implemented shutdown orders across the nation, closing schools, colleges and universities, theaters, restaurants, offices, shops, malls, churches, and put in place social distancing protocols and stay-at-home orders.  Soon enough there were also recommendations on wearing face masks, rules about allowed activities outside the home, and cancellations of visits to retirement communities and nursing facilities.  

The USA is by no means the only country with restrictions in place as this global pandemic has gathered in its grip the people and the economies of the whole world.  People have responded in remarkable ways to these restrictions, gathering on balconies and rooftops in cities across Europe to applaud health care workers  and to sing and play music together to keep spirits up and community spirit alive. New lyrics have been put to old songs to convey the present reality, wonderfully clever and original works have been performed on Zoom by new music groups, and the classics by the greatest opera companies and symphony orchestras.    

We are only beginning to catch glimpses of the breadth and depth both of the phenomenon itself, and of its consequences.  As I write this in April of 2020, the shutdown in my state of Massachusetts is still in full effect after 6 weeks or more, as it is in most places in the US, in Europe, and across the globe in South America, Africa, India and China. As the Covid-19 shutdown process has also affected our folk schools, we are inspired by the imagination, energy, resourcefulness, and commitment of their various responses. Schools have had to cancel or postpone most programming, to help “flatten the curve,” though this is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new story as schools pivot to whole new types of activities and ways of engaging with their communities. Some are offering online versions of courses and events, or turning to affiliations with other like-minded groups to participate in whatever kinds of community support seems possible within the framework and expertise of the school.

So in the midst of what has sometimes seemed like chaos at the national level, it has been heartening and enlivening to see the ingenuity, energy, and willingness of so many in our folk school network to help others during these past few weeks.   From sewing face masks, to making food runs, we’re maintaining connections and helping sustain communities in different ways.  

Here’s a pertinent quote from the Marine Mills Folk School newsletter of April 30:  “The pandemic has forced us all to change our daily schedules and focus on different priorities. We’ve had to accept a larger degree of uncertainty than we were comfortable with in the olden days….say six weeks ago...MMFS was founded on the belief that we are all life-long learners, and we believe redefining our expectations and priorities is a way to face the uncertainty in our lives and grow stronger.”   While much of the energy of administrators is going to potential solutions to financial problems of schools, instructors and staff whose livelihoods are tied to the school, signs of creative work and learning for life are all around amidst the many challenges.  We thought you would like to hear about some of them, about the challenges and the inspirations.  Let’s stay connected and stay inspired!           

~Mary Cattani

Updates From the Folk Schools....

Buttermilk Falls CSA and Folk School:

At Buttermilk Falls Folk School in Osceola, Wisconsin, we have decided to forego folk school activities while Safer at Home measures are in place to address Covid-19. Consideration was given to moving some activities online, but we concluded that the in-person aspect of our offerings makes up such a critical part of the overall experience that we would prefer to reschedule/postpone/cancel instead of holding virtual classes. Our on-farm educator continues to creatively address ways to serve youth and families who were hoping to have a summer camp experience at the farm. We intend to pilot connections with household pods in hopes of building lasting relationships over time. 

Campbell Folk School:

Inspired by the efforts of essential frontline workers, Campbell has created Hearts at Work, a new Folk School project to acknowledge and show gratitude for front line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.   Among many activities and forms of engagement too numerous to mention, submissions are being solicited from Folk School makers to create and donate heart-themed projects for essential employees in Clay and Cherokee counties, deadline May 15. In addition, Campbell has a huge garden they are continuing to work with the food going to staff and to food banks in the local area. 

Photo from Campbell Folk School, Facebook page 4/24/20

And online music is another aspect of the ongoing engagement via morningsong with Jim Pankey a well-known musician who can play any instrument and has taught many classes at the Folk School over the years.

