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Snippet of The Sudbury Mode

From Audio: The Sudbury Model

station description Parents long to provide a loving and peaceful home for their children. Unfortunate... read more
In Support of Families
Duration: 16:20
Listen to a snippet from In Support of Families, in which Mark Cluff, founder of Alpine Valley Academy, discusses how the Sudbury Method inspired his school's curriculum.
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The Sudbury School was opened in 1968, and along with strategies involving lots of outdoor activities and homely classroom environments, there are two main things unique to the method. One is the dynamic of equality between student and teacher, and the other is the sole authority granted by the consent of the governed. Yes, in the Sudbury Method, students introduce and vote on legislation, decide on firing and hiring staff, and dictate the terms and direction of their educations. This democratic process is similar to that demonstrated in the Harkness Method, in that both illustrate the value of investing one's education in that of another, but where the latter encourages conversations that lead to student-run lessons, the former process even more strongly revises the image of a teacher's default position of authority. Whereas with Harkness, students are encouraged to collaborate and communicate through conversation, the Sudbury Method rejects grade levels entirely, thereby connecting a 5- and 15-year-old based on mutual interests. In this way, the method promotes a sense of mentorship for the older student, and a sense of maturity for the younger, ensuring a higher yield of dynamic, applicable knowledge.
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I decided since I had retired from my software company that I had started, that I would look into education around the country, look a different alternatives, see what has been done and and study that, and that led me to a number of discoveries of what's being done in education. I also was elected to be on the National Association of State Charter School Boards, is a Western director and give me an opportunity to talk with individuals around the country. And my search led me to a school in Massachusetts called Sudbury Belly School this year that is there still bring their 50th year, and I was intrigued by it. Their model. I was amazed at the success that there graduates had had and are having, but I was skeptical about the process. So I got their start up kit. I read all their books. I delved into it and from my own religious background, it made sense to me that when you give someone their agency and let them use that agency to direct their learning their lives, that amazing things can happen. I see I word of that awkwardly. You have a strong background in valuing education and understanding the power and Worth, and also have a strong background in engineering and software. That's great. That's a good balance. So you selected the Sudbury Valley approach as the most effective. And I know you also went out to visit the school, didn't you? Yes, let's last May. I've been in contact with them for years, and and But I finally took the step and went out there personally and spent a whole week, um, at their school, um, participated, talked with students, talked with staff, and I saw how things really after being all the books, I knew pretty much what was gonna what it was like and and their system. But I was able to see it first hand, and it gave me a one flip screen. Let me to them or believe in what I was doing. So when did you decide Thio open a school here in Utah? Well, I had hoped to when I was in my journey and looking into the Sudbury School, my youngest daughter, who was in middle school at the time at a charter school, she and I looked at together. We talked about discussed it when she moved into a high school her sophomore year. She had great anxiety, and she was desperate for a school like this because she felt it would, and I agreed with her would be a great benefit to her. But I wasn't in a position at that time to do to start a school. So the years went by. It was always in the back of my mind, looking for the opportunities, figuring out what would be needed. Finally, I would say, probably three years ago, I felt I need to start moving this direction. There's decisions I was making my life, how I use the great blessings that come into me and move forward. So that's when I really started looking for a site for a school, because for me, when the important things about Sudbury there on five acres and they have lots of grass and trees being in Massachusetts, it's always green, and the outside is just it's important is being able to be in a classroom that is so true. So I searched around. I've found different sites that didn't work out. Finally, ah, year and a half ago I a little over a year and a half ago, I found the site that we're at and started the process of preparing it and working with the city in the state bureaucracies to move forward to get the school going. Okay. I wanna mention the what I found unusual about the school. I went to one of your open houses last summer and ended up driving right by it because it's a house. And that was my intention. I wanted it to feel like a home because I feel that that environment where we feel safe and comfortable in a home environment, we do have other buildings which aren't quite like a home. But the students feel at home, they feel comfortable. They feel safe. I think that is the most important part for every student, but especially students with special needs. Well, I also have the chance to visit your school at your invitation. Thank you. And met the students and watch the process and attended a a student council meeting. That wasn't the term you used, though. It's a good counsel. Yeah, calling still council Sudbury calls it a school meeting. We chose to use a council because for me, councils are extremely important and and it's a way of working with people, individuals and getting things done. So our school council at the beginning of the year, the School Council is actually which runs the school and the school councils made up of all the students and the staff. We have seven staff members. Most of them are part time. There's three of us were full time. So everyone has a vote in the school council and the school Council sets the budget they set. They are involved in the hiring and, if necessary, removal of staff. They're involved in the creating the rules that are governed, the lives of staff and students. Everyone is treated as an equal in that regard. I was impressed in this meeting. It was led by a student, and I think she I'm guessing at her age 13, 14. Yeah, talk about teaching leadership skills. She was learning how toe conduct and run this meeting. Keeping everyone on task and doing it very effectively. I was very impressed. Yeah, she's really grown in there. She was elected at our second meeting. She and some others ran for the position. And, uh and we also have a secretary who was elected. She was elected and, you know, didn't have all the leadership skills. But we've worked with her and helped her and her time will ran out and she was reelected again for another term. And the first, the euro will have another election and elect a new school