Thanks to The Open School’s virtual program, the Sudbury model of self-directed democratic education has made the leap to the internet! Families can now enroll from anywhere in the world.
While it doesn’t function exactly like an in-person school, students still have the ability to make friends, pursue their interests, and practice independence. This article will explain the various features of our program and how it’s different from an in-person experience.
The Open School is, first and foremost, a community of people learning and living together. We share our interests and opinions with each other, learn new ideas from each other, and care for each other. An active group of friends makes life worth living and knowledge worth learning, and The Open School is a group of friends that’s active 5 days a week — doing activities together in virtual rooms, playing online games, or just having a good chat. We are here to get to know each other and support each other through the hard work of growing up.
All activities are student-designed, sometimes with help from a staff adviser, based on the student’s interests. Each student chooses which activities to attend, so they are in control of their own time. If they want to, they can do art all day, every day. Or they can focus on building relationships by attending lots of social events. Or they can work on a long-term project, goal, or learning objective with a staff adviser. Or they can learn about a topic or practice a skill with others. Or they can spend all their time playing. Or they can do a bit of everything! They have the space and time to get bored, discover their passions, and figure out what they want out of their life.
Away from the prying (though well-meaning) eyes of parents and policymakers, students can follow their own paths and become unique individuals. They learn how to function in a community outside the family, and are able to try out different ways of presenting themselves without judgment. Because no one is telling them what to do, they are responsible for their own behavior and education. They are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. At The Open School, students are becoming adults capable of directing their own lives and making their own decisions.Go to top ▴
The bulk of the program consists of student-sponsored activities. These are social activities designed by students, sometimes with the help of their staff adviser. Each week we schedule around 20 to 25 of these activities, meaning a student can be active in the school 5 hours a day, 5 days a week if they want to. Students must attend a minimum of three sponsored activities each week, but many students attend more.
The possibilities for activities are limited only by students’ imaginations. Popular activities include online video games, Zoom meetings where people work on their personal art projects, tea parties, baking parties, show & tell, music jam sessions, and table reads of student-written scripts. Some students (usually older teenagers) instead schedule one-on-one meetings with a staff member to work on a project or goal of theirs.
Not every student-hosted event will have a staff member present, because it’s important for us to give students practice at independence. However, we make sure that every staff member is spending at least some time connecting with every student, and that we’re present when needed — to teach, guide, and cultivate independence so that students can eventually execute their events without adult hand-holding. Our student-to-staff ratio is around 15.Go to top ▴
Each student is assigned a staff adviser who meets with them one-on-one at least once per week. The role of the adviser is to get to know the student, build a rapport with them, help them navigate the virtual program, work through any problems the student wishes to share (problems they’re having within the school, or personal problems), help them brainstorm activity ideas if they’re stuck, and help them plan and execute their hosted activities.
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Each student is assigned a “house,” a small group of students who have similar interests plus one staff member, who attend a virtual meeting on a regular basis. In these meetings, we have conversations and play games in order to get to know each other, form relationships, and build group fellowship. The house meeting is also an opportunity to check in with each other on plans for the day and organize ways to connecting with each other or working on projects.Go to top ▴
Each week, the entire school meets for the School Meeting, where anyone can make announcements, and anyone can make motions to change school rules, allocate funds for expenditures, or conduct other school business. This is where the school’s democracy happens. All students and staff are welcome to participate in the discussion and cast their votes. Each student is required to attend the first part of School Meeting, which is announcements and reading the agenda, but the discussion and voting is optional.
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The Open School is a community, and community only works if everyone is participating consistently. To this end, we require each student to fulfill four responsibilities each week: (1) attend at least one student-hosted activity, (2) attend your staff adviser meeting, (3) attend your house meeting, and (4) attend the first part of School Meeting.Go to top ▴
Much of the business of running the school takes place in committees, which are small groups of people who are empowered by the School Meeting to make decisions on its behalf. Students are not required to serve on committees, but they are encouraged to, and this is one of the ways they can meet with friends on a regular basis, participate in work that has an impact, and have a voice in how their school functions.
Our most active committee is the Virtual Program Committee, which created (and continues to refine) all the online programs you’ve read about in this article.
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In addition to the attendance requirements, each student will occasionally be called to Civics Board. This is a meeting that happens once per week to help resolve rule infractions or conflicts between School Meeting members.Go to top ▴
The Open School uses Discord as its central virtual hub. Discord is a group messaging app that can be used on a computer or mobile device. Here students and staff can post things for all to see, share something with a particular group, or message someone privately. They can also get together on group voice or video calls, and access the school’s virtual bulletin boards to find out what’s happening.
This is the closest thing we have to a physical campus, where students and staff can be together without needing to know each other’s numbers, track each other down, or organize events. It’s very important that each student learns how to use Discord so they can be involved in the daily life of the school.
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To supplement our student-oriented program, we offer a family coaching program for our virtual families. This is an opportunity for parents to receive individualized support and grow in their own understanding of parenting and education within the framework of children’s rights. Our expert facilitators will guide parents on their paths of self-exploration and will provide a wealth of resources, information, and encouragement along the way.Go to top ▴
Enrollees in The Open School Virtual Program will receive a laptop and software to enable them to engage in the program in a meaningful way. During the onboarding process, they will be trained on how to navigate the virtual environment of the school, and will be provided with access to G-Suite through their own school email address.Go to top ▴
The Virtual Program’s unique one-to-one program means that it is more staff-intensive than our in person program. However, we are committed to providing meaningful access to a self-directed democratic school and have created an aggressive sliding scale tuition plan. When you enroll your child in The Open School’s virtual program, they are enrolling in a full time private school. Other virtual full time private schools average $14,000/year. Our average family pays closer to $5,500/year and your personalized tuition will be reasonable for you and your family’s financial situation. Learn more about our sliding scale tuition here.
Want to learn more? Read about how learning happens at The Open School.
Ready for the next step? Send us an admissions inquiry:Go to top ▴