Heidi Blozan pioneers alternative education in Swannanoa Valley

Shelly Frome
Special to Black Mountain News

Artspace’s Heidi Blozan traces her love of alternative early childhood education to her teenage years in Kensington, Maryland. She was well aware of the standard race to the finish line, gold star status as others were deemed more or less average or relegated to remedial programs. But she was naturally drawn to a more compassionate approach.

Heidi Blozan at Artspace Charter School

“As it happens,” she said, “in the '70s when I was growing up, there was a movement  advocating children’s rights. My family therefore wanted us all to participate and ask questions and encouraged my curiosity. Because I was given a lot of one-on-one quality time, when I babysat I respected the little kids as people, paid attention and interacted with them.”

At the same time, there was a movement at called Reevaluation Co-counseling —gatherings and workshops where liberal minded people openly shared experiences and empathized with one another.  

“They even had classes for young people,” Blozan said, “where you could reevaluate your life and look forward to self-actualization instead of  trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

Heidi Blozan at Artspace Charter School

Eventually, whole families became involved.  She was especially taken by the fact that both adults and her peers truly listened to her and validated her feelings during trying times.  Once trust was established, the springboard evolved to such matters as the impact Blozan’s parents’ divorce had on her life. Counseling deepened as peers became adept at offering positive, empowering feedback. Debilitating thoughts were reevaluated enabling people to go on and change course. 

Needless to say, this was all made possible by psychologist Carl Rogers’ humanist theories. Many by now believed that in order for a child to grow and flourish, he or she needed  unconditional love and positive regard from others and a feeling of self-worth. As a result, youngsters like Heidi could face whatever ups and downs life had to offer.

It was no wonder that kindred spirits like Blozan’s Aunt Nancy prompted her to go to Celo, a summer camp nestled in the natural environs of Burnsville and go on to steep herself in elementary education courses in the experiential atmosphere of Warren Wilson College.

“I loved the smell of the woods,” she said, “which I got from being at camp. And, of course, I absolutely loved the work-study program. And I naturally loved being part of the small community. Hand-in-hand, we all worked together every day.”

Armed with a teaching certificate, and feeling completely at home in this uniquely open and liberal corner of the world, she found employment at a Montessori preschool in Asheville. Due to the children’s sense of wonder, once again she was delighted to “just be with them.”

All told, she went on to experience marriage, rearing her own children in this ideal way, carrying out her love of hands-on exploration at the Learning School on the grounds of Camp Rockmont, and fostered a Montessori school so that children in Black Mountain could be exposed to the  world-renown progressive methods and materials. Presently she can be found on any school day morning at Artspace Charter School in Swannanoa assisting second graders, encouraging and, as always, “just being with them” as a guide.  

Heidi Blozan at Artspace Charter School

Just the other day,  seated in a semicircle, self-directed, working at their own pace, without being inundated with abstract words like photosynthesis, the children could be found coloring and working with imagery of plants and their growth process. Motivated by the promise it was all going to come to something. They were actually going to plant and nurture a herbal garden.

During one telling moment, a boy looked up and confided to Miss Heidi that he was using his favorite color — vermillion. In turn, Miss Heidi broke into the most winning smile. She told him his favorite color was special. As special as every child given the right environment and a sense of self-worth.