Announcing the Alt Ed Job Board


Almost as soon as this website went live, back in 2011, I started receiving messages from educators looking for jobs in the kinds of schools and educational programs that were featured here. Many of these inquiries came from teachers or administrators working in traditional school systems who were nearing the burnout stage and looking for a workplace where they could re-engage their creative talents, reignite their love of the learning process, and feel better supported both professionally and personally. Others were people who had attended or worked in alternative education in other regions and were interested in moving to Austin specifically to be part of a larger ecosystem of like-minded educators.

I tried my best to connect these job seekers with members of Alt Ed Austin’s network of schools and other educational programs that might have openings, but this tended to be a hit-or-miss proposition. It was time consuming, too.

Soon I also began to get requests from schools to post job openings somehow on the website. But I didn’t really have a good place or mechanism for doing so, and I wasn’t sure it fit into Alt Ed Austin’s primary mission of serving families looking for educational options. Still, I kept informally passing along information about job openings to prospective job candidates, and vice versa.

Then I received a desperate plea from a parent whose child’s beloved teacher was moving across the country for family reasons. She wrote, “We love the school. We love the teacher who is leaving. Our child and his classmates have been thriving here. But our school director and community are having a heck of a hard time finding someone who could even come close to filling her shoes. Can you help?” This parent’s message convinced me that helping fill open positions in alternative education falls squarely within Alt Ed Austin’s mission. Of course families want to know that open spots will be filled in a timely manner by great educators who are the best fits for their learning communities.

Thus was born the Alt Ed Job Board. I’m proud and excited to say that it’s been in its pilot stage for a couple of months now and is officially here to stay. Please pass the word (and link!) to anyone you know who is looking for fulfilling work in education or who has a position to fill in a learner-centered school, enrichment program, summer camp, or other education-focused organization. And to those in the midst of a search: I hope you find the perfect match.

Teri

Middle school programming: How AHB Community School’s progressive model keeps middle years students engaged in the learning process

I asked AHB Community School Executive Director Sasha Cesare to explain the unique school’s approach to middle school education. In response, she submitted this guest post, written collaboratively by staff and other community members, including insights and images gathered from AHB teachers and real, live students.


What can middle school feel like? What should middle school feel like? Sadly, in our culture, it is often the accepted default that tweens and teenagers are “difficult,” and middle school is just basically a rotten time. “Everybody gets through it. You will too,” is often the response of even the most caring and connected parents.

But what if you don’t accept that? What if you expect something more for your child in their middle years? What if you continue to expect your child to be enthusiastic about and dedicated to school, and you expect school to continue to engage, nurture, and challenge your child?

What would that look like?

AHB_Floor-game.jpg

“Every morning I am happy to come to school and have fun with my best friends!”
“Always fun, not boring. Always, just fun.”

These quotes are the words of middle school students at AHB Community School, a progressive K–8 school in Central Austin that has been providing a creative and collaborative educational alternative for Austin families since 2004. In those 15 years, we have learned a few things about how to keep middle school students involved, challenged, and happy, while preparing them for the target high schools of their choice. It is not the only good model for educating young adolescents, but it’s a model worthy of study.

The AHB Community School Middle Years Program (MYP) is a four-day-per-week (with optional fifth day) program designed for students aged 11 to 14, working together in what is known internally as the “Delta” class. The MYP, built on the best of international and national standards, emphasizes intellectual challenges, interdisciplinary understandings of the world around them, and a sense of belonging and service to one’s community.

Specifically, the AHB Middle Years Program is built around five key tenets:

  1. Inquiry-based, interdisciplinary projects

  2. A student-centered curriculum

  3. A developmentally appropriate social-emotional learning (SEL) environment

  4. A community-minded, service-oriented focus

  5. Strong academics

What does that look like in the classroom?

