NASHVILLE’S FUTURE CLASSROOMS: Many kids will not thrive in a traditional classroom so I wanted to highlight some alternative classrooms available to families in Nashville.
It is so exciting to know that these options exist because of passionate women that saw a need and met a need [insert all the heart eye emojiis].
Marie McKinney Oates is one of the founders of Simply Sudbury Microschool. Simply Sudbury is located on Haywood Lane and is based on the Sudbury-model of education. Learners, ages 5-18 years old, have the freedom to spend their time as they would like and the responsibility to govern their community via a school meeting and judicial committee.
1. How did you learn about the Sudbury model? What made you fall in love with the model?
I learned about Sudbury after reading Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn. I was already sold on the idea of unschooling, where kids learn via life instead of formal curriculum, and his book introduced me to the Sudbury Valley School where kids essentially run their school community via a school meeting and judicial committee. I really clicked with the idea that the Sudbury-model lets kids practice being a free, voting member of a democratic community long before they are an actual voting member of their community. Everything about it made sense to me.
2. What ‘hole’ do you think Simply Sudbury fills in Nashville’s educational landscape?
I think there’s a lot of unnecessary fear and focus about test scores and evaluation in education so we took all of that away and let our kids focus on simply learning. There are few places for kids to just be themselves and explore their unique strengths and weaknesses. Simply Sudbury really is a place for kids and teenagers that are ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’ for traditional schools. We really believe this freedom is great for their mental health, and it gives them the opportunity to see where their gifts can serve the community at large.
3. I love the idea of kids ‘running the school’ and making the rules. Have any stories to share about what it looks like for kids to run the school?
Our school is small and new so we don’t have tons of stories yet. But here’s a neat example. One of the rules at the school, for right now, is that we can’t go down to the big playground because the structures aren’t particularly safe and there was some kind of wasp nest. Everyone agreed in school meeting to just stay away until we made repairs. Well, one of the staff members didn’t remember this rule and headed down to the playground with a couple of the kids. Another kid saw this and immediately wrote the staff member and her entourage up for breaking the big playground rule. The staff member ended up getting the most severe punishment because ‘she should have known better.’ It was beautiful to see kids empowered to ‘write up’ a grown up and to see them enforce rules they created.
Also, I think all of the staff was impressed with how seriously each of the kids took running the school. At the last school meeting they all agreed that the work they did, coming up with rules and enforcing them, was really hard.
4. Straying from the traditional model of education is scary because we wonder if alternative methods will properly prepare our kids for the future. How does Simply Sudbury prepare kids for adulthood?
I think Simply Sudbury’s entire mission is to prepare kids to be adults. Without anyone standing above them telling them what to do or what is important to learn, they start wrestling with some really deep and important questions almost immediately: What matters to me? What am I interested in? What am I good at? What do I want to get better at?
And I think the school meeting and judicial committee prepares them for being a good citizen. They have to regularly ask themselves and each other if the rules they are creating are good for everyone, are they fair? They have to come up with systems that create order and protect communal property. They have to manage the school’s budget and make hard decisions about what’s best for the community, not just what’s best for them as individuals.
It really is a small community that they are given the freedom and responsibility to manage. I think this level of responsibility is grounding and build confidence for many of our learners (and staff!).
5. What kinds of kids thrive at Simply Sudbury Microschool?
It takes time to thrive, but I think all kids can and do thrive in the Sudbury-model. There is no mandatory curriculum or adult-driven agenda, so kids and teens really are free to listen to their own unique needs and then act on respecting those needs. However, you do need to have parents that trust the model and trust their kid. None of this works if the parent is unable to trust that curiosity is sufficient fuel for learning. But if a parent is either filled with trust or simply exhausted from trying to make their kid fit into a mold, the Sudbury-model could be a great fit!