The essence of a self-directed democratic school is the community which creates a space where students can forge their own paths. The physical space and daily interactions mean that kids and adults work together to run the community, so students are interdependent rather than simply independent. They have the opportunity to be separated from their parents and make their own decisions and mistakes, but also in the structure of a co-created school where we must work together, collaborating to operate the school and negotiating with each other when there are interpersonal issues.
When the ability to come together to a physical place has been interrupted, how can we re-form a space where children can take control of their lives while in relationship with each other? How can we give them independence from their parents when they can’t leave their house? How do we create the space for interpersonal relationships to develop and conflicts to be worked through?
The Open School has created a pilot Distance Program based on the fundamental principles of of our in-person school and is launching it in the fall of 2020. The format of the school and the status of being a pilot program means that we will be able to listen to the participants and adjust accordingly. Students in this program will have a powerful voice in how the program works, and we will be able to try innovative forms of communication and community.
Here are the aspects of the program:
Each student will have a staff advisor who will have weekly meetings with them in the format that works best for the student. The staff adviser will:
Help the student navigate the other school requirements (see below), helping them identify an activity they would like to host based on their interests
Reflect on the past week with the student
Identify tools the student might want to use in order to organize their week, including goal setting, scheduling, reminders
Help set up other avenues of learning as requested by the student, such as topical workshops, connecting with outside experts, social-emotional development opportunities, and more
Build a rapport with that student and work toward a deeper understanding of what is important to the student.
Each student will host an activity each week based on their interests and goals. The parameters of this activity are almost limitless and the staff adviser will help guide the student in coming up with their activity. Examples of activities might include:
Play dough building competition – take pics of your creations and submit them, or show them on a video chat
Knitting party – have some tea and knit together on video chat
Current events conversation – read an article about a topic and talk about your thoughts on a voice or video channel
Baking together – share a family recipe and bake it together on video chat, or upload pics of you baking
Game together – play Roblox, Minecraft, VR, Fortnite or other online games with your school friends
Social distance gift exchange – drive by someone’s house and leave a gift and take a gift
Art technique workshop – enroll an expert to teach a specific technique via video chat
Each student will sign up for an activity hosted by another student. They will be required to attend at least one student-hosted activity, but can sign up for as many as they would like.
The School Meeting will continue to meet each week via Zoom and students will need to attend the first part of the meeting, which will be announcements and reading the agenda.
Based on the COVID plan for this year, we will be creating small “pods” of students, which are like a school-within-a-school. During phases where we cannot meet in person, the pods will have weekly video chat meetings where students will play games, chat, and get to know one another.
Since we are a student-centered school, we are not centering our program on any one technological platform. Instead, we will seek platforms that meet the needs and interests of the kids and will also test out innovative options to see if or how they enhance the student experience. The platforms and technologies currently available to the students include:
An active student/staff Discord server with a number of text and voice channels devoted to specific topics, as well as general or random channels.
Every student receives access to G-Suite via their own openschooloc.com email address
Every student receives access to the school Zoom account via their school email address, which features calls with no time limits and no guest limits
Access to the school’s online subscriptions, including Master Class, and one-on-one distance instruction from instructors on nearly any topic ranging from programing to art to Japanese to business to game design to…. anything you can dream up
We will work with families to ensure they have the technology needed for their student to connect in a fulfilling way
Other forums we have used or are considering for this year: Minecraft, Roblox, VR, Facetime, online games, Microsoft Teams, livestreaming and more