New alternative education mobile app beta testing in Austin


We’re excited to help spread the word about a unique opportunity for Austin families to help beta test Journey of Heroes, a wonderful new app for learners of all ages. Founder Tory Gattis and the Journey of Heroes team join us on the blog to explain what it’s all about, how it works, and how you and your family can get started using it and sharing your feedback to help make JoH an even more useful resource.

A new mobile app to help families discover and co-create learning adventures for kids is launching with Austin as its very first beta test city, and we’d love to get your input on how we can make the app better fit your family’s needs. The app is called “Journey of Heroes,” based on Joseph Campbell’s classic “Hero’s Journey”. We believe that students should see themselves as the protagonists of their own life stories (see graphic), especially when it comes to their lifelong education. The app is designed as a platform to help learners discover their passions and develop their own unique talents while acquiring knowledge and valuable skills, especially 21st-century skills like collaborative problem solving, creative design thinking, and entrepreneurship. And we want to enable this in a fun environment with learning adventures instead of classes, heroes instead of students, and guides instead of teachers.

JoH_Heroes Journey PNG_1200.png

The app was inspired by Tinder and Bumble, except that instead of swiping through potential dating matches, we wanted parents to be able to swipe through potential learning experiences for their children whenever they have a few minutes of downtime with their phone. We also wanted to make it as easy as possible for families to connect with other families seeking similar learning experiences for their children.


As you can see in this screenshot, the app functions as a deck of cards, allowing parents to swipe through different existing adventures or potential ideas for new ones, looking for co-creators. Using the app, you can scroll through or search for different learning adventures available in your area, save and show interest in attending your favorites (which will give you notifications about them), post ideas for learning adventures you’d like to co-create with other families, or even offer your own learning adventures for other families to join.

The app was inspired by Workspace Education in Connecticut, where a colearning community of nearly a hundred families co-create learning adventures for their children in an amazing 32k sq.ft. building that includes makerspaces, science labs, classrooms, performance spaces, and just about every other kind of learning space you can imagine in an environment that feels like a high-tech company campus. (Learn more about colearning communities at 

The app should be available on both the Apple and Google Android app stores by the time you read this or possibly in the very near future depending on their approvals. If you don’t see it there yet, please don’t give up—check back often!

We’re really looking forward to collaborating closely with Austin’s alternative education community to shape the app before we release it to the world. This is your chance to affect the very earliest stages of what we hope will be a transformative platform in education. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions, feedback, or thoughts on new features; we’d love to hear from you at Also, if you know a good source of Austin learning adventures that should be in our app, please let us know! 

Sincerest thanks for your time, consideration, and support,
Tory, Cade, Eloragh, and the rest of the Journey of Heroes app team

Book review: From Home Education to Higher Education

From Home Education to Higher Education: A Guide for Recruiting, Assessing, and Supporting Homeschooled Applicants

by Lori Dunlap
(GHF Press, 2017)

Buy from an independent bookseller or Amazon.


By all accounts, homeschoolers tend to show up on campus as self-directed, self-motivated learners
who have a sense of ownership and personal responsibility for their learning and their lives.

—Lori Dunlap

Lori Dunlap’s enlightening and important new book is clearly aimed at two distinct but related audiences: (a) college admissions officers who want to better understand homeschooled applicants and (b) homeschooling families who want to be well prepared and positioned for college admissions. I would suggest that there are at least two more audiences that could benefit from reading this book: (c) families of students who have attended small, alternative (and perhaps unaccredited) private schools that do not produce conventional transcripts and (d) guidance counselors and administrators who work at those same alternative schools and want to help their decidedly nontraditional students find success in the traditional college admissions system.


Dunlap is an education and career adviser at Teach Your Own near Portland, Oregon. She has served as a career development program director, adjunct faculty member, and admissions committee member at Arizona State University. The book is informed by her professional experience in admissions; her personal background as a homeschooling parent; her analysis of multiple scholarly studies of homeschooled and unschooled students’ outcomes as college applicants, students, and graduates; and her own research, including recent surveys she conducted of both college admissions officers and homeschooling families.

Published last summer, the book begins with a straight-talking overview of contemporary homeschooling and homeschoolers. The author explains that there are as many approaches to homeschooling as there are homeschoolers, and she describes a continuum, from highly structured (also known as “school at home”) to unstructured (best known as “unschooling”), with most practitioners falling somewhere in the middle as “eclectic” homeschoolers.

