Archive for Sudbury

Learning all the time

Rising Tide School’s fourth year has begun wonderfully.  Everyone in the school is reaping the benefits of a school culture that has greatly matured over the life of the school.  The container for learning is stronger than every, as the students become blazingly confident in their own freedom, responsibility, and self-knowledge.  It is truly a privilege to learn amongst these young people!

This year I’ve been struck with how intense and full the days are.  Each person is truly learning all the time.  With zero time diverted to a required curriculum, each moment is fully, completely devoted to whatever is most interesting, challenging, and absorbing to each person.  The days are a continual flow of curiosity, exploration, and mastery as students seek out physical, mental, intellectual, and social challenges.

Margaret Wheatley, whose work is to explore how and why people can go on doing good work in difficult times, says that “Determination, energy, and courage appear spontaneously when we care deeply about something. We take risks that are unimaginable in any other context.”  That’s why she finds that people are at their most heroic in a crisis, and also, I think, why Rising Tide School students have the energy and resolve to keep learning all day, every day.  They have time and space to find out what they care deeply about.  That deep caring propels them through all kinds of difficulties, bringing them ever closer to the selves they imagine being.  And they become so very strong, powerful, and impressive as they move through obstacles, absorb new information, and integrate new skills.  They are truly people who will be able to thrive in whatever world awaits them when they leave the school as young adults.

This year, there will be many, many opportunities to support Rising Tide School, to help us grow, to provide financial sustenance, to aid in our site search (more info to come!) and to help people find out about this extraordinary learning space.  The ideas behind the school, which were once simply the dearest hopes of the the founders, have firmly taken root in a wonderful community of families.  The three teens who seek graduation this spring (our largest group of potential graduates yet!) are a wonderful testimony to the value of the Sudbury experience, and we want to the school to grow many more empowered, capable, compassionate, and completely unique young people.  We think this world needs all they have to offer!  We hope that you will stay in touch with the school, and join us in sustaining this place for many, many more young people.  If you’d like to make a first connection with the school, please come to an Open House this Sunday, from 1:30-3:30 at the school.  Find information and directions here.  We’d love to meet you!

posted by Abbe


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A group of students, ages 5-10, planned a spontaneous field trip last week to enjoy the sun!  We go on many of these field trips to local parks and green spaces.  Any group of students can plan a trip during a school day, as long as a staff is available to accompany them.

During this field trip, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the students.  Students of all ages form such close relationships with each other, with older kids tending to younger kids, and younger kids being inspired by the older ones.

The students who have been here for a number of years have truly amazing friendships with people of all ages.  Some friendships have been the result of very hard, voluntary work on the part of two people who didn’t get along for a period of time.

I think that the friendships at the school are so strong and impressive because the students are free to choose the people they’d like to get to know, yet are required, by school law, to treat everyone with respect.

Eventually, people seem to discover that there is something to enjoy in just about everybody. Differences in beliefs and family culture (religion, politics, food, money, lifestyle and more) are discussed openly from a young age. But none of those things stand in the way of friendship. As students live, work, and play together in an environment of mutual respect, they create human-to-human bonds that are stronger than common interests or beliefs.

It’s good to live and learn among friends.

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Making the Leap III: Admissions FAQ

For our last Making the Leap post, here are the answers to some commonly-asked admissions questions.  We hope you’ve found these posts helpful, and we look forward to meeting you if you choose to explore the school for 2012-2013.

When do I apply?

Enrollment is now closed for the 2011-2012 school year.  If you are considering Rising Tide School for 2012-2013, you are encouraged to begin the admissions process well before the end of the 2011-2012 school year.  Our unique admissions process involves a full visiting week, so you are encouraged to plan ahead for the smoothest transition to a new environment.  New enrollments are accepted on a space-available basis beginning on April 16th.

Does it cost money to attend Rising Tide School?

