One amazing attribute about Heartwood I noticed was, not once did I hear a student tell another student that they weren’t welcome in the group. This happens often in traditional school settings, I’ve seen it myself many times in all the schools I’ve been in, no matter the age of the students, and I’m sure other educators at traditional schools can attest – the kids can be very mean. This statement is probably repeated by traditional educators the world over.
But here at Heartwood, no child was excluded, no child was told to go away. Older students do not just “tolerate” or “babysit” younger ones, they consider all the other students their friends and play with each other not paying any attention to age groups. It is normal to see a teen playing with a younger counterpart of 5-9 years old, and everyone is happy.
As adults, we don’t just have friends in our own cohort, we have older and younger friends, this is the natural progression of friendship. Yet we set up unnatural settings in which children are expected to function. It would be thought weird in a traditional setting that a middle or high schooler would want to be friends with a kindergartener. I think many brows would be raised, and questions asked about the problems of either or both of the children, but at Heartwood, it is natural, normal and accepted to have friends at all age levels.
No children chose to play and interact with the same children all day. Groups were natural and flowing, with students joining and leaving easily spending their chosen amount of time with the group doing the activity. Students respectfully asked or communicated questions, concerns and needs and no one was made to feel bad for wanting to join or leaving a group.
Where there is mutual respect, there are far fewer problems in the community, which is what Heartwood is all about.
The transition from public school to self-directed school is interesting and the students have different reactions to it. Public school is all about rules and order. Students are discouraged from communicating with peers throughout the day as it is disruptive to standardized classes. Here, at Heartwood, students are encouraged to interact, and sometimes social deficits arise and students learn how to socialize with other children throughout the day. From the first minute to the last, students are working together in groups or if they take some time for themselves, it isn’t very long before they join a group of children again.
It was truly a joy spending the day with Heartwood ALC staff and students. I learned so much by seeing the self-directed model in action, and after I got over how different it is, I really want to have a school like this.
Every self-directed school is different, which is kind of the point, but there are similarities with the Agile Learning Centers brand, and they seem to have a pretty good handle on things.