The Model · FAQ

If you don’t test students, how will you know if they are learning anything?

Our students evaluate themselves. It is their responsibility to set their own learning goals and decide whether they have reached them. If a student bakes a cake, and she doesn’t like the taste, she knows she must do better next time. If a student is trying to learn Spanish, and he can’t understand his Spanish-speaking friend, he knows he has more work to do. If a student can’t wrap her mind around how cells divide, she knows she needs to ask more questions. The students are much better at evaluating themselves than we could ever be at evaluating them. Furthermore, our students don’t associate failure with shame. They recognize that failure is not a mark of stupidity, but a stepping stone on the path to mastery.

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How do students learn math?

As with all things, math is learned best through play and practice. Students at The Open School learn math by playing video games, playing card games, cooking, managing money, dividing snacks to share, and many other ways. Think about all the reasons adults use math in their everyday lives. Students at The Open School use math in just those ways, because here, they are not preparing for life; they are already living it.

At The Open School, there are no judgments attached to math skills. Children are not ashamed to have poor math abilities, so they are not ashamed to ask for help. They will achieve mastery in their own time, when they find a need for it in their lives. Thanks to the long history of Sudbury Model schools, we know that all healthy children can and do learn math without being taught. For an in-depth look at how this works, you can read this article in Psychology Today.

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Are there grade levels?

There are no grade levels at The Open School. We respect that no two children are the same and that different children learn things at different ages. We also understand that ranking students by ability can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Age mixing provides a tremendous benefit to the school community. It enables younger students to learn from older students by watching them, and allows young students to participate in more sophisticated games which they would not be able to conduct by themselves. In addition, exposure to young children enables teenages to be more playful, open, and creative than they would normally be in the company of other teens. Also, the process of teaching a concept to another student can deepen the teacher’s understanding of the concept.

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How do students get into college?

How does a college evaluate a student without GPA, class rankings, or transcripts? The truth is that colleges seem to love students from these types of schools because they are so unique. Typically a student will submit a portfolio of work from their adolescent years in lieu of a transcript.

However, at The Open School, we don’t think of college as the only possible path. Instead, we hope that students will follow their passions, whether that means going to college, starting a business, participating in an internship, making art, traveling the world, or something else.

Many students will find that they need to attend college in order to meet their goals. Once they identify this need, they will work toward that goal with the same enthusiasm they have for any other passion. Sudbury Valley School, which has been in operation for almost 50 years, and on which The Open School is partly modeled, has a rate of about 80% college attendance, much higher than the national average. Furthermore, all Sudbury Valley graduates who wanted to go to college have been admitted, and usually to their top choice school.

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Why don’t you assign homework?

Students at The Open School are self-directed learners, so we have no business assigning them anything. We find that homework in conventional schools takes time away from families and turns parents into reluctant task-masters. Children need to develop healthy relationships with their families; this is as developmentally important as anything a school can offer. Nonetheless, often students will continue at home the activities and projects they started at school, because they want to. Their time belongs to them.

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What if a student wants to study something you can’t provide?

We live in the age of the Internet, where all of the world’s information is available to students at the click of a mouse. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a student’s curiosity can be satisfied by YouTube videos and online articles. When that fails, students are able to tap our local community. For example, if someone wants to learn woodworking, we might reach out to a local hobbyist group. Or, if someone is interested in aviation, we can arrange a tour of John Wayne Airport, or ask a pilot to come visit.

Part of the job of the staff is to help students find resources. However, we recognize that allowing students to struggle to find their own resources is also an important part of the learning process. Our policy is to offer information and resources only when asked by a student. This empowers students to take learning into their own hands, and to develop into self-sufficient lifelong learners.

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If you don’t offer classes, how will students be exposed to new things?

Our students are exposed to much more than they would be in a conventional classroom. Their learning is driven by curiosity instead of by a fixed curriculum. There is no way to predict which direction or how deep their curiosity will take them. Perhaps a student sees someone knitting and decides to learn to knit; or they watch a baseball game and want to learn more about baseball statistics; or they decide to build a fort and realize they need to know how to measure and cut wood.

Because we live in a close community, our knowledge and interests are viral. One day, a student watches a YouTube video about cooking, then decides to cook something; other students see her working in the kitchen, and now they want to cook too. Elsewhere, two students decide to play a game of Magic; soon several more students have crowded around and want to play too. Meanwhile, a staff brings his guitar to school to entertain some students; now the students want to learn to play the guitar.

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If nothing is planned for the students, won’t they get bored?