Yes!  Rising Tide School is an independent school, funded largely by tuition.  We deeply value our position as an independent school, as our independence frees us from requirements and practices that run counter to our values.  By operating independently, we have are able to practice equality, democracy, and self-direction in a way that wouldn’t be possible within today’s public education paradigm.  We, the Rising Tide School students, staff, trustees and corporate members (many of whom are parents), retain control of the program and operation of our school.  We view education as the most important investment you could possibly make in your child’s present and future, and our tuition is intended to be affordable, to ensure that the school is available to families of all backgrounds.

Is financial aid available?

Yes.  Financial aid is available, and early application is highly encouraged.  For details, please visit our website.

Can I visit the school?

Yes, there are several ways to visit the school.

  • Make an appointment for an admissions visit, during which you can observe the school in session.  Please call or email to schedule.  Admissions visits are generally available M,Tu,W,F between 9am-2pm and Th from 12pm-2pm.
  • Attend an Open House.  Our next Open House will take place on Sunday, April 29, at 1:30pm.
  • Drop in at Office Hours.  Office Hours are an informal time to meet with the Admissions Clerk and to discuss the school and the student and family’s interests.  Office Hours are scheduled for April 12, 19, and 26th, from 3:45-5:00pm.  Just drop by!

Is your school only for self-motivated/gifted/talented kids?

No, the school can work well for all kinds of kids who want to experience freedom and responsibility.  Rising Tide School is a unique transformational learning environment in which many kids who have lost hope around education are able to thrive and recover their innate drive to learn.  Equally, it is a challenging and empowering environment for kids who already experience themselves as motivated and successful.  If you are wondering whether Rising Tide School might fit for your or your child, we encourage you to contact us and begin a conversation.  You can reach the Admissions Clerk, Abbe, at abbe (at) risingtideschool (dot) org, or at school at 360.753.0820.

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Making the Leap II: Is Rising Tide School right for you?

Welcome!  If you’re just joining us, this is the second in a short series of posts about the admissions process at Rising Tide School.

Today, we’ll consider what makes a student and their family likely to experience success and satisfaction at Rising Tide School.  I’ll offer some general thoughts on what makes Rising Tide School a fit for students and parents, and if these thoughts spark questions about your student’s specific hopes and needs, please feel free to contact me.

The short answer is that Rising Tide School is for anybody who wants to be here.  To be more precise, Rising Tide School is for any independent person, ages 5-18, who wishes to have responsibility for their own education and who wants to attend the school.  It’s for kids who want to know themselves, and to have the freedom and support they need to figure out life on their own terms.  And equally, it’s for parents who are ready to support their student in making their own choices and directing their own education.  The school requires a partnership between parent and student, based on the parent’s trust in their student’s ability to learn and succeed.  Without this core trust, it is very difficult for students to do well at the school.  So when we assess a student’s readiness to enter the school, we are looking for four things:

  • Is the student independent?
  • Are they ready to take responsiblilty for themselves and for their education?
  • Do they wish to attend the school?
  • Do they have the support and trust of their parents?

At the very core of Rising Tide School, there’s a belief about humans:  We believe that every young person has the ability, desire, and drive to learn.  The school is based on complete trust in the ability of each and every young person to successfully drive their own learning process.   It’s a trust that is borne from practical experience:  When we observe children in a free environment, it’s obvious that they are insatiably curious.  They are wired to learn.  They want nothing more than to learn to succeed in the world, and to master the skills they need to create that success.  Free children always move toward meaningful challenges.  That’s why anyone who can be independent can do well here–if they wish to, and if they are supported by their parents.  Everyone can learn.

Rising Tide School is a transformational space.  Students who enter the school with faith in their own ability to learn and succeed will continue to grow, learn, and become fully themselves, in wonderful ways that can’t be predicted.  But even if a student has been convinced by their prior life experience that they can’t learn, or are bad at learning, they may have a completely different experience of themselves at Rising Tide School.  Time and freedom are great healers, and self-connection can be repaired.  In other words, people are welcome here wherever they are in their learning journey.  The only requirements are the desire, willingness, and ability to take responsibility for oneself.