Cobscook Institute:

Is maintaining a portion of its programming via Zoom, hosting virtual Monday Night Music Circles. A cornerstone of CCLC events, people bring an instrument, or their voice, or just come to listen. Donations warmly accepted! Cobscook’s TREE program (Transforming Rural Experience in Education) is continuing during the Shutdown, fostering community with “bedtime stories” for children and staff,  “Microadventure Mondays” with enrichment activities like finger knitting and t-shirt design, as well as providing a broad range of support for families in need with children at home. Also, experiential programs for high school students are continuing.  For more on all this, go to the Cobscook web site.

Ely Folk School:

From online classes in baking biscuits and gravy to photography, Ely is working to keep it all going and to stay connected with their community says Betty Firth. They are so moved that by converting tuitions to donations they have improved improved their bottom line and have helped stay afloat.  In addition to the focus on particular crafts, they have taken an Ely tradition of story telling to the folk school, “Stories from the Edge,” brought it online, and are keeping this form of connection alive, as well.    

Folk School Fairbanks:

“The Folk School in Fairbanks, Alaska is weathering the shutdown by reaching out to our community in a variety of ways. We are hosting bi-weekly Project Share events via Zoom, where instructors and students are sharing what they have been working on while staying home. We have had woodworkers, knitters, potters, bookmakers, musicians, and a chainmail-maker on the calls, and they have been a great way to connect with our folks. We are also offering a small selection of online classes, which includes Making Kippered Salmon and Gravlax, Boreal Bread Baking, and Meal Planning for Outdoor Adventures. We started by offering these classes as "Pay what you can", and that has been a successful model. We just scheduled a project check in, Q and A session for students who are currently in the middle of building their own Pack Rafts.

Our bi-weekly newsletter has been full of projects made by our instructors and supporters, as well as some simple craft ideas for families. We are in the process of creating some craft supply kits, and our first one -- making rustic hooks from branches went online this week. We are slowly working toward getting all our store products on the website for online purchases. After a long winter, our local community is enjoying the spring sunshine, and diving into seasonal activities such as starting seeds, garden planning, tapping birch trees and spending plenty of time outdoors.

With regard to financial issues, we applied for the PPP loan (no word yet), started a GoFundMe emergency fund campaign, and will be applying for an emergency relief grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum. We are currently looking forward to (potentially) offering some classes that can be held outdoors over the summer, following social distance guidelines, and wearing masks.”

Folklore Village Folk School:

Since March 14, 2020, Folklore Village has been forced to cancel or postpone all its programming for the foreseeable future. “We do have hopes that we will be able to resume programming with our Folk School season, which starts up again in June. Many of our activities revolve around dancing, which makes social distancing impossible, but with Folk school activities, there can be space in the togetherness.  We have pivoted and are doing Virtual Open Mics via Zoom, will do a Virtual (fundraiser) concert this week, are looking to create more frequent and more interactive newsletters to supplant what would be normal activities here, and are likely to launch a virtual singing class very soon.”

Great River Folk School:

Closed until further notice.  “We are an adult education program of Great River School, an urban Montessori learning environment for students in grades 1-12.  Montessori education emphasizes practical skills, experiential learning, and a balance between the freedom of the individual and responsibility to community.  By making things with our hands, we engage with each other and natural materials, building community as we learn together.  We value the traditional knowledge of all cultures, seek to create safe spaces for those that education has not justly served, and pursue hard work.  Scholarships are available.  Questions and for further information about future programming? Contact Cate Williams,

Highlander Research and Education Center:

The global pandemic requires us all to prioritize health and protect each other through quarantine, and we have practiced physical distancing while still building social solidarity and community.  Our virtual gatherings have convened thousands online, lifting up multiple tactics and engagement opportunities. Some of these include:

