What’s new in Austin’s alternative education community?

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Here’s a brief roundup of some of the latest developments in the local alt ed scene as the 20192020 school year gets underway. Kudos to all the educators who have been working hard all summer to better serve each member of their learning communities.


Apple Blossom Center for Discovery and Gantry Academy have joined forces in Leander to offer a number of options to serve students in the community. They are launching homeschool enrichment days (Wednesday afternoons and Friday all day) with activities including Sportsball athletics, cooking, art, music, STEAM, entrepreneurship, and more. Options range from $100 to $300 per month.

Ascent is the latest Acton Academy to launch in the Austin area. Founders Janita Lavani and Samantha Jansky are some of the most experienced Acton guides and curriculum creators anywhere. They spent the summer acquiring and beautifully renovating the campus at 5701 Cameron Road to create both the Spark Studio for ages 4–6 and the Elementary Studio for ages 7–11, where the school year begins right after Labor Day.

Clearview Sudbury School recently added a music room to its campus and a new staff member, Rose Hardesty, Clearview’s first to have graduated from a Sudbury school. This fall, Clearview will celebrate its 10th anniversary by bringing in Jim Rietmulder, the author of When Kids Rule the School and a nationally recognized expert on self-directed democratic schools, for a talk on Friday, November 15, at 6pm.

Huntington-Surrey School has moved to a new location in north-central Austin: 4700 Grover Avenue. The school has served high school students since 1971 and has now expanded its programs to work with exceptional 7th and 8th graders, either part-time or full-time.

Julia’s Garden Montessori is launching its elementary program, called Taller, based on the Scottish national Curriculum for Excellence. The school’s staff has grown this summer to include new administrative, wellness, and education specialist roles to meet the needs of all learners, from the toddler stage through 9 years of age. It is currently in the home stretch of the accreditation process with the International Council for Accrediting Relationship-based Education (ICARE).

Progress School has renovated and moved its classrooms into a larger building on the same campus to better accommodate its growing enrollment. Learners will be grouped into three rather than two multi-age classes. Progress is currently working with ICARE toward accreditation as a relationship-based education school.

Austin alt schools are expanding and diversifying


“Spring is the time of plans and projects,” said Leo Tolstoy. Or maybe it was Martha Stewart? In any case, plans and projects are happening at many of Austin’s alternative schools right now, and we’re excited to share them with you. Here’s a roundup of major changes happening in the near future at Austin-area schools. For more information about any program, check the school’s website or give them a call.

This summer the Whole Life Learning Center is building a new math and music classroom indoors and adding new playground equipment outdoors for kids who want to climb and spin.

Are you in need of an enrichment class for a child 5 to 10 years old? Terra Luz Community School's Karen Hernandez soon will welcome Terra Luz students as well as homeschooled kids to a new class on Fridays. The school is also expecting a new teacher to join the team in the fall.

Radicle Roots Community Schoolhouse is adding a class for 5th graders next year. If you’re interested, apply via their website as soon as possible. In addition to new students, RRCS will welcome a new teacher to replace 3rd–5th grade teacher Aaron Goldman, who is heading to Baltimore to study for an MFA. Everyone wishes Aaron all the best as he pursues his dreams.

New adventures are on the horizon at Progress School. Starting this fall, Progress will offer a three-day program focused on interdisciplinary, project-based learning for kids 11 to 13 years old. The program is all about collaboration and relationships and is designed around student interests. Portfolios will allow for self-assessment and sharing learning with others.

As of August 2015, Integrity Academy will expand to include 11- to 13-year-olds in Level 5.

The folks at Inside Outside School have chosen “May the Forces Be With You,” as their theme for the coming school year. During the summer kids will be helping with the school’s CSA and participating in the farmer’s market.

Is your child a maker and an artist at heart? Creative Side Jewelry Academy is now serving students aged 10 to15 years old and starting a new after-school program in the fall. The school’s curriculum is expanding to include bronze and silver casting techniques for Summer Apprenticeships and Jewelry Biz for their Kidz Homeschool program.