Have questions about your student and their unique needs?  I’d love to talk to you and help you explore how the school might fit for your family.  You can reach me at school at 360.753.0820, or at abbe (@) risingtideschool (dot) org.

posted by Abbe

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Making the Leap

I thought I’d do a short series of posts about making the leap to democratic education–otherwise known as the admissions process!  I’ve been the Admissions Clerk for most of our three years of operation, and I really enjoy working with the families and students who consider entering this new world of freedom and opportunity.  For many people, it is a leap that is exciting, yet a bit scary, as this new world is unfamiliar and very different from what most of us have experienced in our own education.  In this series, I’ll talk about how admissions works, who should apply, and answer some frequently asked admissions questions.  If you have a question to ask the Admissions Clerk, please email me at abbe (at) risingtideschool (dot) org, and I’ll address it here on the blog.  Also, please save the date for our next Open House, on April 29th at 1:30pm.  At the Open House, you can tour the school, ask your questions in person, and meet other prospective and current students and their families.

Today, I’ll speak to the question: How does admissions work at Rising Tide School?

First of all, congratulations!  If you’re considering admissions, you may have decided that you are ready for something different, and you want to see if Rising Tide School is the school for you.  Enrollment at Rising Tide School is open to any student, age 5-18, who is independent, ready to take responsibility for themselves and their education, and who wishes to attend the school.  The admissions process is a mutual interview process in which the student, their parent(s), and the school assess whether or not the school is a good fit for the individual student and their educational needs.  During admissions, students and parents have plenty of time to ask questions and come to a full understanding of the school’s philosophy and operations.  When students and their families decide to make the leap, they do so as informed participants in the school’s free, democratic environment.

The admissions process has 4 steps:

1.  Visit the School

  • We strongly recommend an initial visit to the school, either at an Open House, or during an Admissions Visit.  Admissions Visits are available by appointment at a time that is convenient for you.

2.  Application and Interview

  • Student and parent(s) complete an application.  The application is designed to help prospective families understand the school and assess their readiness and desire to participate within it.
  • After your application is received at the school, we will contact you to schedule an interview.  The interview typically lasts an hour, and is a time to discuss the student and family’s past educational experiences, your hopes and needs for a new educational environment, and to answer questions about Rising Tide School and Sudbury education.

3.  Visiting Week

  • After the application and interview are complete, students spend a full 5 days as visiting students at the school.  During the Visiting Week, students experience the school for themselves and decide whether they are interested in attending.
  • At the end of the week, the Admissions Committee makes an admissions decision.  If no concerns are noted during the Visiting Week, the student will be invited to enroll.

4.  Enrollment

  • Upon successful completion of the Visiting Week, students may enroll.  Enrollment is open on a space-available basis from September-March of each school year.  New family enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year begins in April.
If you are considering Rising Tide School for the upcoming school year, I look forward to meeting you and discussing the school with you.  And again, please feel free to contact me with any questions.

posted by Abbe

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Great Blog Post on Offbeat Mama

Clearwater parent and writer Amanda Klein has written a wonderful post as a guest blogger at Offbeat Mama. Her story of her family's experience with Clearwater is warm and personal, and she does a great job of touching on some of the key aspects of the school and the model.

Read the post now!

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New Sudbury Valley School Video Available

Update: After finding that the video frame was too big for blog parameters, the video size has been edited to fit. Apologies for the chopped-off earlier video.

Sudbury Valley School, the original Sudbury school and our model and inspiration, recently produced a video that gives insight--in a lovely, visual nutshell--into how and why Sudbury education works. They have been operating for more than 40 years.

The video is just over 13 minutes long and worth every second of viewing. Please set aside a few minutes to watch it.

End of post.

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Corrupting the Youth

[Note: Bryan volunteers at Clearwater one day a week, and he is the parent of a Clearwater student. I've interspersed photos of Clearwater students and scenes into his post. --Shawna]

(This is cross-posted from my blog Speculum Criticum Traditionis, where I address a lot of philosophical issues. This explains the name-dropping of philosophers here, and why I explain Sudbury education a little more in depth—my original audience did not necessarily have the familiarity.)