AHB_Egg-World-Monuments-Acid-Rain.jpg

Here’s a week in the life, as described by the MYP teachers:

Currently, the MYP students are studying world geography as their theme, and therefore, along with map work, we have math, reading, and writing work that all relates to our world studies. Each week, students have the opportunity to explore the part of the world on which we are focused through cooking, art, theater, poetry/literature, music, architecture, politics, and/or wildlife. We are learning about the building of the Panama Canal, the endangerment of the Amazon rainforest, and mining of precious metals in Africa by researching, presenting to, and teaching one another in small groups.

In math we did some algebraic arithmetic in the African language of Hausa, which is spoken by 40–50 million people. Students had to decipher what value each Hausa word meant in numerous equations using substitution. We then got into small groups and tackled a major algebraic and logic problem where we had to create a formula for how many fields were required to feed a community in Africa when concrete numbers were not known. The overall goals were to be able to manipulate variables even when the values are not known and be able to work with them in terms of each other. Each group did an amazing job and made huge conceptual headway in terms of learning how to think algebraically.

Later, we switched gears and did a Lorax Stock Market Game project that included reading Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, coming up with potential rules for the Once-ler to have created a sustainable business and environment, taking the Once-ler to trial and acting out the trial complete with judges, attorneys, jury, foreman, a bailiff, the Lorax, and the Once-ler. We also discussed the concept of environmentally responsible investing and how the students could diversify their own Stock Market Game portfolios to be more diversified, including incorporating more “green” organizations into their teams’ stock holdings.

In Language Arts we are learning how to write descriptive settings that use effective figurative language and how to develop an integral setting as a “character” that drives the characterization, plot, and mood of a fictional story. We are researching real-world geographic locations as inspiration for settings and creating different types of maps to illustrate settings for these original narratives.

Throughout each week, our students apply the concepts of theme to the learning objectives and are able to exercise significant choice in their projects.

—submitted by Kirsten Coleman & Alice Elder, the MYP co-teachers
Together, they have over 15 years of experience teaching at AHB Community School.

What do the AHB middle school students have to say about this model?

About the inquiry-based learning and interdisciplinary projects:

“AHB has a great way of teaching kids about how to tackle problems.” 

“The Delta teachers make understanding tough subjects a more community-centered and in-depth experience by including captivating projects into the curriculum.”

“AHB makes learning as fun as can be by doing project-based learning, which is better than sitting around doing worksheets.”

AHB_Africa-Cake-Making.jpg

About the student-centered curriculum:

“Students are engaged because we have choices, responsibilities.”

“The teachers will teach you according to your intellectual level, not your age/grade.”

“The students get to have a major say in upcoming projects.”

AHB_Student-presentation.jpg

About the developmentally appropriate SEL environment:

“We do a lot of group projects that help you interact with your peers and get better relationships with them.” 

“There is both freedom and structure.”

“We have daily recess time and get to be outside.”

AHB_Blanton-Fieldtrip.jpg

About the community-minded, service-oriented focus:

“We do Hope Food Pantry every month.”

“We do projects that are aimed at helping our community.”

“We did science fair projects that were about solving world-wide problems.”

AHB_Earth-Day-tree-planting.jpg

About the academics:

“AHB is academically flexible but also pushes the students to the point of being ready for high school.”

“AHB is very good at preparing children for high school. It meets children at their level and tries to teach them in the best way possible for that kid. I have been here seven years and I have never experienced feeling unprepared for a certain task or assignment.”

“Some [students] are better at math, some at language arts, and we really accommodate that.”

AHB_Math-table-work.jpg

A Different Paradigm for the Middle Years

Every stage of childhood and the coinciding parenting phase has unique challenges, but the AHB Middle Years Program challenges the assumption that school bores “big kids.” We are convinced, and see daily evidence in our classrooms, that 12- and 13-year-olds can be just as smiling, curious, and energetic as our youngest learners. They simply need a classroom and teachers that grow with them, taking on the delicate dance of both nurturing and challenging the students as needed.

AHB_Blanton-red-sofa.jpg

How to build community among alternative schools? Put the kids in charge!