Clearview Sudbury School is growing—with 40 percent more space, more students, and more diverse activities. Clearview’s tech offerings are expanding, too. Through a grant from V M Ware, the school is adding a new virtual machine server, which will give school members access to powerful new computing resources on their laptops and tablets or through the school’s own clients. Students will be trained as administrators of the new system, which will include software environments for video, image, and music editing; animation; scientific computing; and even Minecraft.

Shelley Sperry

My school is my chalkboard

Guest contributor Peter Hobbs is a cofounder and teacher at Progress School, a relationship-based learning community in Central Austin where work and play nurture whole child development. The school is currently enrolling students five to ten years old and now offers options to attend one or two days per week in addition to its three-to-five-days-per-week program. Progress School is hosting an open house on Saturday, August 9, from 10 a.m. to noon.

 

 

I remember cleaning erasers and chalkboards in elementary school. Every student had a turn. You’d have to take the erasers outside. When you clapped them together just right it would make quite a bang. If you got too excited you just might end up with a face full of chalk dust. After you were done with the erasers, you’d go back inside, fill a bucket with water, and soak a big yellow sponge.

It was on a Friday, I think, that the chalkboards would get cleaned, so there was a week’s worth of writing and erasing. With the wet sponge you’d wipe the entire board clean. I remember starting at the top from one end and making columns. Up and down, up and down, up and down, like the Karate Kid. If you weren’t too careful or went too fast you’d lose the sponge and maybe even catch a fingernail on the board. Arghhhhhh!!! Column after column, the chalkboard would become a dark glistening green, only to slowly dry and dissolve into a dull blank board, awaiting another week of spelling words, random sentences, math facts, lists, rules, names, diagrams.

I didn’t know or even imagine back then that I would become a teacher myself someday. Perhaps watching a teacher stand in front of a chalkboard all day wasn’t very inspiring (I can’t even remember her name). Maybe it wasn’t a profession that was really encouraged or sincerely valued, in spite of the lip service paid to the importance of teachers in our society. And yet, I am a teacher. I don’t, however, stand in front of a chalkboard (or a dry-erase board for that matter) all day. I teach at Progress School, where, I like to think, we put a little more “progress” into progressive education.

At Progress School, the entire school is my chalkboard.

Schools have changed since the days when you would see chalkboards in every classroom and the desks were arranged into a uniform grid. Resources have improved in quality, seating arrangements have broken classes into groups or stations, and curricula have identified additional skills and knowledge that are deemed essential for every student’s comprehension. But there is a fundamental difference between change and progress where education is concerned. Change is often static and superficial. Progress is living and evolving. Teachers can change the design of a classroom (provided they have the permission of the administration), but how does education progress beyond what we expect from a school? How could education evolve if teachers and schools had the freedom to live the innovation they aspire to create?

At Progress School I have the freedom to teach because our students have the freedom to learn. We have designed our school so as to allow children to learn wherever, however, and whenever their innate desire to learn takes them. What our students find is that you don’t just go to school to learn some stuff like math and how to read and spell; you learn how to learn. Moreover, you learn that reading, writing, and arithmetic are only as important as the relationships in your life that allow you to share and use the knowledge you gain.

When you go to Progress School, you don’t learn just from teachers, but from everyone around you. You don’t just learn in class and have fun at recess; you learn that learning happens everywhere and all the time (yes, even when you’re playing):

