Thursday, May 9

My current High School Independent Learning Crisis

Taking responsibility for my kids' education has been an incredibly exciting and empowering journey.  But, sometimes it's also terrifying.  Doubt seeps in every year or so when I find myself worrying about what I might be missing, and wondering if the kids are getting what they need and developing the life skills --the Meta-skills--I feel sure are critical for the future.

My husband and I, and now our kids, too, do Freedom really well!  We create many super compelling experiences in our world, we engage in many different thought communities, we take a travel-schooling trip for 2 or 3 months every year (we're currently in France, though not doing much blogging this time around), and we live engaged lives with lots of people around us.  We host couchsurfers and Airbnb guests from all over the world, we've had five au pairs who remain a part of our extended family and we collectively contribute to many different communities in our sweet intellectual bubble that is the bay area.  We have a shared principle of individualization, personal choice, collectivity and community.   

This last panic-round, I became intensely worried about my ability to provide structure, order, time management and discipline.  Now this is especially problematic and discombulating because I spend so much of my time advocating for the freedom available to learners in the coming years and knowing that we all need to learn how to be a learner and how to make projects happen.  I call the first meta-Learning, I call the second output Skills; De Bono calls it Operacy. I believe in self-directed learning and freedom but right now, at least, I was feeling sure my kids don't have any particular goals or desires as far as I can tell.  

When this happens I reach out to the 350+plus families who live nearby and who share in the journey with me.  These are other families who've taken the leap, left or avoided school altogether, and who are customizing learning for their kids.  I especially reach out to those who have older kids and who have gone before me.  There is certainly great usefulness is the encouragement which comes from other sympathetic people but each stage has it's own challenges.  So, while I feel able to advise and consult with those who are beginning the journey of learning outside of institutions, to support those with younger kids, the teenage and "high school"-ish years have thrown me for a bit of a loop.

Some of this could be Life With A Teenager and the development challenges that stage imposes to parents. Now mine is no slouch.  Capable and a super fast learner, he reads voraciously and quickly, he plays the piano, sings, performs in musical theater shows two or three times per year, practices fencing, takes college-level Coursera courses in classes like Model Thinking ("fun", "strong on life skills"), Game Theory ("deep", "packs a lot of content and nuance into a seemingly singular topic") and Machine Learning ("practical", "profound concepts patiently explained") and Functional Programming ("fast-paced", "high work load", "focused on programming skills").  He's also becoming quite conversational in French, is pretty good at math though he doesn't love it and, when he can get over his sometimes-extreme writer's block, is a very capable and humorous writer.  Recreation is memorizing the library of XKCD comics, watching Dr Who and reading some more (mostly science fiction).

During these homeschooling crisis moments, I usually think about sending him to school and in fact, that may be the answer.  Part of independent learning is the opportunity to change things up as needed.  What is right at one time may be wrong at another.  It could be that time in life when another caring adult can be a more effective mentor than can his parents.  Maybe boarding school is the answer so as to take the parental influence completely out of the picture.  Or maybe he should get a job.  Maybe I should ship him to Toronto, my hometown, so he can attend a great little private school with some friends.

Ok, so, now that I've had my two-day panic and have reached out to my friends and network and spent a lot of time online researching boarding schools, progressive schools, democratic schools, leadership organizations and wilderness programs, I feel there are many possible solutions.  


Possible Available Options for Continuing Customized Learning

Now that I've mostly come back to my senses, I realize that what we'll do for high school is what we've done for the past eight years.  We will collectively design a learning plan that considers learning needs (the charter's requirements and ours both, as well as what's needed to avoid closing doors), interests, learning style and ZPD (or Zone of Proximal Development ie. that which is appropriately leveled, not too easy or too hard but just right, and therefore, engaging).  

Concurrent College
Many of the young, bright independent learners begin taking college classes anywhere between 12 and 16 years old.  Early entrance (or concurrent enrollment) is a way for students to enroll in postsecondary education before completing high school.  It was suggested by a friend that this can be a great way to start building stronger organization skills and learning the higher ed ropes.  Here's a checklist for Foothill College.  There's a ton of great information for this path here.  

