Get up. Eat breakfast. Go to school. It sounds super easy, and for many children the process of preparing for and arriving at school is a “no sweat” kind of thing. There are plenty of children who succeed in public school with little or no support; there are plenty of children that thrive in academic-driven private schools. But there are also children who dread waking up, resist getting ready for and sometimes even refuse to go to school. For the parents or guardians of these children, mornings are stressful periods, to say the least. I know just how hard it can be because I have experienced it firsthand; my daughter Natalie has school anxiety and mornings were worse than any nightmare I might have had the night before. In fact, I can almost guarantee that any nightmare I did have was about the next school day!
Natalie was an excellent student in that she did exactly what was expected of her, had very good grades and a ton of friends in her middle school. So, what’s the problem, right? For Natalie it was being put on the spot in class, taking quizzes and exams, and the presentations that she was required to do in many of her classes that increased anxiety. When there was a test coming up we would study, she would be prepared, but would fall apart when it was time to get on the bus. Determined to help her I worked closely with her private therapist to address the anxiety and with the school to create some supports for her via a 504 plan. In public education a 504 plan documents the specific accessibility requirements a learner needs to receive equal access to learning. For example, Natalie’s 504 allowed her to meet with the school social worker when she was feeling anxious or unable to remain in the classroom.
Despite putting accommodations in place, Natalie’s anxiety did not decrease and I knew we would not be able to sustain a public-school education any longer; we were both exhausted. I started to explore alternate models of education and was able to get Natalie into a smaller school environment that provided her with options and allowed me to help plan her educational pathway. Together Natalie and I built her daily schedule based on her interests and passions. Instead of a teacher, Natalie had a guide to encourage her. Instead of quizzes and tests, Natalie created projects to demonstrate her learning. She was able to self-direct her education and the results were amazing. I had a child who no longer complained about learning, was self-directing her education and after a few months even did a presentation for learners and adults.
So where is this magical place? Right now, it’s in my living room, kitchen and yard; it’s online; it’s in the woods behind my house. It’s everywhere and anywhere my daughter and I happen to be. And in the Fall of 2020, it will be at Trifecta Academy, a blended micro-school model that fosters self-directed learning and individualized educational pathways. My experiences with my daughter have catapulted me into a world where children are self-directing their education, adults serve as mentors and guides and learning is collaborative and social; and I don’t want to leave.
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