Alt-Ed-Prom_1.jpg

Guest contributor Peter Fox is a high school student at the Academy of Thought and Industry in Austin. When I heard about the multi-school prom he and his fellow students were organizing this spring, I invited him to share the story with our readers. We love seeing this kind of collaboration in the alt ed community. Thanks, Peter, and congratulations on a job well done!


I first joined the Austin alt ed community in November of 2018. Due to a variety of factors, public school seemed to no longer be a good fit. When my family and I looked at a number of different schools, the Academy of Thought and Industry (ATI) seemed to be the way to go. Although I quickly enveloped myself in the ATI community, one distinct issue became clear to me as I continued my foray into the alternative education scene: there are no Friday night lights in alt ed. In public school, we always enjoyed the fact that there were many other schools in the area. Sure, we may have been rivals, but oftentimes we had friends at these separate schools. We were all practically a huge community. In the Austin alt ed scene, that sense of community did not exist—yet.

Fast-forward to February of this year. At ATI, we are highly independent students. In our school-wide Life Design class, we faced the daunting prospect of taking on a project that we would be working on for the rest of the semester. Our only restriction was that our project, whatever we chose, had to in some way better our community. When I heard the idea of a shared prom between alt ed schools, I knew I had to have a part in it. An alt ed prom could begin to fill the void of organized events among alternative schools in Austin. It would not only impact our small school community but potentially many other school communities in our area. It was the perfect solution to the problem I saw.

And so, we set out. With a grim amount of work in the short time ahead of us, our initial committee immediately brainstormed on how we could plan such a complicated event in a month and a half. It was decided to split up the tasks among four committees: a logistics group, in charge of finding a venue and food; a finance group, who would handle our budget; a decor group, tasked with decorating our prom; and, last but certainly not least, a programming group, for scheduling the event itself and gathering necessary equipment. However, we were still missing one critical element: a project manager—somebody who would keep everything running smoothly and every part moving in sync. After little deliberation, my friend Samantha and I volunteered to take on this role, with Samantha handling the creative oversight and me handling logistical items. Finally, we could begin work.

I first drafted a schedule for every workday we had until prom, complete with deadlines, due dates, and deliverables. This would make sure we could keep track of every aspect that comes with event planning. We then formed committees, and immediately began work on our first deliverables. At the same time, we began reaching out to alternative schools around Austin, asking if they were interested in our prom or any sort of future alt ed event. Spring Break came and went, and when we returned to school, we found that two alt ed schools wanted to join us: Clearview Sudbury School and Lake Travis STEM Academy.

That was when I realized: this is actually happening, and we have to deliver. With renewed energy and added pressure, I sent a small group of people (including our amazing guide Chris Ready) to Clearview to gauge their interest level. The findings were amazing and slightly surprising: the students we spoke to felt the same lack of a larger community beyond their own school and not only wanted to attend the prom, but help plan it. The next day, our Clearview friends visited ATI to work with us on several aspects, such as our theme and possible icebreakers and activities during the prom itself. The time flew by, and soon we were working with Clearview, Lake Travis STEM, and even homeschool students to design our perfect prom.

After months of preparation, the night had finally arrived. We began setting up at 2pm, and the prom officially began at 7:30. We saw our efforts pay off and reaped the rewards in a night of fun and celebration. During a short break, I looked around the room, and what I saw was surprising and satisfying. Students from all three different schools were joined together in groups on the dance floor.

Alt-Ed-Prom_2.jpg
Alt-Ed-Prom_3.jpg

We had achieved exactly what we set out to do. Our community, during those two hours, was expanded and transformed into something bigger than just us. When we first started working on our prom, we could barely remember each other's names. Now, there was a familiar sense of friendship among everybody on the dance floor, as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

So, what’s next? Well, as I put the finishing touches on this post, I’m also sending out an invitation for our next shared alt ed event, a potluck on Friday, May 10. Which, by the way, if you or your school would like to attend, please email me (pfox@thoughtandindustry.com). All are welcome!

potluckinvitation.png


Creating these activities and events is such a fantastic learning experience, and honestly, just a fun time. Our mission, as a group of students, is to create the sense of community among alt ed schools that has been to this point exclusive to public schools, and our prom was just the beginning. Stay tuned for future events!