Leadership Programs
National Teen Leadership Program is committed to create positive environments that empower, inspire and educate all teens to discover and maximize their unique leadership potential and embrace the diversity and equal value of everyone.  The focus during the 3 day summer program (in Sacramento or Southern California) is on the positive and on channeling the energy and enthusiasm already inherent in our youth to help them acquire focus and a vision for their future. The program challenges and empowers today’s youth by providing them with the skills and motivation necessary to positively impact their own lives and the lives of those in their communities.

Landmark Forum For Teens is challenging and exciting. It's an interactive experience, more like coaching than teaching. A Landmark Forum leader leads teens through a series of discussions geared toward dealing with issues that are important to them.  The Landmark Forum for Teens is for 13- to 17-year-olds who participate with the permission of their parents.

Jim Wiltens is a Redwood City resident who offers a variety of leadership, writing and science programs which are interactive, practical and fun.   

Nature Studies
The Riekes Center exists for the enhancement of the individual student. Mission is to provide each student with the best possible opportunity to define and accomplish individual goals, build character and learn transferable life skills through Creative Arts, Athletic Fitness and Nature Awareness, in an environment of non-judgment and mutual respect.
Anake Outdoor School features 9 months of in-depth training in nature awareness and wilderness survival skills.  Participants develop a deep and intimate relationship with the natural world grounded in a powerful, community-oriented philosophy of learning. Your year is informed by the legacy of indigenous cultures from around the world. Each experience is crafted around a cutting-edge understanding of our natural heritage as human beings.
Unschool Adventures with Blake Boles offers a month long writing retreat 

Life Skills
Speech and Debate options:

Communication Academy also offers public speaking and debate.

Bay Area Speech and Debate Academy offers programs designed for individuals of all levels and experiences in Public Forum, LincolnDouglas, Congressional Debate, and Extemporaneous Speech. 

Bay Area Public Speaking conducts basic and advanced courses, certification in Public Speaking and Debates. The classes are held all over the Bay area for children in the age group of 8 - 14yrs.The goal of these classes is to improve confidence, public speaking, and communication skills of the kids keeping in mind kids get motivated if the class is FUN!


Wes Beach
Barbara Bettle

Stay tuned...

A La Carte Classes and Learning
School for Independent Learners (Mountainview, CA) is a new kind of high school, an open invitation to learn your way. We create custom programs for students in grades 6 to 12 who seek intellectual freedom, flexible scheduling, and a chance to learn without the threat of failure. 

A La Carte Classes and Learning (Online)

My Social Justice Course is a UC-approved, college preparatory class explores both the ideas of social justice and the impact of social entrepreneurship.  Social justice is an enriching topic of study. But we think it also makes for great inspiration. When people start to organize and take action towards social justice, it’s called social entrepreneurship. 
The Big History Project takes students on a 13.7 billion year journey, from the Big Bang to modern day and ultimately the future. It is designed as a yearlong, interdisciplinary course targeting 9th and 10th graders. It weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single, accessible historical narrative.  Big history links different areas of knowledge into one unified story. It’s a framework for learning about anything and everything. This unified story provides students with a deeper awareness of our past, hopefully better preparing them to help shape the future of our fragile planet.  Samples.

What we might not do this year but could do in the future

Just so the time was not altogether wasted I'm compiled the possibilities here for the next time, or for others who want a little more structure but not the traditional learning path.

Other Possibilities for independent learners
The Woolman Semester School (Nevada City, CA) is a progressive academic school for young people who want to make a difference in the world.  Students in their junior, senior, or gap year come for a "semester away" to take charge of their education and study the issues that matter most to them.  Woolman students earn transferable high school credits while taking an active role in their learning experience through community work, organic gardening and cooking, permaculture, art, wilderness exploration, service work, and by doing advocacy and activism work with real issues of peace, justice and sustainability in the world.

Conserve School (Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin) inspires young people, primarily high school juniors, to environmental stewardship through academics and engagement with the forests, lakes, and wildlife of Lowenwood.  Each Conserve School semester immerses students in environmental history, nature literature, and the science of conservation. Innovative hands-on courses capture students’ imaginations while making the most of Conserve School’s 1200-acre wilderness campus. The school’s strikingly beautiful Northwoods location sets the stage for an exceptional educational experience; at Conserve School, forests, lakes, and wildlife become students’ inspiration, their course materials, and their laboratory. At the same time, Conserve School’s program advances students’ skills in standard high school subjects.