Boredom is an essential part of education at The Open School. As adults, we are tempted to rush to help children overcome boredom, by suggesting things for them to do and scheduling activities. But boredom, and enough free time to fully experience boredom, allows us ponder and process our thoughts. Because boredom is unpleasant, it motivates us to search for things to do, to try to discover our interests. Children can never discover their infinitely unique interests and passions if they are not permitted to go through this difficult process. This is the hard work of being a student at The Open School.

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What do the teachers do?

There are adult staff members, but they are not labeled “teachers” since there are no classes or curriculum. Staff have the difficult task of abdicating their adult authority and becoming community members. They will be vocal on subjects that interest them, but must realize that their input might not be heeded. They cannot rely on the mere fact of age to grant them authority.

The primary role of the staff is to fiercely protect the rights of the students, to preserve the space and freedom granted by the school, and to truly love each person in the community. As role models, staff model responsibility and respect and engage in passionate pursuit of their own interests. They also serve as mentors to students, investing time to learn who they are and what they love, answering questions, showing, explaining, playing, and helping students as they go about their day.

In addition, the staff are responsible for running the school. This includes a huge variety of tasks, including marketing, communications, admissions, budgeting, clerical work, website maintenance, and scheduling field trips.

Although staff members are not automatically teachers, teachers do exist in another sense. When a student wants to learn something and decides that the best way to learn it is from another person, they may approach another member of the community and ask them to serve as a teacher. This means that staff and students alike are potential teachers, depending on the knowledge they possess. In this sense, our student/teacher ratio is always 1 to 1.

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What does a typical day look like?

Every day is different at The Open School. Some days, a student might be laser-focused on a project. Other days, that same student might engage twenty different activities. It all depends on what the student is interested in. Here are some things we’ve seen this year:

  • Talking
  • Playing
  • Reading
  • Making art
  • Making music
  • Writing stories
  • Serving on committees
  • Planning events
  • Cooking
  • Computers
  • Board games & card games
  • Puzzles
  • Nerf wars
  • Volleyball
  • Riding scooters
  • Building forts
  • Enjoying nature
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
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Is there a part-time option?

Our program is full time. Students must be present each day for a minimum of 5 hours. It is imperative that students come to school on a full-time schedule for two reasons. First, students vote on school business, so part-time students would not have equal voice in running the school. Secondly, we find that the community thrives when everyone is equally invested; whether it is in joy or struggle, the community functions in solidarity.

However, because some 5- and 6-year-olds are not developmentally ready to be away from home full time, we do offer a highly-individualized schedule for our younger students. This is a phase-in program whereby the student will start attending school at the level that works for them, and slowly increase their attendance as they develop and grow. The specific schedule is set by the school and parents working in collaboration.

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Is this a religious school?

No, The Open School has no religious affiliation.

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How much is tuition?

Tuition starts at $10,800. See our Tuition page for details.

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I don’t think I can afford this school, but I really want my child to attend. What can I do?

The founders created The Open School to serve families who are invested in free democratic education. If this is you, please contact us and we will try to work something out.

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What ages does the school serve?

Students must be 5-18 years old.

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Does this school work for teenagers?

The teen years are the time when kids are really figuring out who they are and what their place is in the world. It is during this time that they begin to think about what they want to do with their lives. At The Open School, teenagers are given the space and time to explore their passions and delve deeply into topics that interest them. Some of them acquire specialized talents and start doing productive work years before their peers in conventional schools. The rest develop self-knowledge and become comfortable in their own skin, which is the paramount work of being a teen. When they reach college age, they know what their goals are and can make informed decisions about how to achieve those goals, whether that means going to college or doing something else.

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Do you offer diplomas?

At The Open School, we recognize that not everyone needs or desires a diploma, but for the students who choose to pursue a diploma, we have a program designed to ready them for their next phase of their lives. Read more about our diploma program here.

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I’m nervous about what other people will say about me as a parent.

Making an alternative educational decision for your child should reflect your family’s value system. We offer a parent support program that guides parents through their own process of understanding how The Open School’s free democratic model fits in with their values. Once you become confident that you want your child to be independent, responsible, and compassionate, it becomes easy to justify the decision to others. You will become aware that your child is not only learning more than she would in a traditional model, she is becoming a better person as a result.

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I’m convinced! Now, how do I get my partner to agree?

We run into this situation often enough that we have created tools to help you open the conversation with your significant other about this incredibly important decision. Start not by trying to convince, but by trying to understand. Click here to dig into these helpful tools.

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