Friday, 30 May 2014

Meeting Notes: Info Session for Enrollment 2014-2015

Andrea welcomed everyone to the meeting and asked for everyone to introduce themselves.

Information discussed was as follows:

So what IS a Democratic Free School?


When researching what an “unschooling” school would look like, we learned about some famous Free Schools, or Democratic Schools.


Alpha II Alternative School - Ontario - 75 studentsWindsor house - North Vancouver - 175 studentsSummerhill School in the - UK - 70 studentsThe Free School - US - 50 studentSudbury Valley School - US - na

There are over 200 places offering democratic education in more than 30 countries, working with over 40,000 students. (read more here)


Locally we (Andrea, Heather and Lara) have met with the Windsor House and talked with their Founder Helen Hughes.


We felt that the Democratic School “structure” was really important, not only because it was in-line with our “unschooling” or “child lead” philosophy of learning, but because of its deep rooted values in equality and personal responsibility within a community.


To boil it down, the core elements of a Democratic or Free School would be:


Students are trusted to take responsibility for their own lives and learning, and for the school community.


Students can choose their own activities and associate with whom they please. If courses are offered, students are always free to take them or not. There is no segregations by age and students can learn from interacting with others who are older and younger than themselves.


Students and Staff members have equal say on creating the rules that affect them in order to create ownership and equality across all members of the community.


The staff members at a democratic school are there to help, not direct. They are the adult members of the school community. They bring to the community their experiences, wisdom and long-term commitment to the school and its students.


One of the very important aspects of a successful Democratic School is something called a “Judicial Committee”.  Essentially it’s a weekly meeting for anyone who wants to attend and is run by a rotating panel of staff and students from all different ages.  The goal of the meeting is to provide a forum where open debate and voting over school policies and resolutions to conflicts can occur.   This is something that is essential for a healthy democratic community.


We’ve crafted our own Mission Statement based around these core aspects of a Democratic School as well as tried to define some guiding principles we will use in helping build our school community.

Mission Statement:

A community of children, parents, and teachers whose goal is to inspire the passion to learn while providing the practical skills to do so.
A place where kids can have the freedom to explore their world and develop their identity within a community that they create together.

So how does this mission statement translate into how our school will look, feel and run?

How do you inspire the passion to learn?
• Trust that kids innately want to learn and will choose to deepen their knowledge of a subject they are genuinely interested in and observe them do this. Respond to and be interested in what excites them. Share what interests and excites you! Teaching does not equal learning. One must choose to learn.

How do you provide the practical skills?
• We want to provide resources and attention that will support the interests of each child. eg. art supplies, building materials, dress-up clothes, books, games.

• We have found that Project Based Learning is a great fit for deepening the exploration of a specific subject. Allowing students to focus on one subject as long as they like and move on when they are ready. Project work is the most meaningful when initiated by the student and facilitated by teacher/parents.

• This will mean teachers and parents will pay attention and listen to what the kids are requesting regarding supplies, research tools and support.

• Emphasis on making and creating through art, pretend play, building, invention, etc.

• Some students may choose to work together on collaborative projects which can be a fantastic way for kids to inspire each other, give feedback, offer suggestions, problem solve and build relationships. It can also draw kids together from different age groups as connection is often more about shared interests than shared age.

• Another way we show that we value making, doing and connecting is through circle time. We have been having an opening circle time where everyone (kids and adults) can share what they have been working on and what they would like to work on that session. It’s a nice way to foster community, practice active listening, communicate any specific supplies that are needed as well as provide a bit of structure. Closing circle time would be to share what they worked on that session and what they would like to pursue the next time. Same thing? Something new? Not sure? Sometimes kids choose not to share and that’s okay too.

How do you provide freedom?
• Although we encourage project work, the core value we hold is freedom. Freedom for students to choose and direct their own learning.
Providing options. There may be days where they want to play and explore in different ways. Maybe they need to be more active, maybe they want to play games, maybe they want to dive into math problems or write poetry. These choices are just as valid as focused project work and learning is happening here too. Maybe seeds being sown that will grow into something else later. Just being can be an important element in connecting with each other and building their own community.

• Freedom WITH responsibility. Freedom is not licence to do whatever one wants and must exist within a community rich with many needs. It will be important for students to develop a sense of respect and consideration for each others needs, personal space and boundaries. Teachers, parents and students will work together to communicate and negotiate when necessary.