Sea Education Association is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education which also offers high school level summer programs, a 3-week oceanography program. For 40 years and more than one million nautical miles, we have educated students about the world’s oceans through our fully accredited study abroad program, SEA Semester. SEA is based on Cape Cod in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The High School program sails from SF on the same tall ship a friend, Christa C. sailed in the Gyre, with shore studies on Catalina Island. 
The Ecole d’Humanité is a progressive, international boarding school situated in the heart of the Swiss Alps. 150 Students and 50 teachers from some 25 different countries live together in a dynamic community that fosters the discovery and development of individual talents – academic, artistic, practical, athletic, and social – in an atmosphere that encourages self-determination, innovation, and tolerance.  Whether modeling projectile motion in a calculus based physics class or performing in the annual Shakespeare play, summiting a 4000 meter peak or hammering red hot iron on a giant anvil, Ecole students actively pursue their passions in a setting that is both challenging and liberating.
Distance High School Programs
Global Village School (Ojai, CA) offers a progressive, accredited, customizable K-12 homeschooling program via online and text-based curriculum, complete with individualized teacher services. Our high school homeschool diploma courses integrate peace, justice, and diversity studies with the core subjects. We are an international distance learning school; we welcome homeschooling students from around the globe.  Creative flexible approach, our emphasis on peace, justice, diversity and sustainability.  Here's a sample homeschool high school plan.
Other semester and service learning programs
Non-local Alternative or Progressive High Schools
Diablo Valley School (Concord) - Democratic/Sudbury School

Wilderness Awareness School is a national not-for-profit environmental education organization established in 1983 and based in Duvall, Washington. We are dedicated to caring for the earth and our children by fostering understanding and appreciation of nature, community and self.
High Mowing School is the first Waldorf high school to be founded in North America and the only one to offer a boarding program.  Here on Abbot Hill there is a rich educational and social community that, over the last nearly seven decades, has developed, changed and adjusted to meet the needs of the students, offering teenagers a unique combination of Waldorf education and community living. 
At Catalyst High School, the student is in control of key decisions such as building a logical and balanced schedule and for calling regarding an absence. Being in control is empowering, and genuinely builds self esteem.  Our team helps students develop positive attitudes and productive actions by cultivating constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and a positive identity. Catalyst High School is built on solid research that shows that teens who engage in these types of activities become happier, healthier, and more resistant, and become more successful adults. At Catalyst High School, the student assumes responsibility of his or her educational experience. This includes attendance, what to study, and when to take a class. The school schedule is not a 7:30-3:00 seven-period day, rather it is more like a college schedule, with free time built in.

Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning (CBHS) is a small and rigorous public high school that reflects the increasing diversity of Portland, Maine.  Founded in 2005, CBHS is a school of choice for about 275 students.  At Casco Bay, we challenge and support our students to become college-ready through our 3Rs: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships.  The academic program includes Learning Expeditions, college prep, Character Building and an Ethic of Service, Portfolios, Adventure and Fitness, and Fieldwork.

The Graham School has a particular mission to urban students in Central Ohio preparing them for lifelong learning and informed citizenship through real-world experiences and rigorous academics. Fostering ownership and responsibility for their education prepares our students to be successful in college, the workplace, and other endeavors they undertake upon leaving Graham.

Summer Travel Programs and Camps:
Abbey Road’s study abroad summer programs continue to deliver excellence. Our mission is to provide quality academic summer programs that facilitate cross-cultural understanding, personal growth and academic enrichment. Abbey Road was created through a collaboration of the best young professionals and educators from top schools and esteemed institutions. Our curriculum developers and staff come from places such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Duke, Cambridge, La Sorbonne, the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Parliament and the State Department  …..  just to name a few.

The Experiment in International Living has been offering extraordinary immersive cross-cultural summer exchanges, fun and thought-provoking adventures, and experiential learning programs since 1932. Today, The Experiment offers three-, four-, and five-week summer programs for high school students in more than 20 countries around the world.

Not Back to School Summer Camp



Thank you so much to my friends and community members who contributed support and many of the specific suggestions on this list.  I'm grateful to Jennifer D, Shelly C, Felicia G, Elaine L, Krista C, Caryn C, Debbie S, Jon Z, Sharon B, Candace P, Suki W, Kirsten N, Marlow S, Anna C, Amy T, Min L, Andrew, Kris K and Kevin K. as well as those I may have missed.  

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