Peter Fox

Summer engagement ideas for teens

Esha Clearfield, M.A. and M.P.Aff., is the founder and president of Enriched Family in Austin. This local business provides parents with the information, tools, and systems they need to organize their families and thrive. Drawing on her expertise in research, project management, and family organization, Esha helps busy parents with a wide variety of practical, comprehensive family supports and solutions, particularly family resource research (including camps, enrichment activities, childcare and schools, college comparisons and help managing the college application process, and more!) as well as personal, family, and small business organization services (organizing spaces and developing organization systems). We invited Esha to deploy her considerable research skills to the topic of summer engagement opportunities for teens and share her best ideas here. Thanks, Esha!

In my work with families, I often hear how difficult it is for parents to ensure that their teenagers are engaged over the summer break. Many parents have pointed out that it is hard to find camps whose programming is tailored to this age group, and often teens think of camps as being for “little kids” and are therefore resistant to attending. In this brief article, I focus on several local summer teen engagement resources, including camps that offer Counselor-in-Training (CIT) programs, as well as suggestions for volunteer, internship, and job opportunities.

Photo by  Liam Macleod  on  Unsplash

Camp Counselor-in-Training (CIT) Programs

Many camps offer CIT programs—a great opportunity for teens to develop leadership skills and receive training as camp counselors. These programs are typically low-cost and fun, and they look great on a resume or college application. Here are a few Austin opportunities:

  • The Austin Nature & Science Center CIT program prepares teens (ages 15–17) to assist adult camp counselors in leading activities. There is a one-day training that equips CITs with the skills to become outstanding leaders by covering such topics as safety, child development, games, and songs. This popular program helps teenagers develop a sense of responsibility while increasing self-confidence. Participants can register for a maximum of 2 CIT camp sessions (each session is two weeks long: M–F, 8am–5pm). There are currently spots in the 6/24–7/5 & 8/5–8/16 sessions (the other June and July sessions are on a wait list). The cost of each two-week session is $198 for Austin residents. Register on the Austin Nature & Science Center website here.

  • The Austin Sunshine Camps CIT program is available to 15–18-year-olds who meet the qualifications (live in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell, or Bastrop county and qualify for the school free or reduced lunch program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] or are in foster care), demonstrate the ability to become a leader in their community, and are interested in becoming a camp counselor when they turn 18. There is no cost for the CIT program. Email programs@sunshinecamps.org for more information.

  • The Thinkery CIT program is available to teenagers (ages 13–18) who will work closely with Thinkery staff mentors to lead fun, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)–based activities in Thinkery summer camps. Individual goals are set to ensure each participant develops new skills and gains valuable work experience that is transferable to future academic and career endeavors. If selected, applicants must commit to attending a series of training sessions. All selected applicants must agree to one week of the mandatory training dates and a minimum of 2 weeks of CIT camp support hours. Application is here. Deadline is May 1. There is a $10 program fee.


Photo by Rawpixel.com on  Pexels

Photo by Rawpixel.com on Pexels

Volunteer Opportunities

A number of Austin organizations that focus on connecting youth to local nonprofits are in need of volunteers. Included below are a couple of examples:

  • Generation SERVE, whose mission is to “engage children in volunteerism and empower them to make a difference in their communities,” offers a summer Youth Leadership Program for middle and high school students. Teens selected for the program are trained in group facilitation, communication, problem solving, nonprofits, and fundraising. Teens then put this learning into action by leading or co-leading Generation SERVE’s Family Volunteering Activities and designing service projects to benefit the community. The fee for this program is $170–$200. For additional information and to apply for the program, click here. The application deadline is April 12.

  • If your teen is interested in summer volunteering but cannot commit to the Youth Leadership Program, Generation SERVE also offers one-time volunteer opportunities for teens in 6th–12th grades in the form of Teen Service Days, during which teens volunteer alongside their peers without a parent or guardian. These events give teens experience with volunteer projects in support of many different nonprofit organizations and community needs. Details and registration information can be found here.