  • At Progress School learning happens when you’re snuggled up with a teacher on the couch with a lap full of books you chose to be read (even if it’s the same one three times in a row).
  • Learning happens when you can go outside whenever you want (except when there’s lightning!), because you just have to run, and you find a 100-foot-long ruler chalked on the basketball court, and you run 5, 10, 15, 20, 50, 100 feet five times, which means you ran 500 feet! Water break!
  • Learning happens when you want to build a plane in the woodshop, but first you need the A encyclopedia for airplane, and then you need to choose what kind of plane you want to build, and then you find a piece of wood, and then you measure how long the wings should be, and then you get a ruler and draw a line, and then you get a saw, and then you hear “Capture the Flag! Who wants to play Capture the Flag?” and then maybe you work more later, or tomorrow, or next week.
  • Learning happens when you’re inside helping me measure vinegar for a science experiment this afternoon and you decide to write signs to put up all over the school inviting everyone else to come if they want to come, at what time, and how do you spell today?
  • Learning happens when you and a friend are bored and decide to get out a puzzle and put it together, but when there’s one last piece, you both want to finish the puzzle, and you start to argue, and it’s not fair, and—hey, why don’t we do another puzzle and I can put the last piece in for that one? Yeah!

And all this could happen in a single hour of a single day at Progress School. Because our students have the freedom to move throughout the school and choose what activities or projects they want to participate in or initiate on their own, I am teaching all the time.

  • When I have prepared a game about nouns and maybe just one or maybe six students give it a try, I am teaching—even when we turn the game into noun tag and have to go outside.
  • When I’ve started a project about sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks and one student asks if he can trace the labels I’ve written in marker and another wants to weigh the different groups to see which is heaviest, I am teaching.
  • When I am pushing a student on the swing and we’re talking about why Halloween is the best holiday ever, I am teaching.
  • When I am helping a student design his own board game and we count the spaces for landing on a square that doubles your roll, I am teaching.
  • When a little girl is curled up in a ball crying because her friend said her picture was dumb and I quietly sit next to her and ask if she would like to help me draw a really dumb picture (maybe a dog wearing a tutu and flying a kite underwater while a shark is playing the piano) and she slowly lifts her head, sniffs, and smiles, I am teaching.

Teaching is challenging in any school. As a teacher at Progress School, the challenge for me isn’t getting my students to complete a worksheet, turn in their homework on time, or achieve a specific learning outcome during a compulsory activity. My challenge—my lesson, in fact—is finding learning in every moment of a child’s day, whether it be in a book, with a pencil on paper, during a game, from a conflict or a joke, in a box with a fox, or with a friend or a teacher.

My school is my chalkboard. Every day we start with a clean, blank surface and end with a work of art.

Peter Hobbs

Movers and shakers

Austin’s alt ed community has seen lots of movin’ and shakin’ this summer. Here’s a roundup, in no particular order, of some changes you should know about as you're looking for schooling options for your kiddos.

A new school serving ages 3 to 103 is forming in Central Austin, just south of the river: Integrity Academy at Casa de Luz, Center for Integral Studies. Led by executive director Ali Ronder, formerly of AHB Community School, and founder Eduardo “Wayo” Longoria, the school is currently enrolling (and hiring!) for the 2014–2015 school year. You can help shape the school’s future or just enjoy a stimulating discussion about how humans learn by attending one of Integrity’s weekly salons.

Taking over the helm at AHB is M. Scott Tatum, who brings a wealth of experience in arts education, administration, and integration. Meet Scott and learn what makes this part-time elementary school in Hyde Park special by watching its new series of short videos.

Bronze Doors Academy has a new campus and a new name. According to director and chief motivator Ariel Dochstader Miller, Skybridge Academy will continue the same liberal arts college–like program for junior high and high school students for which Bronze Doors was known, but with some additional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) opportunities made possible by its new location at the Stunt Ranch in Southwest Austin. As always, both full-time and à la carte options are available.

Accompanying Skybridge in the move to Oak Hill is its elementary school partner, the Soleil School. Cofounder and head of school Carly Borders says the new location on the Stunt Ranch will give her young students access to a ropes course, a pool, and more than 20 acres of beautiful land to explore.