Dunlap goes on to examine and debunk the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers:

  • Homeschooled children are unsocialized.
  • Homeschoolers are religious.
  • Only wealthy families can homeschool.
  • Parents cannot teach better than licensed teachers.

She also discusses the most obvious reasons for, as well as some likely underlying causes of, the rapid growth of secular (nonreligious) homeschooling in the United States. Paramount among these is dissatisfaction with the quality (and, with the rise of high-stakes standardized testing, the quantity) of meaningful learning experiences in public schools.

One category where homeschoolers tended to outperform their [college] peers
from other schooling backgrounds was campus leadership—homeschoolers were
significantly more involved in leadership positions for longer periods of time.

—Kunzman & Gaither 2013, “Homeschooling: A Comprehensive Survey of the Research”
(quoted in Dunlap)

The book distills the findings of numerous studies that show homeschoolers to be just as successful in college “across all measures of success” as their conventionally schooled peers—and in some measures, such as leadership, even more so. This data is echoed in survey responses from admissions officers and administrators at colleges and universities small and large, public and private, including Ivy League and other highly selective schools.

These kids are the epitome of Brown students. They’ve learned to be self-directed,
they take risks, they face challenges with total fervor, and they don’t back off.

—Joyce Reed, Associate Dean, Brown University

Dunlap presents a set of “Common and Best Practices” derived from a series of interviews the author conducted with admissions professionals at a wide variety of colleges and universities in 2016. One of these recommended practices is the portfolio submission option, which is gaining in popularity for all types of students because it allows them to present a more robust picture of their abilities and accomplishments than the cold, hard numbers of test scores and GPAs.

The final chapter turns those best practices into actionable recommendations for admissions professionals. Dunlap’s suggestions include expanding admissions websites to include specific (and welcoming) instructions for homeschooled applicants, thoroughly educating admissions staff about the college’s policies and procedures for homeschoolers, designating a staff homeschool specialist, providing an online transcript template, and many more good ideas. The book’s appendices provide more details about Dunlap’s survey process and lists of helpful resources for both college admissions staff and college-bound homeschoolers and their families.

A personal note: This book couldn’t have landed on my desk at a better time for my family. As a parent of an alt-schooled senior in the thick of college applications, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to soak up Lori Dunlap’s insights. As an educational consultant, I look forward to displaying From Home Education to Higher Education prominently on my office bookshelf and recommending it to my clients.

Teri Sperry

Austin Yawp!: A welcoming new learning community where families connect

A new unschooling and peaceful parenting space called Austin Yawp! has emerged in the past few months, so I decided to grab the opportunity to learn more about it by talking with Hannah Ford, one of Yawp!’s founders. Although unschooling has been around as an alternative education option at least since the 1970s, the concept is new to me (but not to my sister and Alt Ed Austin founder Teri), so I began by asking about some basics.

What exactly is unschooling? Hannah explains that unschoolers allow kids to learn naturally, without an imposed curriculum. “You work together as a family, and kids are empowered to make choices just like adults are able to make choices. We respect children, and we trust them.” She says that it’s a little crazy that the world believes everyone needs a piece of paper and test scores to prove they are learning, when learning is such a fundamental, natural process.

But unschooling is not exactly “child-led” as people sometimes describe it. “The child is not always leading, because that would presume the child knows all that’s available. What we’re doing is looking for sparks of passion, and feeding them. We’re constantly watching to see what kids are excited about. ‘Strewing’ is a good term. You look for what makes a kid’s eyes light up, and help them find information—books, people, museums—and let them go as far as they want to. If your children are interested in fish, you follow the fish as long as they want to!”

Hannah emphasizes that although she favors unschooling, Yawp! welcomes families pursuing a whole variety of approaches to learning, including various forms of homeschooling, alternative schooling, and even public school.

“We’ve been reassuring people that there is no test. If you’re interested in peaceful parenting and trusting and respecting children, we want to hear what you have to say. We want to be inclusive of a variety of philosophies. When you come here, you’re acknowledging respect for what we’re doing, respect for all the other families.”

Unschooling is still an uncommon choice, which can be isolating. Hannah saw that families needed a way to combat that isolation, and that’s how Austin Yawp! was born. “I feel like not only are families connecting with each other through Yawp!, but they’re also deepening family relationships. We have some kids who previously weren’t that comfortable in social settings, but here there’s a space where the vibe is welcoming to everyone, and that allows for connections and friendships.”

“And it’s really nice to meet other families on neutral ground, where no one has to worry about tidying up the house, and there’s no one hushing you, as you might have at a library or coffee shop,” says Hannah.