  • Austin Habitat for Humanity also offers a variety of Youth Volunteer Opportunities, including painting, landscaping, planting trees, construction, home repair, and more, all depending on the age of the teen. Click here for information.


Other Volunteer/Internship Opportunities

Summer is a great time for teens to participate in formal or informal internships matched to their interests. For example, if your teen is interested in art, they could look into volunteer or internship opportunities at local art galleries. If your teen is interested in medicine and health, many hospitals have junior volunteer programs or summer volunteer programs for teens, ages 15–18. In addition, the City of Austin has a variety of Youth Volunteer, Internship, and Employment Opportunities they could explore here.


Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Job/Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Why not encourage your teen to explore some entrepreneurship activities over the summer? They could build and brand their own babysitting, lawn mowing/lawn care, dog sitting/walking, or odd jobs business. Or perhaps they could find a part-time or full-time job, depending on their other summer responsibilities.

 Happy summer!


Esha Clearfield
Enriched Family

The hidden third option: The use of tabletop gaming in social instruction

CLE_Scott-Allen.jpg

Scott Allen, Psy.D., is Director of Psychological Services at College Living Experience (CLE) in Austin, which provides wrap-around supports for young adults with learning differences such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. His guest post explains the rationale behind using tabletop role-playing games to teach social skills in CLE Austin’s highly successful programs. An earlier version of this article appeared on the CLE website last year, and we are honored and excited to share it with Alt Ed Austin’s readers.


As a kid of the 80s, video games were a big part of my childhood. I was always interested in having the newest game system and trying out the hottest game. They were a refuge for me after a rough day at school, and a way for me to relieve the frustrations of everyday life. Anyone who has defeated a particularly difficult boss can attest to the senses of accomplishment and pride that accompany this amazing feat. At that point in my life, gaming was a relatively solitary activity that I used to help me cope with the stresses of each day.

There was another side of gaming that I knew about but did not explore in my youth. I had a small group of friends who would talk about playing D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). I thought I would somehow be considered uncool for playing D&D, so I dismissed offers to play the game. As a kid, I was a “closeted geek.” Boy, did I miss out!

Flash forward to my time at CLE. In our Austin center, I have placed great efforts on making our social programming interesting and fun for our students. My approach to teaching is mostly interest-based as I feel that students learn best when they are truly engaged and enjoying their activities. One of my colleagues introduced the idea of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs)—the broader category of games that include D&D and other games requiring participants to take on the roles of characters—as social-teaching tools. I overheard her leading some games in the lounge, witnessed the student engagement, and took note of what great social opportunities these games are.

CLE_dd-dice-full.jpg

With my support, my colleague led several tabletop gaming groups. For anyone who hasn’t played, here’s a quick primer. Tabletop gaming has a few general facets:

  •  Players assume the roles of characters who are not themselves (though they may integrate aspects of themselves into their roles). Players stay “in character” during the game and interact with each other as their characters would.

  • Games are loosely structured, giving players quite a bit of leeway in making decisions in the game.

  • There is a Game Master, or GM (a Dungeon Master, or DM, in D&D), who leads the adventure. GMs can keep the game very structured, leading the group down a preset adventure, or can be very unstructured, with a more improv-based approach.

  • There is opportunity for adventuring parties to coordinate and discuss plans for the game. The best games have characters with varying skill sets, allowing the party to take advantage of each character’s strengths.

  • Despite all the planning the party may perform, there is still an element of chance in the game, usually in the form of a dice roll. When characters use their skills, they roll dice to determine success or failure (called a check in gaming terms).

  • There are usually elements of exploration, interaction with non-player characters (NPCs), and various forms of battle in tabletop RPGs.

In my experience as a social-skills instructor, it is hard to think of approaches that are more effective in teaching social interaction in a completely nonthreatening way. Our students love this approach, and we have seen evidence of the generalization of skills outside the gaming setting. Tabletop gaming is also a great way to work on executive functioning components, such as planning, prioritizing, flexibility, and emotional control. Below are a few of the many skill areas that can be addressed using tabletop gaming.