Parent Participation
• Parents will be involved on a rotating basis either as part of the class to support the teacher and students, helping with set-up/clean-up, field trips, observational note taking, photography, and conflict resolution. Parents will be able to have their toddlers and babies with them if it is their day to participate. We hope to have a small area available for the younger ones to play. If parents are not able to volunteer for any school sessions we may be able to find other ways for them to contribute.

• Our long term goals
With our combined experience as unschoolers and now parents of unschoolers we are very excited to see the early foundations of our dream beginning to take shape.

That being said, we know that even if we have the clearest plans and best of support, there will still be a steep learning curve and many hurdles before we fully realizing our vision.

We need to be realistic and start with a small group and a limited age range.  We are in the process of securing a physical location here in Mission, which we feel would be comfortable with about 20 students give or take.  Keeping the age range between 5 and 10 years old for the first year feels like manageable range for a small group. There is a large green space outside as well as a few different classrooms.

Moving forward, we would like to expand this age range and grow the community (if the community wants this of course...we are a Democracy!)

We would hope to increase the number of days and length of time the school would be open, possibly to a full 5 day option...but this will be in the future and only if it seems like the right decision for the school community.

We need to be flexible and patient with the process as well as open to different possibilities to arise from the community.

We want to be clear that this is going to be an Adventure!  We’re not always going to have the right solutions...at least not Right away.  We really want to make sure that everyone joining us on this journey understands this and hopefully finds inspiration in being part of it.

Allan from Island Discovery was there to talk and has some great points and useful information:

Great things said by Alan

Island Discover supports and funds 4 other learning communities like ours
Takes the village to raise the school.
Some structure will be inevitable and necessary
Must come into this with an open heart and realize this school will be created together as a community.
Keep honest on what is working and what isn't. May have to let go of preconceptions.
Notice in our kids what is working and what isn't.
Learn to let go and have some faith.
Most of ID teachers are hands off and homeschool friendly.

Island Discovery info

Provides $600 per kid to the families 
Provides $400 to the school as long as his meetings go well with the school board
Provides 1 Teacher day (or 2 half days) provided for every 7 kids enrolled.
Provides others programs for cheap like Reading Eggs and Dreambox Math and more
Teachers will do most of the reporting, parents will do minimal reporting.
Does NOT have a special education program or teachers to support special needs.

Thoughts from parents of why they were there in the first place

My child was struggling and bored in public school so I pulled him, looking for alternative
School was not challenging enough
I have a kinestetic learner and looking for hands on programs
Self Design has been too ridged and structured and getting worse.
Want to learn more about this program
My child needs to be part of a group and community
My child is challenging me and I don't' feel like I am enough
Wants a program for my hands on learner
I have been unhappy with the public school system and it failed my child.
My child has Aspergers and I have children who are gifted and looking for freedom in their learning.

Questions from parents

Q. How many teachers will there be per how many kids and what will the hours be?
A. We will have a max of 21 students with at least 2 teachers and 1-2 active parent leaders per session. If we have 15 students or less we will have 1 teacher and 2 parents participating.

Q. Will the teacher be reporting?
A. Yes the teacher will be doing all or most of the recording and reporting to the ministry. If there is any reporting required from the parents it will be a max of 3 times per year and about 45 minutes of your time.

Q. How will you get a teacher who is homeschool friendly?
A. Allan is very used to interviewing teachers for schools with our type of philosophy and makes sure they are right for the job.

Q. Can we use the $600 towards the rent and insurance?
A. You can use the $600 you receive for each child towards 1/2 of your internet bill, tutors, special classes, school and learning resources, etc. Allan will ask the School Board if there is a way to use it toward the rent costs of the FVFS. We are awaiting his response.

Q. Do you have enough kids right now to run FVFS?
A. Yes, we have 12 kids (as of May 30th)

Q. Are there any days or hours locked down yet? 
A. Possibly Wed and Fri from 10am - 2pm, but this may change.

Q. Do parents have criminal record checks if they are volunteering?
A. Yes we will be requiring a criminal record check of all volunteers.

Q. How do we monitor how other volunteer parents are treating our children? Positive or gentle discipline?
A. This is a concern for everyone involved and something we will have to develop as a community coming together with the common goal of making a safe and encouraging environment for all. We expect to have regular meetings with the community to discuss what is working and what isn't, and to help resolve any conflicts.




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