Last Camp Hurrah


We camped in our tent three times in California and we’ve been trying to find camp sites since then but it was too cold heading north and when we finally reached the east coast, the camp sites in the area still closed.  We’re on our last weeks in New York and the weather has settled into a comfortable spring nearing summer so we resolved to search for a place and found the perfect one in Beaver Pond Campground at the Harriman State Park not too far from the city.  We also wanted to maximize our last days with Eve, our Chevy Avalanche who has served our family so well these past three months through almost 10,000 miles of adventure.  Parting with the best vehicle we have ever had would be quite difficult so we wanted a last hurrah with her and celebrate the outdoors.

NYC was too much city for Jason who preferred the empty roads through stretches of land and mountains, and the forest of trees rather than the canyons of buildings.  In Beaver Pond, we biked, pitched our tent, cooked corn and sweet potatoes over the bonfire, followed the water from a dam rushing down through rocks and had a stretch of beach all to ourselves because it was just a few days shy of Memorial Day weekend so the summer revelers weren’t out in full force yet.


Before we found Beaver Pond, we got caught in a whole day of rain so we took shelter at the Stony Point Center, a multi-faith retreat and conference center that was such an amazing find thanks to a bad, smelly motel that turned us off and led us to find accommodation elsewhere.   Stony Point Center had a meditation room surrounded by trees and deer romped on the grass, chewed on the leaves, stopped and stared at you. The reviews of the place were also accurate because we were able to confirm that the food they served in the canteen was really quite good, much better than the ones we’ve been having in some restaurants.

The first time we went up Bear Mountain State Park, it was pouring so we went back the next day when the skies cleared and the sun opened the curtains so that we may be mesmerized by this green expanse which with eagle eyes, we could fly over.

Before driving up to the Bear Mountain peak, we stopped by and biked through the Iona Island right at its foot, in the middle of Hudson River — marshland and moss, a bird sanctuary to boot.

So what a way to go and celebrate our last days with Eve in gardens of Eden we keep discovering one after another, within our reach right here on earth.




Lithe as a Squirrel or Just Nuts


Because of our shared mountaineering background — it was Acela who introduced me to AMCI, the adults enjoyed the Adventure Park to the hilt as much or degrees perhaps a teeny bit greater than their sons.  It was more technical than we expected — the clip on, clip off made me nervous if I’ll ever get the hang of it but after practicing several times, you do get a knack of it enough to simply enjoy the experience of walking on cables and barely there bridges at different heights within a lush forest studded with these man made adrenaline-pumping structures designed to blend in beautifully with nature while giving humans that tree-dwelling, I’m-as-lithe-as-a squirrel feeling.

Except for the clipping mechanism which was a cleverly conceptualized providing utmost safety, everything at the start was a walk in the park.  Then it got more challenging towards the end and I was gripped with fear on the sled that had to be pulled and wobbled, screamed to the end.  Joshua was a natural on the hanging sled because it was like surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding in the air across the trees.

I’m putting in a lot of pictures to show Laksmi.  Maybe we can do something like this at the Gopala Learning Haven.  Jason would love to work on a project like this.

Check out the Adventure Park at Long Island!



Soul Saving Grace


I don’t know if they can appreciate the grandness of it all at their age – this massive piece of gorgeous park in the middle of a dense concentration of skyscrapers, giving sanity to the madness of concrete, glass and steel but it’s enough that they enjoy the playgrounds, boulders, grass and the bike ride that took us from the Museum of Natural History where parking was a bargain all the way to the south corner of the park to the reservoir and to northernmost portion and back to the parking lot which cost us $34 but would easily have cost double in other places so it was very much worth it lugging our own bikes on our pick-up truck to this magnificent model of urban design, urban recreation, urban soul-saving grace and generosity of Central Park.   How did five-year old Jimmy manage to complete the round?   Lots of breaks and bribes of hotdog, ice cream and telling him we’re almost there.



AERO’s Hero

Jerry Mintz is one of the icons of the non-traditional education world having founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) in 1989 and having held AERO Conferences for the past twelve years, thus nurturing an international network of passionate change agents.   After visiting fourteen schools and learning centers of varying degrees of progressiveness and radicalism, I felt the pilgrimage to Jerry’s home was a fitting culmination, a mini-graduation of sorts even if I still had one last learning co-op in Princeton to check out.