  • Biweekly online Spiritual Soirees to share movement scripture for healing justice and spirituality practice
  • Biweekly online Highlander Happy Hours gathering hundreds together to sing, and celebrate the week’s accomplishments
  • Strategy and training webinars with regional and national partners, including
    • the Southern Movement Assembly’s day-long Virtual Organizing Intensive that trained 1,000 organizers across the South for this moment
    • Planning support for the 60th anniversary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee webinar “The Black Freedom Movement Then and Now: Organizing Traditions”, with an intergenerational panel of civil rights leaders
    • Hosting online a Cultural Hotline gathering of cultural workers and organizers across the South to share strategies during the COVID-19 crisis
  • Two online webinars to build skills for Mutual Aid
  • Weekly e-newsletter, "The View From the Hill," which we shifted from monthly, to keep people informed and engaged during the crisis
  • Continued work online with our program participants, including Seeds of Fire, Solidarity Economy in the South, and Land Liberation
  • Continued planning with regional and national partners on organizing initiatives such as: #HealthOverProfit petition partnership targeting Southern governors; Movement For Black Lives policy demands during COVID-19; #SouthernSpring2020  with the Southern Movement Assembly; Organizing philanthropy to support organizations and communities disproportionately impacted;  Support for decarceration campaigns, including the National Bail Out through fiscal sponsorship and local chapter support.


Homestead Atlanta:

Though classes have been cancelled, members of their community are hard at work, having pivoted to community projects: fiber artists are involved in sewing masks for folks; their gleaning partner is helping pack up food for the hungry; their herbalist is creating herbal wellness packs for the homeless.  And as of May 1, there is a new web site resource of high-quality prerecorded video classes.  Homestead at Home will offer a growing library of at-your-pace video learning from local experts in the topics you've come to count on The Homestead Atlanta to learn, plus, optional virtual study hall sessions, and a “pay what you can" model. Their Curiosity Club has moved from the pub to Zoom,  just a few of ways their network partners are giving back to the community.

Photo from Homestead Atlanta Folk School

Life.  School.  House. Nova Scotia, Canada:

“What makes the Life.School.House. model different from most folk schools is that it is focused on community development – not just the preservation of traditional skills. We also use a barter-based trade system; Life.School.House breaks down the financial barriers many people face when trying to access education and then these accessible classes engage neighbours in simple exchanges where we can share time and tea, connecting and learning from and about each other in a simple but meaningful way.”   According to Jennifer DeCoste, the members of their network are not as interested in online courses as they are in being together for a cup of tea and a chat, so they have put their program on hold until they can resume in-person gatherings.    

Marine Mills Folk School:

Puts out a regular newsletter full of wonderful articles and photos of their on-going activities, ideas and reports-and it has continued to arrive on schedule throughout the shutdown. Cudos to them for the excellent work! Though classes have been cancelled, instructors haven’t “changed their spots” – continuing to create and to be role models for life long learning:  one is baking and cooking, and “making paper from plants, grasses, cattails, onion skins.” Another offers tips on spring gardening, natural egg dying; Carl Wegener has a distance learning version of his digital photography class, is creating Barn Hex Signs, and making fish mobiles.  

Photo from Marine Mills Folks School Newsletter , 4/16/20

A “Knit Night” group is creating a beautiful afghan to be auctioned off to help MMFS, and there is a project on letter writing from a founder of the St. Croix Letter Writing Club:  “Why not try something "old school" and send some mail?  Some may say it's a lost art... all the more reason to bring it back to life!” (The St. Croix Letter Writing Club provides letter-writing prompts and other mail-related inspiration on their Instagram (@stcroixletterwritingclub2) and Facebook pages (St. Croix Letter Writing Club). 

Michigan Folk School:

In agreement with Michigan Governor Whitmer’s Stay-at-Home order, and in cooperation with Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, MFS has cancelled all in-person classes and workshops from now until Monday, May 18th. Safety and health is our priority. We anticipate additional cancellations may be needed which will be announced on a rolling basis. We are identifying best practices for when we can open, so we can do so in a hands-on and safe manner.  In early May, the Wood Studio, Smith Shop and Chicken Coop will receive a thorough cleaning from top to bottom in preparation for future classes.  

North House Folk School:

North House cancelled coursework, but the staff quickly pivoted to working from home. They are busy taking cancellations and working with instructors to reschedule classes, perhaps for the second half of the year. One staff member moved to the campus to serve as caretaker and  North House has interns living on the campus as well. In addition to working on craft projects, they are taking advantage of the idle period to accomplish tasks such as painting classrooms and refinishing floors.