So in my day job, I'm a teacher. I work with students, grades k-5, at an after-school program. Sometimes this is more or less glorified daycare. Sometimes it is homework club, or basketball coaching, or any of a dozen or so improvised activities, mainly initiated by the kids I work with. I've worked in the schools, first as an AmeriCorps volunteer, then as a district employee, then at the after-school program, for ten years, and I have a fair idea, not especially nuanced but I think realistic and informed, of some of the realities in an elementary or middle school in my city. I've broken up fights between students as big as or bigger than me, administered tests, tried to help struggling kids catch up, and seen more than one go from non-reader to reader. I've seen things that would make you cringe, and "successes" by some standards that could bring a tear to your eye. Most of the time I find the work exciting, sometimes exhausting, always deeply rewarding. It is certainly the happiest I've ever been at a job.

I do have occasion to talk philosophy to the kids I work with. I stumped a number of them (and myself) with Heidegger's question "What is a Thing?" (the rule was, they couldn't use the word "thing" in the definition), and walked one or two through Cartesian doubt up to the cogito. One time I had four or five laughing a bit too loud at the back of the bus over the Euthyphro, which at least one thought was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. But for the most part, I don't really try out the canonical stuff on them; it's musty and smells of footnotes, and the last thing most kids want after school is more school.

We do, though, talk a fair amount about education itself, and its relationship with freedom, and power. Because I am constantly taking mental notes on how to be a better teacher, I pay a lot of attention to when I hear kids complain or enthuse about something they are doing in school. I listen to their accounts of what makes a teacher "nice" or "mean," fair or unfair; what makes something interesting or engaging for them, or bores them to tears. I get a lot of practical, hands-on tips from these conversations (I once had a ten-year-old boy confide to me, in real big-brother, lemme-tell-you-'bout-us-kids fashion, that "It's okay to be a little mean"); but what I want to focus on here is the more general impression I get of their impression of school. Not all kids are articulate or reflective enough to intentionally paint a picture of this, but every one of them knows very well that they aren't in school because they choose to be. They regard it the way most adults regard work: a necessary evil, the lesser-of-two perhaps, and often the devil they know. They each sense on some level that they are being made to do things, which they would never, ever decide to do themselves. What is heartbreaking to me is the way they internalize the notion that this is somehow a good thing.

Let me be clear; we aren't talking about the them's-the-breaks of life, or the tough-luck unfairness of circumstance, or rolling with the punches and playing the hand that's dealt you. No one likes to have to adjust their life to the realities imposed upon them by happenstance, but ten-year-old children know very well the difference between happenstance and a decision, and they know the difference between a considered decision and an arbitrary one.

Whenever a new activity is announced in my class, the first question I get is always "Is it mandatory?" This is quite striking considering that the answer is almost always "no." The things kids have to do in my class in the course of a year can probably be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Their reaction thus indicates to me that they are so beset by "things to do" [read: things adults want them to do] that at the first sign of another one, they brace themselves.

And yet. Though they know very well the feeling of being put upon, the kids I work with have all more or less accepted that this is for their own good; or at the very least, that it's Just The Way Things Are.

I also volunteer one day a week at The Clearwater School. Clearwater is a Sudbury school; it's run using an "alternative" model of education, based on (and named for) the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. It's a radically student-centered mode of education in which children never. ever. take. classes. unless. they. want. to. There are no grades, and no age divisions (the five-year-olds and the fifteen-year-olds aren't kept rigorously separated or together); above all there are no rules that haven't actually been agreed upon by those who live by them.

These absences (no classes, no grade levels, no transcripts) are the things that stand out in people's minds when Sudbury education is explained to them, but the actual content of the model tends to pass them by. Sudbury education is radically participatory, radically democratic, and radically organic. Far from being little lord-of-the-flies centers where mere anarchy is loosed, Sudbury schools are communities that are run by the students, for the students. There are plenty of rules, but they are neither arbitrarily imposed from on high, nor artificially "decided on," as I've seen far too often in a traditional classroom, by a sham one-time meeting at the beginning of the school year when kids are manipulated into automatically mouthing and "agreeing to" the same rules they've lived with last year and the year before and the year before that. Above all, every student and teacher can vote on every issue affecting the school. This includes buying a new computer, refurbishing the music room, changing the rules about who can go off campus when, or hiring and firing of staff (teachers are re-elected to their posts every year).