president. We run the school council using Robert's rules. So we've been teaching the students how Robert Rules works and function under that. So they're learning about government. Robert's rules taking a leadership role. I saw where if students had a question or concern, there was a process that they could bring that up, I I don't hesitate to use the word complaint, but yeah, okay, All right, then, go ahead. Yeah, we came in with a list of safety rules and rules that we felt should be in. We talked these through the school council, the first meeting, and then we had a few days later we had another meeting where the school council voted in all those rules. Since that time, students and staff have been adding rules to it, and they go through a first reading and a second reading just like our Legislature. And there's discussion on it. There's amendments to them and then they're voted in. And once we have a rule that's been approved by the school council, it's put into our rule book and everyone staff and students have to live by those rules. Now, if anyone staff or student breaks one the rules or is not falling one of them, any student or staff member can write up the individual who may have broken a rule. We have a a judicial council made up of three students. One of them is elected as the clerk of that council and one staff member, and they meet every day at 11 o'clock to hear any complaints that have been leveled against someone. This was a scary process for some of the kids at first, because they didn't fully understand. But now everyone loves it. The one who's the accuser has a chance to express what they felt happened. What rule was broken in their mind, the accused has an opportunity express their feelings of what happened and why, and the majority of the time it's very evident. And so the the accused, please guilty, and then the council decides on a sentence which could be from a warning to whatever makes sense as faras, a sentence that makes sense to help them to learn. One of the things I've seen that there's two things I could bring out with this with I've seen with the School Council has been amazing is that there's two young men 10 years old. Good friends play all the time together, but one who does something inappropriate with broken the rules. And so his friend wrote him up and they each presented their sides. And the one who was accused, you know, admitted, Yeah, he was guilty. He did break the rules and he says, You know, I've I've thought about it and I now know I should have done this. And to me, that's when the great things they're saying they have an opportunity to think about it, to express themselves. And then he came up with his own solution, what he would do in the future if that same situation arose. We had another student, and this is a seven year old who at home has two younger sisters and one of them intensive school, and they he felt one of his sisters, broken family rule and So he went, got a blank piece of paper. He wrote up his sister, give it to his mom. They held a family counsel and they went through the complaint and they had the opportunity to work as a family to resolve this issue. And the mother came to me and just told me how happy she was that these Children are empowered. They know how they don't have to wait for a teacher, principal or someone else to take care of it. They can act immediately to write up to state what happened, and it's heard immediately and they have and they feel, as they said, empowered in their lives. And this has even gone into their homes, in this case, well, and I observed the courtesy and respect. There was no anger, no raised voices. It was just calmly discussed. The students were learning to take responsibility for their actions and appropriate ways to correct wrong or solve a conflict. I was very impressed with that. I also have the opportunity to talk to some mothers who commented on how much better one mother had a very hyperactive son who was always getting into trouble in his previous school, but here he bumped into the rules occasionally. But it was much more and much more accepting environment, plus the choice. This is another key element I thought was so important and goes along with the podcast from last week on the research trip to Finland and Sweden. This student directed learning. They choose their curriculum, and I talked to one teenage student who explained her passion is art, and she is allowed to pursue that passion to her heart's content. But she also explained, in the process of the year, she is expanding and learning and growing and also then carrying over her art into writing assignments. It was really quite fascinating. Yes, that's why I'm doing is because students, when they're given control over their own lives over their own education, they step up to the task and they expand and they realize that they have to do something. They can't just wait for someone to tell them what to do. That is so true. And I know some parents are concerned Oh, but it's not accredited. How will they ever get into college? And there are many advantages to being not accredited. Aziz. My understanding is you are not required to administer any end of level testing or report Thio, a government agency. Is that correct? That's correct. In fact, since very few unless they choose a class that they have a test just to see where they're at. There's very little testing that's done at the school for some of our Reese. Some of the opportunities for the students there are some, like safety tests they have to take or otherwise. But in this day and age, these students have considered, in a way, home school. And so that's how universities look at them, and the A, C. T or the S A T is what they're more interested in. We do offer a diploma. It's not accredited diploma, but it's a diploma from that means something to us where a student has to pick a subject. Well, the subjects defined is that what they've learned and how they're gonna apply it their lives, and they have to write a thesis on that, and they have to defend that thesis before a committee. And if they perform all that and are able to defend their thesis, then they can receive one of our diplomas and This is based on the Sudbury model that's been around for 50 years. I've been on their website and they have the statistics of how Maney of their graduates go on to college. One thing I thought was really significant is the high percentage that go into owning their own business type of entrepreneurship and thinking for themselves. I'm seeing this is creating much better citizens, much better members of society that can contribute that take responsibility for their actions and our proactive. I see a lot of benefit to this. Yeah, I've seen with my own daughters, and I've seen it with others as I've worked at universities that, you know, new freshmen coming in. Sometimes this is the first time in their lives that they really had their freedom, the freedom to choose. And they're not always making good choices. Right then what we've learned that is, Children at a younger age are given the freedom to make choices, the more opportunity they have to learn to make good choices, and then when they get totally away from home, then they're more likely to make good choices in their lives.
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