  • Perspective Taking: It’s hard to think of a time in the game when you do not have to take another person’s perspective, as you are acting out a character the entire time. Players also interact with NPCs, often requiring them to understand how to gear communication in order to reach an optimal outcome.

  • Flexibility: Anything can happen in tabletop games, and parties must adjust quickly to rapidly changing conditions in the game. One important concept in tabletop gaming is called the hidden third option. Often in the game (and in life), we encounter situations when we seemingly have a limited number of choices. In a tabletop game, you might run into a situation where you must fight or avoid a rat, for example. The hidden third option might be to use some cheese to lure the rat to distract a bigger enemy, allowing you to slip by.

  • Teamwork/Cooperation: The best tabletop adventures require a wide range of characters with different skill sets. When presented with a strength-based challenge, the team needs to have a fighter or a warrior in order to be most effective. However, a mental challenge might require a wizard or a cleric. In addition, parties might encounter puzzles or team-based challenges that require players to work as a group to solve them. When one player struggles, the team must step in to help that player, or the entire party might suffer a grim consequence, like a Beholder wiping the party off the face of the world.

  • Planning: Although much of the game is done on the fly, skilled parties often plan sequences of actions that depend on the success of prior actions. Sequencing and coordination of actions is very important in battle situations and puzzle solving during the game.

  • Communication: Non-player characters may respond differently to players’ characters, based not only on what they say but also on how they say it. For example, if a player demands an item in a rude way, the NPC might respond in kind, refusing to give the item, destroying it, or fighting the party. This allows players to have “real” opportunities to work on communication skills without having to deal with the consequences of an embarrassing interaction in real life.

My experiences playing these games at CLE led me to seek out others who enjoy tabletop games in my outside life. I have joined a group of tabletop gamers and have learned to embrace my inner geek in a way that I never had before.

CLE_help.png

A couple of year ago, unfortunately, my colleague left CLE, and we were in need of new GMs. How did we handle that? First, I gave myself a crash course in how to run a tabletop gaming group. I have been able to run games with premade stories and alter the games based on the needs and goals of the participants. For example, one week I set up a situation where the party needed to utter the magic word help in order to move forward in the game. The reason I added this element to the story was that a student was struggling with asking for help in their everyday life. I am currently running a brand-new group with students playing as superheroes. This will be my first time generating and executing a completely original story.

Second, we have had CLE students volunteer to run tabletop gaming groups with staff assistance. We currently have a student who has made his own tabletop gaming system based on a popular video game. It has been great to see this student lead the game, ask the group for feedback, and integrate the feedback into the game.

Learning how to socialize can be seen as boring or useless for many of our students, but the social skills they learn at CLE are among the most critical in terms of job success and building lifelong relationships. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about areas of life that are challenging, and socialization is often challenging for our student population. The use of interest-based techniques, such as tabletop gaming, helps to take the “edge” off social training, making it fun for both participants and instructors.


Scott Allen

What I learned at the Education Reimagined Symposium 2019: #whyLCE

I was excited to learn recently that a new learner-centered school, Gantry Academy, is launching soon in Round Rock. Soon after, I had the serendipitous pleasure of meeting its founder and director, Jennifer Phillips, at the Education Reimagined Symposium in Washington, D.C. It was the best education conference I’ve ever attended, and I’m grateful that Jennifer offered to share her takeaways and insights from the symposium in this guest post. —Teri Sperry

The time is now. Kelly Young, president of Education Reimagined, at the organization’s symposium, January 17, 2019.

The time is now. Kelly Young, president of Education Reimagined, at the organization’s symposium, January 17, 2019.


While many parents feel that the standard modern education system doesn’t work for their child, we might not know that there is another way. We just have this nagging feeling that our children are not widgets to be produced by an educational factory. So, some of us are moving to private schools, where lower ratios and individual attention give us hope for a better outcome. But then we hop from school to school, looking for the right fit that we can’t articulate, only knowing that something about each offering is just not working for our child. What we are developing alone together is the concept that education should start with the learner, rather than the institution.