The first day I volunteered there, I played a game of four square. I was never a big sports player in my own school days, and now that I'm at least a little more coordinated (and a little less invested in looking cool), I can finally enjoy this staple of the American playground. On the day in question, it took me a while to register that there was something different about the game. I couldn't put my finger on it. I was getting out with about the same frequency; I was playing no better or worse than usual. What was it?

Finally it dawned on me. It had nothing to do with how I was playing; it was that playing was all I was doing. I wasn't the ref.

At the public school where I work, if a dispute breaks out between kids over who is out, the immediate next step is to call my name. Whether or not I'm playing the game, whether or not I even saw the play, whether or not I know the kids involved, it's my job to make the call, as if by virtue of how tall I am. Have an argument? Where's the grown-up? But at this Sudbury school, though there had been a dozen or so close calls and disputes, not one kid had looked at me to resolve anything. Not even when one kid stormed off in anger did anyone so much as look at me as anything but another player. I should add that I knew all these kids already; they weren't unsure about me as a newcomer; it simply had never occurred to them that the adult in the group was the default decision-maker.

No kid asks if they can go to the bathroom. No kid raises their hand before they get a drink of water. The notion that they ought to "wait till the bell" before eating the lunch they brought would be met with incomprehension. Bell? You mean, like Pavlov's dogs?

When adults hear about Sudbury schools, their initial question is likely to be "how do they learn anything?" In fact, it is not difficult to learn the rudiments of any educational competence. It takes approximately 100 hours for a motivated student to learn how to read, for instance; the real issue is waiting patiently for that motivation. (In fact, Sudbury Valley School maintains that in over 30 years no student there has failed to learn to read). What the question really reveals is a fear that the motivation will never arise; that left to themselves, children won't want to learn anything. It'll be too easy to just float. It doesn't matter that this is a surreally counterfactual fear. We've accustomed ourselves to not trust our kids. And they have met our expectations.

When kids first hear about Sudbury, their first reaction tends to be "Whoah." But it's not an unambiguously enthusiastic "whoah." Almost without exception, the public school kids I have talked to about Sudbury education have said, "that sounds really hard." And they're right.

At the school where I volunteer, there have been (among other things) music classes, French classes, cooking classes; kids pursuing Aikido, computer programming, film-making; writing and producing a play; caring for livestock. And yes, reading. Some learning to read; plenty of just plain reading. There are also lots of games. Computer games, board games, team sports, weird improvised invented mash-ups of basketball and softball and soccer, strung-together make-believe role-playing games that are really just long conversations.

What all these activities have in common is that they were all initiated by some student. At some point a child or a teenager approached a staff member and said, "I want to learn French" or "Will you teach me to play drums?" or "We should put on a play."

When the kids I work with say "That sounds really hard," this is what they are talking about. Every step of their education is up to them. It is hard. It is also, in my experience, indisputably more rewarding. Because everything a student formally learns is something they have decided to learn, what they internalize is far more than a degree of mastery over a "subject." They have learned that they can explore and that their exploration has real meaning and concrete results.

And the teachers? Aside from no-brainers like keeping kids safe (a task made markedly simpler by the Sudbury model's real high expectations of student responsibility), the teachers are there to pay attention to kids, to cultivate real relationships with them, a close real attention attuned to the actual interests of each one; to really be open to every request, and to make it happen when it's asked for. This might seem to multiply beyond control what a teacher needs to attend to--instead of teaching 5th grade math to 30 kids, I'm supposed to notice that he's interested in geology, she's into origami, they're asking about the civil rights movement, and that kid off at the other side of the playground is doing acrobatics? But in fact, working as a Sudbury teacher is far easier than teaching in a mainstream school. Aside from the absence of meaningless paperwork, every teaching encounter is fresh because it arises out of the actual relationship one has with the child. And, I ought also to mention, the lack of age distinctions means that children wind up teaching each other.