More than being a fountain of wisdom and experience from being a school principal for seventeen years and running his own catalytic organization, Jerry is simply a guy who loves people.  His home is abuzz with folks, young and old, and he is more than willing to share his love for table tennis with anyone who cares to try like my son, Joshua.   Two people from mainland China coincidentally came that day we visited and they ended up chatting with Jason and showing off their ping pong prowess.  Jerry has a knack for teaching ping pong and if I could place my kids in his homeschool twice a week together, I would knowing what an encouraging and generous guy he is.

Jerry brings out a foldable ping pong table and turns on the robot and Joshua practices with complete glee.   Jerry unfurls a roll of cardboard to cleverly contain the orange balls so they’d be easier to pick up.  Weaving in and out of the rooms, Jimmy plays with a fellow Paw Patrol devotee and monkey bar strongman like him.

Jerry’s place is a treasure trove for alt-ed pilgrims like me itching to find books.   I thought I’d be able to get some books from the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham but they told me to just purchase online.  Seeing Jerry’s bookshelves was a dream come true for me.  I wish Donna, my partner in “ed crime,” was there to choose books and listen to Jerry share stories about his involvement in various efforts around America and the world.

The serendipity as we connect dots in this trip amazes me.  Donna and I met Adler Yang and watched his film, “If There is a Reason to Study” about the condition of Taiwanese education during the APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) last year. Jerry tells me that Adler is expected to arrive in New York end of the month and we could probably meet up again in AERO.

A woman from Ukraine calls Jerry up asking about some alternative schools they plan to visit.  They are also doing a cross-country trip like us while researching about education. When I visit the Agile Learning Center (ALC) a few days after, folks at the ALC tell me the Ukrainians were there a few days before.  The visitors wanted to learn about new methodologies to apply to their school.

Jerry talks about his observations about Sudbury Schools and new models like ALC.   I tell him about the opportunity in the Philippines waiting for me to be part of the Gopala Learning Haven, a center for homeschoolers with an idyllic setting amidst nature.  It’s a difficult decision for me to make because although I want to participate in this process I’ve been researching about and dreaming of, life in China still holds its attraction because things are way, way simpler and less problematic there.   Jerry suggests, maybe we can have a trial period in the Philippines and make no long-term commitments first.

Being a part of this movement, this web is quite exciting and to think it all started over a year ago out of discontent with the education system in China.  Many people’s starting point may be that — a bubbling discontent that pushes issues to the surface to be addressed.  The challenge is what do we do about it in concrete terms that deliver, as Ghandi said, “the change we want to see.”



New York Shorts (or Blog Bottleneck)


Five blog entries behind so need to make another shortcut, breeze by, fast forward through days relished to maximum capacity — reunions with sister, nephew, cousins, aunts, friends from mountaineering days, friends from high school days.

Abigail guided us up the dam and later showed us how to do stop-motion animation with her phone and Minecraft figures.  We are able to meet up with Denise and Basti who were doing a rock and rolling tour of west and east coast universities.

Every few years or so we meet up to remind each other how good life truly is.

Thanks to Ninang Lin, we got to see the fantastic Lion King and be mesmerized by the extreme concentration of creativity and talent in this tiny island of Manhattan.

We enjoyed the outdoors with my friend who introduced me to the art of mountain climbing.

And it’s finally real that this trip is coming to its end.  We found a buyer for our beloved pickup.  Just as we planned, we bought it in San Francisco and we’re selling it in New York.

Jimmy celebrated his fifth birthday with Gambel, Jun, GJ and Kara at Medieval Times, full volume cheering the jousters on.


Tinkering at Last


After watching Gever Tully’s TED Talk about the Tinkering School, I wanted Joshua to try it out but we weren’t able to get into the one in San Francisco because enrollment is for a series of sessions and no drop-ins.  So I have been looking forward to the one in New York offered by the Brooklyn Apple Academy because it’s open to homeschoolers and it’s okay to take one class at a time.