And, true to form, North House is turning the norm on its ear.  “If you take the concept of social distancing and reverse the words, you have distance socializing,” Director Greg Wright said. “The need for working with your hands hasn’t gone away. We are working with our instructors to keep the story of craft alive via social media and web-driven content.”

North House reaches out with a weekly email newsletter containing a fresh schedule of live streamed craft and web-based content from instructors. “Lunch and Learn” sessions and Thursday evening programs are online for everyone to enjoy. The school is finding myriad ways to keep its community strong from afar, and encouraging people to use the hashtag #stillcrafting to show and share their work on North House social media platforms as well.  Frequent staff meetings and Fika Fridays keep the community of North House employees connected.

Photo from North House Folk School Facebook Page. 5/1/20

Palmer Folk School: 

With the wonderful motto to guide them:   “Remembering the old days in new ways,”  folk school founders Laura Sampson, Jack Horner and their sons have pivoted to new ways of community involvement during the shutdown. One in particular, 16-year-old Delano, the driving force behind a project that utilizes the school’s Fab Lab, namely producing 3D Printed Face Shields for Front Line Workers. They have delivered 25 Face Shields to Mat-Su Regional Hospital, and hope to deliver 25 more immediately.  They suggest:   If you have a 3D printer here's a link to NIH approved face shields on Thingiverse   Here’s Delano with his box of face shields and here's a link to a news story they wrote about making face shields.…/palmer-family-delivers-3dprinted-fac…

Photo from Palmer Folk School Facebook Page, 4/8/20

Shake Rag Alley:

The office at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Art is closed to the public during Wisconsin's Safer at Home order, extended last week to May 26, but staff are keeping busy remotely or safely on site maintaining buildings and grounds; communicating with instructors, students, lodging guests, and site rental customers impacted by the closure; writing grants and applying for disaster relief (we did receive a coveted PPP loan).   Other ways to engage with Shake Rag Alley during the Safer at Home order:  Stroll the 2.5 acre campus’ park-like grounds; enjoy our series of free “Art at Home” tutorials; find daily poems by Driftless poets on our Facebook page; purchase a gift certificate or make a donation in support of our nonprofit school.

Three Pines Folk School:

From Kara Grupp, Founder and Director:  Currently we are postponing workshops and events until September or later. I’m working on developing new avenues of community engagement, with a focus on adapting to social distancing protocols, adding in more nature and agriculture based educational programming, where we can be outside and spaced apart (we are still under strict guidelines, basically stay at home orders, until May 15th).  I also plan to diversify into offering prepared food for sale, possibly some very small scale dining events that abide by the rules, wedding rentals respectful of social distancing, and if this really drags out, I may take a couple of my programs that don’t have a hands on component online. Basically, it’s brainstorming and retooling right now, shifting gears while maintaining focus on the mission of our place.  

Turkeyfoot Folk School:

We were so excited to roll out the programming we had scheduled for March-May, but obviously, the events and workshops are postponed for the foreseeable future. We are discussing how Turkeyfoot can remain connected to the community and still provide learning opportunities and content.  Keep an eye out for some Turkeyfoot live videos, tutorials, and a new YouTube channel!

Photo from Wisconsin in History Website

Tell Your Story and Be Part of Hitory!
The Wisconsin Historical Society is documenting the experience and impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on citizens of Wisconsin and of the country!

You Can Be a Part of History

In 1861, Wisconsin Historical Society founder Lyman Draper asked soldiers stationed at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin to help document the Civil War by keeping a diary.  Now it's your turn to record history as its happening. The Society is actively documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Wisconsin and the world. Our tradition of balancing the collection of artifacts and material with personal experiences is a critical part of this process.  Just like the soldiers in 1861, it is your documentation of your experience living during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine that will allow the Society to share history with people living 100 years from now.

Every story is important. The Society is seeking individuals and organizations from all walks of life, different backgrounds and cultures. Perspectives from a retired couple or school-aged child are just as important as those from front-line health care workers. Teachers or supervisors could also make this an engaging group project!

Consider participating in this important project.  For more information go to:

To see a working list of folk schools in North America, visit the Folk School Alliance's website at

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