Education Reimagined hosted a one-day symposium in Washington, D.C., on January 17 focused on sharing the message of Learner-Centered Education (LCE). There were over 200 educators, philanthropists, vendors, and learners present; chances are you missed it, quite possibly just because you haven’t even heard the term LCE, and you aren’t alone.

A true learner-centered education is more than a majority consensus on a thematic unit topic. It allows each learner to strive for mastery at their own pace (competency-based), with personalized, relevant, and contextualized content that they themselves engage in designing (learner agency). It is rooted in meaningful relationships (socially embedded) and it does not stop in the classroom (open-walled).

As it turns out, I was sent to the symposium because the educational goals I have for my own children align directly with the purpose of Education Reimagined. This organization is fully committed to transforming all education into the learner-centered paradigm. I didn’t realize it before, but my family is just a small piece of a much larger movement. I knew intrinsically what I wanted education for my girls to look like. I could describe it to other parents as “learner-driven” or “passion-driven” or even a “hack school” model, and I could cite specific studies supporting this approach, but what I lacked was the common vocabulary and the knowledge of the sheer magnitude of the existing efforts pushing in the same direction.

After a full day of immersion with these passionate, dedicated innovators, I came away inspired and recommitted to building a better educational method for every single child! It may sound fantastical or like an unreachable goal, but here are my top takeaways from the symposium that make this dream possible. 

1. This is not a “fancy liberal fad.”

At the conference, I spoke with leaders from both private programs and public school districts, from northern states like Vermont and from heartland states like Missouri. I was not the only person from Texas there. The idea that each person is unique and learns best in their own unique way has so much research to back it up that LCE is not just trending; it’s only a matter of time before it is the new standard. How can anyone make that claim? It’s already happening in most other major industries, from personalized television programming from Netflix and Hulu, to personalized medications based on your DNA. Personalized education is not just preferable; it’s inevitable.

Jasmine McBride, a student who spoke at the symposium about her experiences in a learner-centered high school.

Jasmine McBride, a student who spoke at the symposium about her experiences in a learner-centered high school.

2. Kids are people NOW.

While this may sound like an obvious statement, how many times have you heard “Children are our future?” Implying that age limits the usefulness of a person is not only harmful but also wasteful. There are now high school students who are published authors, Emmy award winners, and mentees of Broadway superstars, all thanks to their experiences with LCE. Learner agency, the ability for a student to make decisions about their own education, seems to generate one particularly interesting outcome (among the many additional benefits): sense of self. Self-confidence. Self-esteem. Self-efficacy. I heard from the young learners I spoke with directly that even one year in an LCE program can have a major lifelong impact. The more this seed grows in learners now, the more exponentially it will take off as they take on leadership roles in the community.


3. This is the best-kept secret in your neighborhood.

Remember when I mentioned that we are each developing this feeling “alone together”? The latest study shows that up to 60 percent of the public feels that education should be aimed at preparing individual learners for personally fulfilling lives. And yet, those same people think that only 5 percent feel the same way! Start the conversation with those around you. Even if they don’t have the same vocabulary, it’s something we can discuss together rather than in isolated pockets.

What can I do for my child NOW?

First, read about Learner-Centered Education at Education Reimagined to learn more about the national conversation happening now. Familiarize yourself with the vocabulary so we can all be having the same conversation locally as well as nationally. Decide if a fully personal, engaging educational path is right for you or your child. 

Second, act locally! While some public schools near us have shifted to competency-based report cards and portfolio assessments, they are still required to teach to the standardized tests. Work with your PTA to encourage change within your school. Some private schools are run democratically. Take a proposal to your leadership circle to discuss the LCE concept in depth.

Third, drop in to one of the regular workshops hosted by Gantry Academy to help us develop the LCE method that best offers custom, individualized programs to each learner right here in Round Rock, Texas!

[For a more comprehensive review of the symposium’s specific events, read Suzanne Freeman, Ph.D.’s blog post here.]


Jennifer Phillips