A typical day at Yawp! includes some planned events as well as open drop-in hours when families can meet to pursue any activity that interests them. Kids have met up for Minecraft, to create elaborate cardboard houses, and to play with DIY light sabers. The space has also hosted Raising Resisters, a parent discussion group that focuses on anti-oppressive parenting and education tactics.

Yawp! currently operates in a small space in the Mueller neighborhood, and they are planning to expand to a second location that will offer more room and a better outdoor play space. Watch their Facebook page for more details and information about upcoming events. And to learn more about activities, visiting, and the member agreement, check out the Austin Yawp! website.

Shelley Sperry

Homeschooling: Where to begin?

In her second guest post for Alt Ed Austin, Pamela Nicholas, founder of the tutoring, assessment, and project based learning center PEBBLES, shares a few thoughts on how to start homeschooling in relaxed and joyful ways. Feel free to add your own suggestions or ask Pam a question in the comments below.

As I peruse the many homeschooling social media groups, I keep seeing parents who are just embarking on the journey of homeschooling and don’t know where to begin. With the multitude of curriculum options out there, it can be extremely daunting to know which to choose for our own families. I know, as a parent and teacher, that we just don’t want to mess up, EVER, with something as important as our children’s education.

I wish I could tell all of these parents to take a step back and breathe. It’s okay that there will be trial and error, and more trial and error, but eventually they will find their way through it.

I also think that it’s critical to let a child be an active participant in the process. Listing out and discussing learning goals with a child is the first step. Once he or she knows what needs to be accomplished, provide some choices on how to get there. A child who is given a choice in how to learn something will be more invested in it.

When I say “Give children a choice,” I don't mean that they should get to pick and choose what to learn and what not to. I think there has to be a balance. A child still needs to learn things that he or she isn't always going to be highly interested in, at first, so the choice will be in how to learn it. For example, in learning to write, at the beginning it could be simple choices like writing letters with a paper and pencil vs. writing in dish soap or perhaps with “invisible ink.”

Parents and their kids can brainstorm ways together that could turn something that may at first seem like drudgery into something that could be quite fun. It won't always turn out perfectly, but it will be a beautiful partnership where everyone can take ownership in their own learning!

Pamela Nicholas

Giveaway: Class Dismissed, a provocative new documentary

The Austin homeschooling and unschooling communities have been abuzz this week in anticipation of next week’s screening of “that homeschooling movie,” also known as Class Dismissed. I’m excited to see the film—and to offer Alt Ed Austin readers a chance to win a pair of tickets! Read below about director/producer Jeremy Stuart’s documentary about one California family’s decision to take their kids’ education into their own hands, and find out how to enter our drawing.

The makers of Class Dismissed point out that we live in a time when education is under siege from every angle: overtesting, underfunding, teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, increasing rates of depression and anxiety among students. Readers of this blog are well aware of these issues, and many are seeking solutions. In response to such grim news, parents in Austin and throughout the country are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the state of public education, and a growing number are choosing to pull their children out of school to seek alternative ways to educate them.

Class Dismissed asks some big questions:

  • What does it mean to be educated in the 21st century?
  • Is it possible to get an education without attending school?
  • Can learning outside of the classroom really provide a nurturing and educationally rich experience in which children can grow and blossom?

According to the filmmakers, Class Dismissed “challenges viewers to take a fresh look at what it means to be educated and offers up a radical new way of thinking about the process of education.” Check out this brief trailer:

The documentary is showing in Austin for one night only: Tuesday, April 7, 6:30pm, at the Galaxy Highland. Buy your tickets here. But first, enter our giveaway below for a pair of free passes! You have several ways to enter, for up to 6 entries per person. The winner of our random drawing will be announced on Sunday, April 5.

Good luck, and check back Sunday morning here on the blog or on Alt Ed Austin’s Twitter or Facebook page to find out the winner. See you on Tuesday at the movies!

UPDATE: Congratulations to our winner, Cynthia J.! And thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. There are still some seats available for the Tuesday screening as of this morning, so I hope to see you there!

Get out of the way!

Our latest guest post, which describes an “aha moment” that took place at Terra Luz Co-op, is a collaborative effort by Michelle Foreman, the parent-assistant on rotation during that time, and Andrea Gaudin Triche, the program’s cofounder and teaching guide. An earlier version of this article first appeared on the Terra Luz blog.