Another unique school on the move this summer is Acton Academy. Construction on its permanent home on Alexander Avenue in East Austin is nearly complete. Laura Sandefer, Acton’s cofounder and head of school, invites you to check it out at the open house on October 24; meanwhile, take a peek at this architect’s rendering. It looks plenty big to house the academy’s current elementary and middle school students as well as the high school program slated to open in 2016.

The Olive Tree Learning Center, a Reggio Emilia–inspired preschool, recently opened its second campus, at 6609 Manchaca Road, near Garrison Park. Like the original Bouldin Creek campus, the new one is currently enrolling children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years. Director Michelle Mattalino says she is “very proud of the staff at both locations” and excited to fill the beautiful campuses with happy children.

Mariposa Montessori is also opening a second campus in South Austin. It will house this American Montessori Society full-member school’s new Lower Elementary program. Head of School Whitney Falcon recently reported that there were a few spots open for fall enrollment.

Progress School is expanding this fall to serve kindergarten through 5th grade. Located in Hyde Park, Progress offers “authentic education for natural learners,” with full- and part-time options as well as an after-school program. More exciting news from director Jennifer Hobbs: “We're getting chickens!”

Likewise, the Inside Outside School has expanded to serve kindergarten through 6th grade this fall, says executive director Deborah Hale. Its current enrollment of 24 will make up three classes—primary, intermediate, and upper elementary—on the school’s seven wooded acres in Pflugerville.

9th Street Schoolhouse is growing, too. The East Side home-based school will serve ages 5 through 9 this fall, with 8 students currently enrolled. 9th Street now has two mentors: founder Caitlin Macklin and Laura Ruiz.

Finally, the Whole Life Learning Center is rolling out a new nature-based one-day program called Mother Earth Mondays, which fosters a connection with the earth through gardening, wilderness survival skills, arts and crafts, games, and other fun activities with mentors Braden Delonay, Caroline Riley Carberry, and Leesalyn Koehler. In addition, director and founder Michael Carberry says he is excited to introduce the newest mentors for the Teen Mentorship Program, Kizzie, Etienne, and Adam, whose bios will soon be posted on the WLLC website alongside those of the school’s veteran staff.

Any questions or comments for these movers and shakers? Feel free to leave them below.

Teri

Building meaningful education

Not many schools have wood shops these days, and it’s even rarer to find one populated by elementary school chldren. When I asked Jennifer Hobbs, who directs the Progress School in Central Austin, to explain why the wood shop is an important part of the learning environment there, she responded with this lovely guest post.

This crutch is an example of the Progress School students’ handiwork.

I love our whole school, but one of our most magical spaces is the wood shop. An open-air building, workbenches, shelves, cabinets. Hammers, saws, drills. Sandpaper, nails, glue. Brushes, canvases, paint. Books, paper, wood. The possibilities are as endless as the imagination of a child.  

We’ve made tables, chairs, cars, planes, castles, crutches, boxes, shields, birdhouses, bathouses, dollhouses, sculptures, board games—the list could take up the rest of this post.

Why build? Many skills are developed in wood shop projects: planning, problem solving, measuring, geometry, fine motor, hand-eye coordination, and so on. But one of the most important reasons to build is that the experience of building is so empowering. An idea, just a seed in your mind, taking root in schematics, then blossoming into form—you can touch it and use it and it works! It is more than an idea now, it is something solid and real, and you made it! The satisfaction from such an experience is worth more than gold stars and good grades.

This is meaningful education.

It starts with the student. She is playing a game, pretending her leg is broken, and she needs crutches! Another student learned about gladiators, and he must make a shield! And another loves the birds, so we make birdhouses!

It is nurtured by experiences. We found some pieces of pecan wood while taking a walk—what can we make with it? We visited an art exhibit—what kinds of sculptures can we make?

It inspires new growth. The skills from the last project will most certainly be useful in future projects. Whenever we finish a project, there’s a sense that we are really just beginning, always with the thought, “What’s next?”

So what do you want to build?

Jennifer L. Hobbs