Tale of a Reluctant School Starter

In the United States we recently celebrated Juneteenth, a day which commemorates the end of slavery.  We are about to celebrate the 4th of July, the independence day of our country. 

For me, freedom is always on my mind. You see, my heart yearns for the freedom of children. I wonder when will we celebrate their liberation?  When will we even acknowledge their bondage? 

Have you ever wondered why depression and anxiety are on the rise in childhood?  Would it surprise you to know that these afflictions correlate to a person’s perceived lack of control of their own lives

I remember my own childhood, cut short by the illness and death of my dad when I was 10 years old. Despite that tragedy, I had more of a childhood than I see 10 year olds have today.  School wasn’t stressful; it didn’t absorb a lot of my time. Kids had more control of their own lives back then. I was able to leave school unattended for lunch hour during elementary school.  I would walk to my favorite pizzeria, candy store or a friend’s house to make tuna fish sandwiches if we had no cash. I got to play outside until dark with children of all ages in my neighborhood. Nowadays, children spend more time being told what to do in school or in structured after-school adult directed activities and rarely, if ever, play outside in unstructured play with other children. Does that sound liberating?

So I declare today, July 1st, a day of freedom for children in Eastern Connecticut. Today, the K-12 independent school for self-directed learners called Kaleidoscope ALC is making its public debut.

A Dreamer and Reluctant School Starter

I didn’t want to have to do this.  But there comes a time in a person’s life where they realize the incredible impact they can make, and NOT doing that becomes more painful than embarking on the road less traveled.  

It started in 2013 when I first dreamt of reforming schools and, inspired by Seth Godin, I asked “what are schools for?” Sir Ken Robinson helped me ponder whether schools kill creativity and whether the ADHD epidemic is fictitious? I wanted to explore education from the inside so I became a substitute teacher and was hired by my favorite school to run the community service learning program for their freshmen class, a position I’ve enjoyed these past 4 years.  But this only sparked more questions. 

I started to wonder whether letter grades may actually hinder students’ progress? We rarely question a system that works for us and schools were designed for people like me; throughout high school, college and graduate school I never got below a B+ and had only a handful of grades that weren’t an A.  

It wasn’t until I studied at the International Center for Studies in Creativity that I got a real glimpse into how different school can be. At the end of my first year I had to create my own definition of creativity (see above) and synthesize my Philosophy, Vision and Strategic Plan. Here is where I first questioned age-batching but above all, I questioned the importance of freedom for creativity and learning.  This was the tipping point for me. There was no going back. My commitment to my school and my students never wavered but despite my belief in public education, I no longer believed that trying to change the system from the inside was something I could achieve. The lack of freedom given to children and adolescents in public education was an irreconcilable difference; I knew my days on the inside were numbered.  

I became even more committed to my own self-directed journey studying self-directed education. I started to explore the Importance of Play by reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life and drove to Massachusetts to see the author, Peter Gray, speak at a library.  It was during my masters project on mentoring that I first confronted the role trust plays in self-directed education. I made a compelling case for self-directed education as the answer to the creativity crisis in a chapter published in Big Questions in Creativity 2018. I attended the AERO Conference, spoke at the AEROx Conference, visited two Sudbury schools and one Agile Learning Center (ALC) and read all of John Holt’s books.  I dug deeper into the trust needed by parents when I developed my Becoming a Self-Directed Parent Course

At this point, I finished my masters degree and still really didn’t want to create a school. I thought I could focus on the connective tissue of the self-directed education movement. I could use my writing, marketing and coordinating skills to help the movement. 

Did I already say that I didn’t want to open a school? I started to teach a management class at the community college hoping that the greater level of student freedom in college would satisfy me. It didn’t.  It only made it abundantly clear to me that even when you do provide greater freedom, students who have been conditioned through the culture of traditional schooling aren’t sure how to handle that freedom.  

It wasn’t until I had my first follower, Gretchen Aldi, who agreed to co-found a school with me that I pitched for funding and started to form a founding group for an Agile Learning Center (ALC) here in Eastern CT.  Christi Wynter, a former student from the community college class I taught also joined our group. 

And that is a brief history of this school starter. This is bigger than all my original 30dreamdays. But, like it or not, this isn’t the dream I had, but this IS the dream that’s GOT me! that As we work together to write the future, we will share our story on our Facebook Page (so go LIKE us there). And we are collecting emails if you prefer to receive updates via email. If you would like to support our vision, please consider contributing to our GoFundMe, joining our Founders Group and/or donating your skillset to this endeavor.