Michelle begins:

My time at the schoolhouse has always been inspiring. Who wouldn’t be inspired in that creative environment, immersed in love? However, today things happened on a whole new level, and I caught a glimpse of how wonderfully amazing learning can be.

After spending too much time last night researching uninspired, tired old Thanksgiving crafts, I narrowed it down to a couple of options. I presented my “exciting” idea to the first group, who were apathetic at best but compliant nonetheless. And I am pretty certain that a few “important” things were learned as we talked about the cornucopia and made collages of the different foods served at Thanksgiving meals past and present. The next go-around, I offered this project and was met with the same unenthusiastic response from the second group of kids. I said “OK, then what do you want to do?” Almost immediately, the kids started throwing out ideas. Here is my perspective on what transpired.

Alaira invented a new crocheting technique using toothpicks and yarn, which she taught to Sophia and Lola, who then used it to make clothes like the pilgrims wore. I took that opportunity to introduce the book A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, showing and reading to them a few pages about the work the pilgrims had to do, clothes they wore, etc. We chatted about how many clothes were in our girls’ closets at home today and the quantity of clothes they thought the Pilgrim girls had. We talked about having to make each piece of clothing by hand with limited materials vs. going to the store to choose from among hundreds of options.

Lola, who had discovered the sewing boxes the day before, quickly chose to work with those materials again. She threaded the needles, and I showed her how to double the thread and tie a knot. Then we pulled out the buttons and she began to sew them on. She kept building on her idea with more excitement as each new thought popped up in her head: making a gingerbread girl out of felt, then sewing it onto another felt piece that she decorated with buttons. She could not find the brown felt she wanted, so she decided to color the gray piece brown (very resourceful).

Sophia was soon engaged in the minute details of making a ballerina doll with felt and markers, feathers and pipe cleaners. Liam, pretty much uninterested in the clothes and doll making, was watching Alaira with the toothpicks and started tinkering with them. I offered a few suggestions of items he could make that related to the Thanksgiving story, and his eyes showed a glint of interest when I suggested a boat. So a boat it was; the Mayflower was what I called it, after the one on which the first pilgrims came over from England. He then got out the corks and I watched him become completely engaged in building, using toothpicks, corks, and tape—and more tape.

Then everyone thought tape was a good tool for all of the various projects. So I bit my tongue and let the roll dwindle down, though I did try to suggest glue a couple of times. Gavin saw Liam’s design and decided to begin building his own creation with corks and toothpicks.

Damon came over and watched for a couple of minutes; then he turned around and pulled out the popsicle sticks and started toying with them. “Hey!” I said, “That reminds me of the houses the Pilgrims had to build.” “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking!” he said excitedly, with a big smile and bright eyes— nothing at all like the glazed-over look in the eyes of the kids (my own included) who were following my chosen project of the Thanksgiving collage a little while earlier. So I got out a few other books, including A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy, and turned to pages that showed the houses that were built out of planks they brought from England and rough wood from chopped trees and topped with thatched roofs.

All of this took place in the Atelier, around the light table. While I sat on a stool casually mentioning things about the first Thanksgiving and how it related to what they were each working on, five girls and three boys stood around the table—completely, effortlessly, and passionately engaged in their chosen work. The table was stocked full of felt, pipe cleaners, markers, feathers, corks, toothpicks, construction paper, sewing kits, glue, scissors, yarn, popsicle sticks, and tape. The Zen of learning unfolded before my eyes.

Creative thinking, problem solving, geometry, measurement, math, art, cooperation, sharing, turn taking, community, support, fine motor coordination, history, listening, pride, and accomplishment were all at that table. There was no fighting or resistance, even with only one roll of tape! They were working individually and simultaneously—yet together on a higher level of creative energy flowing easily around the room. One idea would pop up and inspire another, then another. The children took short breaks to look up from their work, just long enough to see a friend’s project, make a contribution to the Thanksgiving conversation, or show me or their friends how awesome what they were doing was.

And it was.

Andrea adds:

Yes. Give them what they need to thrive, and then get out of their way. Our role as parents and educators is to be there to offer support, but not to do it for them.

Whether your children are learning in a traditional school setting, at home, or in a co-op or hybrid program, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on the book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert, read it, and try implementing some of these things at home. Project-based learning doesnt have to be all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be your entire curriculum (although it could be), so if you’re a structured Latin-loving Classicist or a relaxed unschooler, project-based learning can still be brought in. It should be. Carve out time for your children to do self-chosen project time. Your children will thank you!

Michelle Foreman and Andrea Gaudin Triche