Noah Mayer, founder of the Brooklyn Apple did a podcast about wanting to start a microschool and Gever Tully himself got in touch with him and helped him do just that. Now, the Brooklyn Apple is on its fifth year of operation and third year as a homeschool resource center. It started as a one-room schoolhouse with six students.  Noah found that he was not as adept at administrative and bookkeeping matters so he partnered with Cottage Class which is a network for microschools that help them with that side of the equation.

All over the world, teachers are reinventing education by starting independent schools, camps, classes and study groups to meet the needs of the children in their communities.  CottageClass is a community marketplace that connects families with these teacher-founders who are transforming our world.

The goal of CottageClass is to help all children reach their greatest potential through individualized instruction.

An average of eight children drop in the Brooklyn Apple every day.  Aside from four days of Tinkering, they have field trips on Wednesday, Minecraft meet-ups on Fridays and other activities from arts and crafts and stop motion animation and a whole lot of play determined and directed by the kids themselves with teachers there for support and guidance.

The workshop room is a dream come true for tinkerers who can pick up odds and ends and initiate a project, use the drill and other equipment but as Lyman Rhodes reminds, safety is always paramount.  Joshua doesn’t gravitate towards the workroom but ends up making buttons in the crafts room and chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen.  That’s the beauty of self-directed learning.  As his parent, I thought he’d tinker with the machines but instead, he excitedly shows me step by step how he made pins by cut-stamping out a comic book page and producing a button.   Lyman tells me that these cool buttons are sometimes sold by the kids in the bustling, commercial 5th Avenue right outside their building where pedestrians end up supporting the kids’ enterprise.

On the walls of the bathroom, one poster said “Livelyhood without slavery to the money economy.”  The deliberate misspelling points to the sad state of some forms of livelihood that suck the life out of a person, making it all about work for the sake of money rather than for the joy and love of doing the work.  In this age, it puzzles many people when some opt out of the system or refuse to join the rat race but the ones who do that see the world from a different perspective.  The teachers who start and run the microschools also view from an uncommon vantage point so they’d like to offer an alternative to the current education system.  They want to be able to listen better to each child, one child at a time.  They don’t want education to be about grades, test scores and outperforming each other.   They want to give back to childhood what childhood is losing.

Other posts about the Brooklyn Apple:

The Q’s School Tool: Part 4: The Brooklyn Apple Academy

Noah Apple@picbear

A Look at the Brooklyn Apple Academy

And if you just want to know more about microschools:

What’s the Next Big Idea? Microschool Networks

The Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

The Rise of AltSchool and Other Microschools


New York Escape


Traveling with kids, do you ever get the feeling that you’d want to eat adult food, stare at art, overstay in a bookstore, walk in the rain without worrying about sickness and go places your kids would pull your arms dragging you out?   You can go in and out of artists’ studios and gawk at a lifestyle you’d want to try out if onlys in La La Lands of parallel universes, picking up objects and turning them into art, making ink out of seeds, re-interpreting reality, cocooned in your own world at the same time making it known to the world without compromise.

My partner in escape: Peggy.

Jersey Touchdown


Before and after photos send us into a swoon of where-did-the-time-go or your life fast forwarding in a speeding train.  The last time I saw them, they were this small and now they’re taller than their mom and me.  Note Kara wears a sweatshirt with the pictures of her parents, Gambel and Jun’s wedding.  Happy reunions are made of these: tossing Jimmy up in the air, eating Filipino and Chinese dishes made by our husbands who both love to cook.

We see Manhattan and its famous statue from the vantage point of Liberty Park in Jersey on our bikes on a lovely, sunny day right before two days of pouring rain.  Plus GJ’s friends are a hoot.  The older kids are no different from the younger ones as they’re all into computer games their moms don’t comprehend.

CT in Between


In between Rhode Island and New York, we made two stopovers in Connecticut.  One was “It” which their flyer says is the world’s largest indoor adventure ropes course with four zip lines spanning 180 feet in length connecting two 4-level adrenaline high inducing structures.  Joshua had a blast zipping from one set to the other but because the height limit did not allow him to, Jimmy had to be not so content with a much tamer and smaller version, and console himself with ice cream.

