05.27.16

It’s Not That I Hate Your School, It’s Just that I Like Mine Better

Posted in Monthly at 5:22 am by Pasha

By Pasha Holiday

There is a visceral, knee jerk reaction that happens to people when I tell them that I am founding a new school that opens in the fall; What’s so wrong with our schools that you need your own?

It is not that I hate public schools or that I think there is no need for public education. It is not that charter schools aren’t good enough for my guys. It is certainly not that our local private schools are faking freedom in the classroom at astronomical rates. It is not that I think homeschooling isn’t social enough. It is simply that our school will be better for at least one family and that is mine.

Our family fell into a preschool that changed us. Parents’ Community Preschool redefined what education looks like. The humble little school that touts free play as a curriculum, love as a tenet of life and respect for people big and small, changed how I saw my children learning.

In two short years, my oldest son, who is indeed very intelligent and competitive, became a skilled and passionate person. The two warm and gentle teachers have never told Decker that he could not learn about the wild animals that he adores, they never stopped the “Wild Kratt Crew” from running the playground and becoming animals in their imaginations. They never once told a child to stop getting dirty or hush them for that is not the “subject” the class is working on.

Yet he learned basic things a preschooler does. He writes his name and anything else he can get help spelling. He reads short books. He can craft, build, follow rules and play intricate games of skill. But more importantly, he now creates games, he leads groups, he respects his peers, and he knows more about animals and the wildlife kingdom than most highly educated adults do.

His friendships are deep. In the short two years, the Crew has learned to work together barely using words, they mastered climbing the best tree on the lot and be concerned for one another when days are missed.

It is exactly what a child’s’ first exposure to “education” should be.

So at the start of Decker’s second year I began to wonder, and then obsess over, why shouldn’t all of their education be like this?

Never shying away from the idea that if I want something that has yet to exist, then start it yourself, I went to work. I toyed with the idea of opening my own private school and a home-school drop-in business. But neither felt right for me as I am not an “educator” and my passion is not full time in the classroom. When I realized the exact model I wanted was the PCP model, the real work started.

I read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn and it confirmed that self-directed education and learning through play works for all ages. I called my oldest sister who owns a free school and asked endless questions and advice. I was inspired! Finally I did what I knew how to, I started a business.

Testing the market is simple, almost everyone thinks your idea is great until it is time to pony up the dough. And I had some of that. The first ten people I reached out to to cooperatively found a school never even emailed me back. It was like crickets in the snow.

Then I reached farther. I simply opened an online group, which a hundred plus people joined within days. But the next month would determine if this was a go-at-it-alone project or if I would have support. With my friend and founding visionary by my side we held meetings in the library and called upon our community to revolutionize educational freedom in Wilmington. With faith in the mission, a healthy education for all our kids, we quickly built a founding board of seven.

In the six months since the initial founders meeting, we have given Wilmington Cooperative School life. We have fully enrolled more than 30 students that have families backing them and committing to hard work that comes with building a school. We have a whole community that did not stand and say that they want a cookie cutter situation or that they won’t put in the many hours a cooperative school garners. Instead we overwhelmingly have had parents enroll their children knowing they can learn freely and where hard work means your kid can have the ideal education. We hired a teacher who shares our beliefs. We signed a lease on an old ranch home that sits on two city lots full of big climbing trees, space to run, learn in gardens and have a chicken coop.

And now we continue to work. Our founding board is a strong seven. I am building a business, piece by piece. And it is all coming together. Just like PCP did 40 years ago.

So while a cooperative, free-range, self-directed school is not for everyone, it gives so many families whom it is right for a chance to choose a better education. We are a family who wants to travel and see the world without truancy and neglect charges. I want to be involved in how my guys spend eight hours a day. I do not want to have my kids learn at home while I drive them to classes all around town, I want them to have a school community that they beg to go to every day. I do not want mounds of homework or tests that measure my kids against their peers. I want a portfolio that tracks unique growth. I don’t want my kids to learn from worksheets unless they want to.

I want my guys to run and spend the entire day in the sunshine if that’s what their bodies are telling them they need. I want healthful snacks and never sugary treats as a reward for behavior or fact memorization. I want to grow as a family with a community that respects our kids and believes in understanding their actions and emotions and helping them grow to adults who deal with the big stuff by finding support and solutions. I want an affordable private school. I want my kid to be able to study culture, geography and animals until he knows more than the greatest explorers out there.

I want WCS for my family.