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

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

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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.

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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!

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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

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

Alt Ed “on the air”

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We often tell our kids that it’s important to try new and scary things, from calculus and Beowulf to roller skating and brussels sprouts. A few weeks ago, I tried something new and scary, and the result was a truly delightful experience that you can actually hear for yourself now. I was honored to be a guest on one of my favorite education-related podcasts, Ba Luvmour’s Meetings with Remarkable Educators.

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I already knew and respected Ba as a colleague, and he immediately put me at ease, as he does with every guest. His warm manner and deep engagement with all things related to alternative education are on full display in the interview. We talked about the development of Alt Ed Austin and about some of the big questions that parents and students face today—and ways to help answer them. I even had a chance to mention a book I’m working on called the Alt Ed Explainer. We also discussed ICARE, the exciting new alternative school accreditation project that my partners at Enlight Ignite and I have the honor of collaborating on with Ba and his work and life partner, Josette Luvmour, at Luvmour Consulting.

If you listen to the show, please drop me a line via email (teri@altedaustin.com) or Facebook (facebook.com/altedaustin) and let me know what you thought. You can find this episode and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you prefer to listen. Please also consider supporting! Meetings with Remarkable Educators with a small donation via Patreon.

Many thanks to Ba for the chance to talk about what I love with a new audience.

Puppetry with objects unlocks the imagination and opens the mind

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Guest contributor Caroline Reck is the founder and artistic director of the award-winning
Glass Half Full Theatre, which has created some of the most creative, educational, and emotionally moving theater productions I’ve experienced in Austin (or anywhere). I can’t wait to see their latest work, Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story, and you’ll understand why whey you read Caroline’s inspiring post below.


A few weeks ago, my young daughter and I were lying on my bed, reading a story. I wanted her to nap. She wanted to talk to me about the patches in our ceiling plaster, where a leak in the roof had caused some discoloration and peeling sections. I always avoided looking at those patches, a reminder that despite having our roof repaired, I had yet to chip away the plaster and repaint the ceiling. But Clementine saw something else. Unaware of my angst about those patches, she told me, “Mama, I love your ceiling! It’s so beautiful. There’s a mama fish, and a baby fish, and that one’s a bear. They’re taking care of each other, in case the bear isn’t a friendly bear . . . oh, no, it’s OK . . . the bear is smiling. . . .”

I was reminded, once again, of how important imagination is in creating a sense of positivity, of possibility, of aspirational thought. I shouldn’t have to be reminded. I’m the founder and artistic director of Glass Half Full Theatre, an Austin company, where my job is dreaming up ways to help audiences look at life in imaginative and optimistic ways, through puppetry and other live theater forms.

But it is so easy to let the everyday drudgery pull you down, make you forget your natural imaginative urges, and I see it happening to kids at younger and younger ages. Many factors contribute to children using their imaginations less often: screen time supplying ready-made images and predictable stories, exhaustion from long hours at school and aftercare, overscheduling of overly structured activities. As an educator, artist, and mama, I’m always looking for ways to promote imagination in children’s lives, and I particularly like to do bilingual work, so it’s accessible to kids whether English or Spanish is the language they are most confident in.

I wrote a play that was originally produced in 2015 at ZACH Theatre, in collaboration with Teatro Vivo, and is currently touring to schools in the Greater Austin area. It’s called Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story and features the character of Belinda, a young girl banished by her uncaring stepfamily to the basement. Undeterred, Belinda befriends the objects around her, inventing characters with her unbridled imagination.

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The show opens with Belinda giving voice(s) and movement to a two-headed desk lamp. Kids in the audience lean in. They’ve never seen this before. They are intrigued. They want to figure out what’s happening. Sometimes audiences of children will talk aloud at this point: “What’s she doing? How is she doing that?” but they quickly settle into a fascinated silence as the lamp characters (Gustavo and Ernesto) set up the backstory.

Belinda is stuck in the basement, preparing for a party that’s happening upstairs later on. She begins to recount the story of Cinderella, using a napkin with a napkin ring for Cinderella, an upside-down teapot for the Fairy Godmother, and a set of kitchen funnels for the stepfamily. She (and we) notice the parallels between the story of Cenicienta and Belinda’s own life, but it takes the duration of the show, and the unexpected opportunity to meet her hero, real-life poet Gary Soto, who’s upstairs at the party, for Belinda to gain the confidence to recognize her own self-worth in the world outside her imagination.

We’ve been touring this show to Austin-area campuses for the past year. I sit near the audience in the auditorium to run the sound cues, so I get to experience their youthful reaction to unbridled imagination being validated onstage. Their eyes get brighter. Their focus is intense, different from the glazed look children get when they are watching digital content. They are watching and listening, piecing together the story. Teachers and parents report to me that after the show, their kids start making up stories using brooms and straws and other objects they find around them. Kids who don’t speak Spanish experience the unique opportunity to follow along with the parts that are in Spanish, without being left out, because the action provides the links to understand what’s happening onstage. Tapping into their imaginations improves their ability to approach ideas with an open mind.


I still haven’t fixed the ceiling in my bedroom, but I also don’t avoid looking at it anymore. After all, my daughter finds it beautiful. She peers into the constellation of peeling drywall and sees a family of fish taking care of one another. I see the blooming artistry in her eyes, and I can’t remember why I disliked those patches in the first place.

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Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story, by Caroline Reck and Rupert Reyes, is being presented at the Sin Fronteras Festival at UT Austin January 23–24, 2019, and is currently available to tour to schools in the greater Austin area. For information on the Sin Fronteras festival, visit here. For information on bringing Cenicienta to your school, please visit here.


Caroline Reck

Walk and talk with your family in the free Marathon Kids summer challenge!

Heidi Gollub is familiar to many Alt Ed Austin readers as the founder and former editor-in-chief of Free Fun in Austin, the award-winning family website. Now Heidi has joined the Marathon Kids team, and she stopped by the blog to let us know about a cool summer program for building both connection and physical fitness with your kids.
 

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Hey, summer is a great time to connect with your kids! The days are longer, shadows shorter, and all of you have a chance to decompress from school and take a break. It’s the perfect opportunity to be with your family in new environments and in unique ways that you haven’t explored during the school year.

One way to get your kids talking is through exercise, and this summer Marathon Kids is helping families facilitate that through their FREE summer Walk and Talk challenge.

In schools all over the country, teachers are using social-emotional learning (SEL) tools to help raise kinder, more empathetic, more positive kids with fewer instances of depression and stress. SEL can improve achievement, and it also increases positive behaviors such as kindness, sharing, and empathy and improves attitudes toward school.

Marathon Kids Walk and Talk program, which is partnering with the TODAY Parenting team to reach more families, was created with that SEL connection in mind. The program is absolutely FREE and will help keep your kids active and engaged with you all summer!
 

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When parents register online, they’ll receive a link to two resources:

  • a set of conversation topics created by family physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa (each topic—26 in all—matches up with a mile of walking or running)
  • a special mileage log to track your progress

After 26(.2) miles, parent and child will have completed the equivalent of a full marathon and will have gotten to know each other a little better in the process.

The topics cover a broad range, from health, education, and friendship up through knock-knock jokes and dreams of travel. Dr. Gilboa wrote starter questions for each topic, which are appropriate for the youngest child all the way into the college years.

All are welcome to register for free here: MarathonKids.org/WalkandTalk


Heidi Gollub