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Meet Christine Echeverri of Carrier Shell Curriculum in Pasadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Echeverri.

Christine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up in a family where creative offerings were valued, my mom imparted to me a sense of wonder about the world; we often visited museums and places of cultural interest in LA. On one of the more memorable trips, when I was in third grade she pulled me out of school to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu speak at USC. At another event – the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984 (which ran parallel to the sporting events) – I remember seeing Korean fan dancers, early Cirque du Soleil in Santa Monica, and Kodo drummers of Japan. My world was enlarged after seeing these unique events.

My emphasis during my early schooling was visual arts. As I have sorted my childhood mementos, I can see that I drew quite a lot. This was no doubt the reason that led to my mom enrolling me in LAUSD arts magnet schools for middle and high school. I graduated from Fairfax High Visual Arts Magnet with a solid foundation in the arts, ready to embrace the UCLA art program.

There was one problem…by the time I got to UCLA, I was fairly burned-out on the arts. I made the decision to leave the UCLA arts program and instead study World Arts and Cultures. I really enjoyed the program—I learned a lot about cultures that I had not been previously been exposed to from India, South America, Japan, and more.

Upon graduating, I worked at a group home in Pasadena teaching art to several emotionally disturbed children. One thing my two-year experience taught me, though I enjoyed teaching itself, I was not cut out to teach for a school district, with rigid reporting requirements and the need to quantify exactly how much kids are learning; I needed work that allowed me to be independent. My next line of work: floral designer.

During the time that I was getting married, I visited florists that worked out of their homes. I contacted one of the florists I visited while planning my wedding. She taught me how to make centerpieces, bouquets, and more. Once she taught me know to make the cascade bouquet, I knew my education was complete; I felt equipped to independently find clients.

I appreciated the independence and lack of upward-bound in being self-employed. Also, I enjoyed the creativity I experienced during my eight years as a florist. I continued this line of work until the birth of my second child.

I am a person who always appreciates a challenge. It was in the early 2000s where I made another career pivot. During my last four years as a florist, I decided to concurrently enroll in a Master’s of Economics Program at Cal State LA. The economy was white hot and globalization was getting off the ground and studying economics was in line with the zeitgeist of the time. The only aspect to pursuing a master’s degree that gave me pause was that I would need to clear a few prerequisites in math. (Involvement in visual arts programs is not known for a depth-mathematics knowledge!) I need to retake algebra and get closer to calculus than I had ever been before. I completed the program in 4 years, also before my second child was born.

Fast forward to 2013: I never planned to homeschool my three children. I only did so when public school was not working for us. That things have changed in education is an understatement—It’s a different animal today. Because of gaps I could see in what my children learned (and didn’t learn), I decided to homeschool them. I was a nervous about my ability, but I believed in my reasons for doing it.

As we tackled subject after subject, I crafted lesson plans; as I did this, I began to have a strong feeling I had something to contribute to designing homeschool curriculum. I felt this sense in a strong way when I was teaching California history. I could not find the resource I was looking for to teach about California. For the next two years, I had California history curriculum on my mind. I wanted to write up a plan for other families. I know that I am a person of a great many interests; knowing this, I had to accept that I could not write a book and do all of the other work I was doing – teaching my own kids, creating curriculum from scratch for my own family — I needed quiet space to figure out how to write a book. I had never done that before. All of my three children went back to school full-time. I felt like a homeschool failure to send my children back to school, but I knew I would not be able write if I did not both reduce the list of items on my plate and accept my limitations.

In 2013 another event also prompted me that I needed to write on the topic of California history. My mother was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and died within two months. Much of her life was spent exposing my sister and I – as well as her students at the private school where she was an art teacher – to Native peoples, California history, and various arts and cultures. As I was procuring native plants for her memorial garden at an adobe in LA, I was looking at a shrub called ceanothus which has wonderful clusters of purple flowers. Upon hearing the woman tell me its name, I asked “Is that the plant Native Americans used for soap?” She said she was not sure, but in my heart I knew it was. I began to acknowledge for the first time that I possessed another education—separate from the one I received at public school. I knew certain things that others did not; for the first time I considered I might be qualified to write a California history curriculum.

I began the research phase for my book, which took several months. After completing a draft, my second year was spent getting feedback and having conversations about where I was headed; this step in writing is hard, but it’s necessary as other people’s input is invaluable. I learned that the creative process is much like giving birth; the beginning is easier, but as the baby grows, it becomes ultimately about birthing and whatever will help complete that must be done. I learned the only way to become a better writer is to write. Thinking about writing will not yield a book. The author’s job day after day is to spend time writing; not worrying, but simply being disciplined to be connected to the book or story each day, even if the words written do not seem correct.