In contemporary mainstream American culture this model is so deeply counter to the widespread assumptions of our age, that it is not uncommon for people to refuse to consider a Sudbury school a school at all. I would submit that this critique might be better made of the enormous, and financially teetering, holding pens that our taxes fund primarily to free parents to work (so as to pay taxes), and to accustom children to surveillance and boredom.

Boredom. Ah, yes. Kids go through a lot of boredom at Sudbury schools-- particularly students who have come from a more structured school environment. It is constantly mentioned in the literature. The responsibility for one's own education is really just a subset of being responsible for one's life. There are big stretches of time when kids ask themselves what they feel like doing and come up blank. Of course this happens in a public school too, but there the boredom is rarely given much chance to last very long because the bell is always about to ring or the next subject is about to be taught. In fact, the very thing that cuts off boredom also cuts off interest--because you can't invest enough time to really get involved in anything when you've got to cover seven subjects in one day.

At an after-school program like mine, though, kids can get bored. The difference here is otherwise. I hear between two and ten complaints of boredom a week, I'd guess. I hear none at a Sudbury school. Kids get bored, to be sure--but not one of them assumes it is anyone's job but theirs to decide what to do about it.

I know that the picture I have painted could be disputed: too romantic, too Rousseauian, too naive. An excuse for lazy adults to do permissive teaching and spare-the-rod. Spare me. I'm a Platonist, but I'm an empiricist too, and I speak from experience. The kids I work with at the after-school program aren't miserable. They haven't had their love of life stamped out of them, or their creativity. This isn't because I've imported as many Sudbury-esque features into my class as I can adapt, but because the kids come from families who love them to go to a school run by teachers who care, and because, well, they're kids. But little by little I see them accommodating themselves to a world whose guiding axiom--despite the loving parents, despite the caring teachers--is that they do not matter. This axiom is not foisted upon parents or teachers by evil men in a smoke-filled room; it's a function of the model of education as mass-production we've come to accept.

This long post on education is not an interloper or guest on my mostly-philosophy blog. I acknowledged an interest in contentious issues, and I know of little more likely to rile people than strong opinions about how to raise kids. But I'm not really trying to bait anyone here. My interest is philosophical. Philosophy has been about pedagogy from the very beginning, ever since Socrates got his famous double charge of not honoring the gods of the city and of corrupting the youth. From Plato's doctrine of anamnesis to Heidegger's remark that real teaching is letting-learn, education is the very essence of what philosophers do. Dewey remarked that "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." The examined life, I would add. And given the contrast between sitting in rows for six hours a day, and roaming around exploring the world however your fancy strikes you, I can't help but reflect further that, as Alphonso Lingis writes, the unlived life is not worth examining.
--Bryan Carr

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Play with us this Monday!

Monday, April 5th
10 am – 1 pm

Mara Berman Giulianti Park in Emerald Hills, Hollywood, FL
4151 N. Hills Drive (Click here for directions)

This park features a playground, a bike path, a pavilion, picnic table, a basketball half-court, benches and a bathroom.


All are welcome! (Sunset Sudbury-ites or not)
We hope to see the regular crowd and since the kids are on break from school, maybe we’ll some of you who usually can’t come out to play with us.

So, if you like, bring a snack to share and we’ll see you then!

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Our March Open House is Here!

Hello Friends and Families!

Please join us for an Open House this Sunday at 1:30pm. Rising Tide School is a state-approved private school offering Sudbury education for ages 4-19. The school offers the option to earn a high school diploma. New student enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year opens on April 16th! Find out what a self-directed education looks like, get to know the Rising Tide School community, and get ready to set your learning free.

If you can’t make it…

You can schedule a tour for a time that’s convenient for you. Parents and students may spend up to 2 hours at the school observing and learning about Sudbury education. Call us at (360) 753-0820 to schedule.

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