Basic FAQs

These answers apply to both our in-person and virtual programs.

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.

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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 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 homework. 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?

Since our staff is small, we don’t have an in-house expert on every subject. However, 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. Nine times out of ten, a student’s curiosity can be satisfied by YouTube videos and online articles. When that fails, we can help them find online classes, connect them directly with experts in our community, or procure whatever other resources are needed for their pursuit.

We also recognize that allowing students to find resources on their own is 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 staff don’t plan activities, won’t students get bored?

Yes. Eventually a student is going to get bored of doing the things they’re used to doing. They might get frustrated with you or with the school for not pleasing them, and you might be worried that they’re wasting their time. Unfortunately, while we may be able to think of 1,000 things to keep them busy, we can’t manufacture passion.

Boredom is an essential part of the educational process. Because boredom is unpleasant, it motivates students to search for things to do, to get creative, and to discover their interests. Deprived of this developmentally crucial process, children will not be able to achieve the self-knowledge they will need to chart their own course through life. Our job is not to keep them entertained, but to make sure that they are in control of their own experience and to make sure that they know they are responsible for it. 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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Is this a religious school?

The Open School has no religious affiliation.

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How much is tuition?

We use an indexed tuition model to better serve our families. See our Tuition page for details.

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What ages does the school serve?

  • The Open School serves students between the ages of 5 and 18.
  • Children under 5 may enroll if they will turn 5 during the semester.
  • Teens older than 16 who are interested in enrolling for the first time at The Open School will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Children under 7 who are applying for the virtual program will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
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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.

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Are students successful in life after school?

See this page for data on how graduates from schools like ours fare in life after school. Or, you can read some interviews we did of graduates of Sudbury Valley School about how their lives are going.

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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 self-directed democratic model fits in with their values. Once you become confident that you want your child to be independent, responsible, and empowered, it becomes easy to justify the decision to others. You will become aware that your child is not only learning more than they would in a traditional model, they are 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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In-Person Program FAQs

These answers only apply to our in-person program.

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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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 he or she is interested in. You can see snapshots of a couple of days at The Open School in the articles War and Peace and Where Everyone is Brilliant.

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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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Virtual Program FAQs

These answers only apply to our virtual program.

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, because their learning is driven by curiosity instead of a fixed curriculum. Although staff do occasionally share their interests, students love to share their interests with each other, and this is the way most “exposure” happens. For example, one student is passionate about knitting, and plans a group knitting video call so they can knit with their friends. This call might involve an explicit demonstration for participants who don’t know how to knit. Either way, a student seeing their friends doing something is plenty to spark an interest.

Staff sometimes do offer classes, but this is not a regular occurrence, and it only happens when a student has expressed prior interest in a topic. For example, we may offer a computer programming class if a student has been tinkering with video games in Roblox and now wants to learn how to make more sophisticated games. Or we may offer a science class if a student thinks they might want to be a scientist when they grow up. Or we may offer a guitar class if a student has gotten a guitar for their birthday and wants to learn how to play it. Interest doesn’t have to be borne from a curriculum. It can originate from many places, including friends, family members, YouTube, or other media.

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What other costs are there?

Because we can’t share physical materials, you will need to provide whatever materials your child needs for their chosen activities. This could include baking ingredients, art supplies, video games, or other software. However, there will always be activities scheduled which don’t cost anything, and you have the right to set limits on which activities your child can sign up for depending on your family’s budget

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What if my internet connection is spotty?

All of our online activities involve video or audio streaming, so it’s imperative that your internet is fast enough for those things and doesn’t get disconnected frequently. A poor internet connection will undermine your child’s experience in our program, so make sure it’s up to snuff.

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How is the experience of a virtual student different from in person?

Virtual interaction is not a perfect replacement for in-person interaction. When people occupy the same space over a long time, bonds form spontaneously, whereas online people have to work to create connections. Students may find that it takes longer to form friendships in the virtual program since the amount of time students spend in each others’ presence each day is lower than it would be in person. But if they really want to connect and are committed, they will find others who are committed too. Friendship takes time, but it always wins in the end.

Another consequence of being virtual is a greater need for an imposed structure. At a physical distance, connections don’t happen on their own. We have to use structures (like a weekly schedule) to springboard interactions and sustain relationships, or else even close friends will drift apart over time. We also depend on staff to facilitate the creation of the schedule (based on student input and requests), which means more adult intervention than we would need when in person. Students may experience this as reduced spontaneity and independence. That said, having a set of scheduled activities opens new doors as well, and some students may even find that they prefer having things planned and predictable.

When people are occupying the same physical space and sharing materials, conflicts arise naturally and frequently. In the virtual program, conflict is simply not going to happen as often. This may sound like a good thing, but children need to learn how to navigate conflict in order to become truly mature. That’s why it’s more important than ever for adults to make space for children to experience conflict and work through it without unwanted help.

On the flipside, students in the online program will confront a new challenge: technology. Since we live in an increasingly digital society, the mastery online students attain over technology will serve them for whatever comes next. Remember that this is a part of your child’s education, and it will take time as anything does.

Other elements of our virtual program that are currently not a part of our in-person program include assigned staff advisers that talk one-on-one with your child on a weekly basis. These kinds of conversations happen spontaneously in our in-person program, but there are not assigned advisers. The online families will also have family coaching to support their children as they move through the program.

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What if my child can’t read?

Because text is our primary mode of communication (and the only way we can communicate when not on a scheduled call), a student who can’t read will need significant and frequent parental assistance. This is permitted within our program, but be aware that it will be an extra burden on you to act as a reliable medium between your child and other school members. On the other hand, if your child is ready to learn to read, this can provide lots of opportunities and motivation for them to practice their reading skill.

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How can I support my child’s independence when they are connecting to school from home?

Independence is one of the key elements of the Sudbury model. Away from parents, and sometimes away from adults entirely, students have a chance to rely on their own abilities and make mistakes without fear of worrying or disappointing someone. Naturally, this gift is harder to give to your child while they are under your roof. However, there are some things you can do to make it easier.

First, realize that our virtual program is designed so that it doesn’t require parents to do anything (unless your child can’t read — see the previous question). Through staff adviser meetings and Discord messaging, staff can work directly with students to solve problems. There’s no need for you to feel like you’re responsible when your child makes a mistake, or that you need to fix it — unless we specifically ask for your help. This is one of the times when it’s okay, even beneficial, for you to be deliberately ignorant about what your child is doing.

Since you know your child so well, it’s fine for you to suggest activities that they might like. But when it comes time for them to choose their activities, it’s better if it’s their choice alone and that you don’t try to sway them. For starters, you can give them privacy during their staff adviser meeting while they are discussing activities with staff. (Not to mention, it’s good for them to have privacy during all their school activities.)

Another way you can facilitate your child’s independence is to give them tools to manage their own time. Keeping a schedule doesn’t come naturally to children (or anyone, really), so automated reminders are a godsend. Set it up so that an alarm sounds whenever it’s time for one of their scheduled activities, and teach them how to set the alarm themselves.

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