Welcome California Out of the Box, born October 8, 2018

After going through the launch process once, I definitely am better informed about how it goes; I am aware of how much quiet is needed to write a draft, how vulnerable I feel to have early reviewers look at my book, how tedious getting everything just right for the final copy is, and then how tired I am at the end. I have learned fatigue and feeling uncertain is quite normal. An after my first book, fellow entrepreneur April Tsui from Atsui cards said to me: “You worked so hard on it. Don’t just let it drop and fade away.” Those were well-timed words. Her charge to me had an effect and I have continued to promote my creation.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest obstacle I face is…myself! Self-doubt, fear of failure, and being sensitive—I face every day.

I am doing a line of work I did not go to college for. I have no training as an author or publisher per se. I do find though that if your offering is true (meaning you did everything you could do, you thought about everything possible), people are quite forgiving and open to trying your product. I have never created a product such as this. I had worked primarily in the service sector. It was a new concept to me that after spending two years to write a book, I’d need to tour with it. In experiences such as these, I realized that–I need to do everything I could to promote my book. If it meant learning to juggle, I’d need to learn that too. My job is to do everything needed to expand the market for my book and tell others about it. As I take risks such as public speaking and attending conventions, though I might feel scared, I push through because I know the only way to quiet my fears is to conquer them; the more experience I have conquering my fears, the more I know every fear will be conquered.

When I was in my senior year of high school, I was selected for the Academic Decathlon team at my high school. There are ten disciplines that students must study to get through contests in 10 areas. The discipline that terrified me was giving a speech. I asked myself—should I not participate because this scares me? No–I decided to participate, and if I was going to do it, I would lay siege to my fears by doing everything I could to lick them. This meant I needed to memorize my speech so that it was a part of my fabric. I needed to get very comfortable with it and know it solid–inside and out. I spent months being anxious about it. The day I delivered it, I have no idea what I said. Fast forward to the award ceremony, and I got bronze medals in a number of areas, but a gold medal in speech, the category I was most scared of.

This experience has taught me that if I am scared of doing an activity – that really means I should do it. The only way to conquer fear is to squash it by not letting the fear stop me from taking the challenge.

Please tell us about Carrier Shell Curriculum.
After first being an author, I then moved into creating a publishing line – Carrier Shell Curriculum. The broader mission of Carrier Shell Curriculum is to create resources for homeschool families desiring contextualized, eclectic, learning experiences. Our name references the carrier shell, a real animal (similar to a decorator crab) which selects and attaches shells and objects to itself. Like this animal, we believe curriculum choices are much like “shells” which can be attached to homeschool students and families that become fused to who they are which ultimately makes their whole educational experience richer and more beautiful. Instead of just giving kids facts, we provide families with moments and space so that our story-based educational approach will allow for organic-learning.

Instead of worksheets and rote memorization, we believe true learning comes out of context. Our first product, California Out of the Box: An Interdisciplinary History Curriculum, uses five different historical fiction books as a platform which enables students in grades 3-6 to study history, habitats, geology, geography, and more in the Golden State. Our book is a teacher’s guide that allows home school parents to follow the story of California—complete with reproducible sheets, answer keys, and a plan for navigating the historical fiction books used in the study. This type of learning is ideal for homeschool families, where multi-age read-alouds are common. Kids from differing grade levels in families can learn about subjects together.

In June 2020, we launch Earth Party! An Early Introduction to the Linnaean System of Classification of Living Things Unity Study curriculum for elementary-aged kids. In homeschooling, families have flexibility as to when to teach certain subjects; kids will be sure to enjoy this study which will allow them to consider the variety of life on earth—from single-celled organisms like bacteria through the animal kingdom. Though not usually taught in elementary school, our literature approach contextualizes the information and uses story to anchor science.

As we write more curricula, we are expanding to carry literature books used in our materials. At homeschool conventions, families can buy the complete curriculum kit.

Also, we have branched out to teach at the local homeschool co-op FUNdamentals in Arcadia. Christine teaches a weekly California history class for students in grades 3-7.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
As a native Angeleno, I have found this city to be a great place to write a book; there are a ton of resources: editors, people and friends to review your work, design services, promotional services. Many of my best leads have been DIY related. I find people that are interested in what I do and the steps I’ve taken; I find often people are very willing to help out—whether that is reviewing what I am writing, giving feedback on my business, it’s inspiring to have people excited about what I am doing.

Since I have written an interdisciplinary California history curriculum, Los Angeles is a great home base for exploring it; the pueblo, Native American cultural centers, museums, natural areas such as the Santa Monica Mountains and Angeles National Forest. There are a ton of things close and local that I have employed in writing my book.

I often need stock photography for my blog or social media postings; its so easy to go natural areas and find the images I need for my blog.

One of the greatest assets to the area are the variety of library systems. They are helpful to me as a writer. I often need to do research for my books, and wallah, if one system doesn’t have it, I can try the next! Since I am based out of Pasadena, I use that library system the most. Features they have include resources and events designed for new authors. Also, they offer free Score small business consulting, which I have taken advantage of. A fresh pair of eyes to look at my strategy is helpful. I have been offered tips that have been so helpful. I would love to see the LA Public Library offer those services as well.

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