We passed by a deserted beach in New London which is probably just waiting for summer before things start happening.  We found a picnic ground nearby where Jason cooked potato for dinner over a combination of coal and pine cones.

Power Unicorns and Keegan Creatures


A streamer saying “One of the 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World” greeted us near the entrance to the Metropolitan High School and I hoped they’d let me in even though I didn’t have an appointment.  Priscilla, the receptionist graciously helped me out and eventually, Brian came and introduced me to Rebecca, one of the graduates and Idalys, one of the students.  They toured me around the campus mentioned by President Obama in one of his speeches: “That’s why we’ll follow the example of places like the Met Center (a Big Picture Learning school) in Rhode Island that give students that individual attention, while also preparing them through real-world, hands-on training the possibility of succeeding in a career.”

The school operates like a launch pad to the real world treating students as capable adults who can direct themselves rather than children to be spoon-fed with the state-approved boxed-set of curriculum.  They solve real life problems through projects they choose themselves.  They are involved in community work, give-backs and internships. They have one-on-one advisories instead of a classroom that feels like prison.  They may spend three days a week at the Met and two days outside gaining as much practical experience as they can.  They can shape their own education including being able to take college classes.

In each building, there is a social worker who checks in on the students’ emotional and mental health and sees that they’re educationally on track.  But the heart of the process is the student as the center of learning.

“1) The Advisor works with each individual student in the class to help them discover what interests and motivates them. 2) The Mentor, a lawyer, engineer, small business owner, etc., guides each student’s internship. 3) The Parent is actively enlisted as resource to the Big Picture Learning community.  4) The Student (and fellow students) interact to reinforce each other’s passion for real work in the real world.  The result is a self-teaching community of learners where no one feels left-out, and each helps motivate the other.”

It makes so much sense, you wonder why aren’t more schools switching to this method but there is already a growing number of schools across twenty two states of America which are part of the Big Picture Learning network.  The model has also been adopted in countries like Australia, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.  The Met in Providence, Rhode Island is the prototype initiated by Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky.

In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would be at the center their own education. They would spend considerable time in the community under the tutelage of mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, and heart  – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.

Both my tour guides, Rebecca and Idalys are passionate about organizing and managing events. Idalys has raised funds through a walkathon in memory of a Met staff member who pass away.  Rebecca currently works at the Black Box Theater, a venue for cultural and community events.

I wonder if there are students who don’t take too well to the unconventional way things are done and Rebecca says that if they enter the system from a traditional school, it may take adjustment but they soon catch on that they’re responsible for what they learn and get out of Met.  A student one time was caught not doing the internship that he was supposed to do so after that incident, measures were placed to avoid abuse of trust and freedom.

We entered the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship where Nick introduced us to students who started and grew their own businesses.  John produces ice-cream-inspired candles while Keegan creates his own hand-screened printed art on shirts. Even though he is in high school, Keegan is already involved with the Rhode Island School of Design and aiming to be as prolific as he can be as an artist.  Talking to the students, one can see that they do find their own way in and out of the Met campus.  They grow at their own speed and pace.

Curious about our family road trip and research about education, Nick throws me a question about what impressed me most about the schools and learning centers that we visited.  I told him about being struck by the Macomber and North Star which were technically not schools but informal centers for self-directed learning.  However, visiting the Met that day made me realize how the same self-directed ideal can also take place within a more structured school setting.  What’s even more amazing is this is not a private school.  It’s a public school where students enter by way of lottery.  That means that even though they use quite radical, out-of-the-box methods, they still operate within the system, get state funding and comply with requirements.  Within this typically constricted environment, they are able to break out of the box and do the unthinkable, even the unimaginable.  Except for visionaries like Elliot and Dennis, ideas that seem “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” are most certainly not.

Read about Dennis Littky, the co-founder’s story:  Radical’ Educator Pushes Boundaries and Brings Results: Dennis Littky Story

Profile: Dennis Littky

About Elliot Washor

Check out this book by Elliot Washor: Leaving to Learn: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates

There are a number of videos, too:

Elliott Washor

Dennis Littky

Ten Minutes about the Littky Method

Personalization and student engagement


Check out Keegan Creatures on instagram: