Joel’s Ask Me Anything

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I couldn’t sleep last night knowing that the Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Joel Hammon was going to start at 12 midnight here since it was 12 noon in the States.  Giddy with excitement, I wanted to make sure that it was on before going to bed because I told a number of people to tune in when they wake up.  My brain at that hour couldn’t compose a proper question so I figured to sleep the muddle-headedness off and give the noggin another crank in the morning.

Through the Alliance for Self-Directed Education’s AMA, people are able to easily access Joel’s wealth of experience, which is also contained in The Teacher Liberation Handbook which he wrote and which I wish I can give to as many people I know who would care to read it.

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Joei: Do you ever imagine there’d be a mass exodus of students from traditional schools to SDEs enough to alert the traditional schools and break apart their monolithic structures? Like reaching a Tipping Point (as the title of ASDE’s online magazine) when centers of Self Directed education become a norm rather than an exception. Or enough for the traditional schools to take notice that they vastly and systemically change. Is there hope for public funding to flow through SDE efforts like Liberated Learner Centers, ALCs, etc?

After having worked on the Learning Cooperatives for some years now, how have your feelings and ideas about traditional schooling evolved or changed through your time in SDE?

Joel:  Well, I’m not much of a big, big picture, “where is education heading?” sort of theorist. To be honest, my head has been so buried in the details of starting and running actual centers for the past 10 years that I haven’t given a huge amount of thought to the question. My observation is that the schools in my area are at least starting to pay lip service to some of the issues self-directed education identifies – whether it is later start times, homework free nights, talking about stress, anxiety and depression in young people, etc. they are starting to talk about it at least. I’m skeptical about the amount of real change those big systems can make (one of the reasons I left), but I think some of those conversations have started. In terms of public funding, I think it will be hard for that money to come from public education. I feel like a lot of the traditional schools have coercion of varying degrees baked into the DNA of the system. I have a hard time imagining officials being okay with public money flowing to a “school” where kids are free to choose what they want to learn.

I have more hope for public funding of self-directed education to come through public libraries, to be honest. That’s what they are set up for. They offer programs open to everyone in the community that you are free to attend or not. If you attend the program on native birds, they don’t make you take a test at the end to prove that you learned anything, they don’t require that you take a minimum number of classes in order to get some kind of certificate, etc. So you could imagine where the libraries just start ramping up staffing and programs offering learning opportunities for young people who are not enrolled in traditional schools. Just some initial thoughts. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have been thinking about this more seriously than I have.

Joei:  Ah. Public libraries. We don’t even have a system or network of public libraries here. No community colleges either.

We are in the process of setting up a Liberated Learner Center in the Philippines. The vastly different economic system here compared to the US makes opening this center much more of a challenge because the cost of sustainability is higher. We have to market this to the more affluent sector of our society. But I think it’s more important to start this now, show that it works, make it sustainable and then figure out how to be more inclusive later. The LL centers are mostly in North America and I was wondering if you have made inroads or have some insights from trying to help set up LL centers in other countries especially those in under developed or developing nations.

Joel:  We have had a number of conversations with folks from around the world, but no serious attempts to start something like this outside of the United States…that is until we started working with you 🙂 I agree that getting started and creating an example others in the country can look to and follow is important.

Joei:  How do you handle situations where the parents have expectations like, “Okay I’m sending my child to your center but I still want my child to be able to enter an Ivy League university.”

Joel:  That wouldn’t be a problem, necessarily, and as long as the kid has that aspiration as well, we’ll do all we can to help out. What would be a problem is if the parent wants that for their kid and their kid doesn’t. We offer opportunities and resources, but we do not require participation or any particular academic work. If the parents are looking for a program that will force their kids to do particular things, we wouldn’t be the best choice. That being said, plenty of young people who have used self-directed education have ended up in highly selective colleges. It’s a bit like the odds of becoming a professional baseball player, but that’s true for schooled and unschooled/homeschooled kids.

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Here are the other Q & As from the forum that’s helpful to those trying to visualize how self-directed centers work and for those of dreaming of realizing something like this for their own communities.

Matthew: What is your 30 second elevator pitch to explain SDE and the Learning Cooperatives?

Joel:  The 30 second pitch is a challenge always and a lot of times it will be different depending on the context, who I’m talking to, etc. If I’m at a festival where we have a table or something and someone walks up and asks, “What do you guys do?” I’ll usually respond with a question like, “Well, do you know any teens who don’t like school?” They usually laugh (intended effect) and say either yes or no which will then branch off of that. So if it’s yes, I’d ask them what about it they don’t like. The idea is to learn as much as you can about where they are coming from so that you can tailor the response. If it’s a kid that is bright, but bored I’d start by talking up the idea that kids can learn about the things that they care about and at the pace that they want. If they don’t like school because of social reasons, I’ll start with the welcoming community aspect, etc, etc. The basic idea to get across is that The Learning Cooperatives offer a personally meaningful education, a flexible approach and a welcoming community. This will vary again if the person is maybe not a parent, but a potential volunteer or someone who might be able to offer an internship to one of our members, etc. There’s a lot of nuance and probably could be a small book to write it all out.

Tasha:  So I have a few questions. I hope it’s ok to group it this time.  Why teens only?  How is it possible in busy cities where rent so expensive?  How do you make it sustainable?  Where have you found funding?  What is the mentor role like? The main things you find yourself doing? Can you recommend books any to help?  How would you make it accesible to low income families?  Ages – why not younger?

Joel:  Perfectly fine to group them.

Why teens? – personal and practical reasons, not philosophical. I always worked with middle and high school aged kids when I was a teacher so I was just comfortable with that age, as were many of the people involved with starting TLC. There is also the legalities of working with younger kids in NJ like health and safety codes that we didn’t really want to get into. There are a number of other Liberated Learners centers (and SDE communities for that matter) that work with younger kids, just not us.

Rent in big cities – finding an appropriate space is always a challenge even in smaller towns. Princeton, for instance isn’t huge, but rents are pretty crazy. So you have to get creative. We have used a lot of shared spaces like church basements or arts centers and they tend to be a bit cheaper as well. If rents are really high, you would just need to factor that into the cost of the program.

Sustainability – yes, that’s the big question. On one level very simple and straight forward. You need to plan to charge/get donations/get grants at a level that will allow you to pay your bills and the staff a reasonable wage. Depending on your area, the mix of tuition, donations, grants might be different. If you are in a low income area, you will likely have to rely more on grants and donations so your organization had better be very good at fundraising and grant writing. Wishful thinking in that area isn’t enough. The organization needs to have people with the skills to do that effectively and have enough resources to put into grant writing, for instance, in order to fund the center. Not rocket science, but it does require planning, focus and execution.

Funding – The Learning Cooperatives has focused on bringing in enough in tuition to fund ourselves. We do a minor amount of fundraising and no grant writing.

Mentor – could be a huge answer here. I’ll try to keep it brief. The idea is to build a strong relationship with the young person. As part of that, helping them find resources and opportunities, troubleshooting problems, acting as a sounding board as they are exploring various options, offering feedback if they are doing things that might not be in their best interests, sometimes talking about personal challenges, encouraging them, etc. I’m sure there are some good books out there on mentoring, but I haven’t read them. It’s been mostly from just working with young people and being open to learning.

Accessible – we’ve never turned away a family solely because they couldn’t afford it. We offer need based fee reductions which we build into the budget.

Matthew:  What has been the most effective advertisements for getting the word out about the Learning Cooperatives, especially during early start up?

Joel:  We’ve found word of mouth is the best. Going out and meeting people, explaining what we’re doing. Obviously have a really good website that looks professional is critical.

Susan:  What is the best way to push past the initial fear of starting something that is so innovative?
What are the first few actions that you took when you first made the decision to support this type of learning as a professional?

Joel:  I’ll do the second question first – first few steps were finding a team of people who I could work with to help build the organization. Trying to do this solo is really challenging, almost a non-starter in my opinion. Reading everything I could about self-directed education, particularly about North Star. I was coming from a traditional education background and this was all new to me.

In terms of pushing past the fear, a couple of things were helpful. First of all, starting and running a successful SDE center is really hard, just like any other small business or organization. Some of the fear is legit and perhaps should be heeded:) For me, I was never betting the farm. There were plan B’s and support I had personally that I could fall back on if it failed. That was useful. For instance, my wife is a public school teacher with good pay and benefits. We didn’t have credit card debt. If it didn’t work out, I still had my teaching license and I could have started subbing immediately until I found a new job. I’m hesitant to encourage anyone to try it without some kind of plan B to recover from a failure.

After that, just deciding to do it. If you wait until you think you’ve planned enough and got all the ducks in a row, you’re likely never going to get started. There is never a perfect time to do it, so just having the confidence in yourself and your team that when difficulties arise (and they will) that you’ll be able to work through them. You just sort of have to take the plunge.

Matthew:  What does the first mentor meeting look like? Do you draft educational goals? What is the best strategy to help a member who does not have any goals in mind?

Joel: First mentoring meeting can go a couple of different ways depending on the young person and when they are joining. Typically, it will be just chatting and getting to know each other a bit. It might include some housekeeping stuff like getting them a shelf to store their stuff, talking about what rooms we can use, explaining how the cooperative works a bit. We might take a look at the classes and activities that are currently happening and they can say if they want to try some. We ask about their interests and we brainstorm about how to help them find opportunities to learn about or get involved in those. Some of the kids come in with very defined goals and interests and others come in with no clue. If they are fresh out of school and really have never been asked to consider what THEY would want to do with their time, often we just talk with them about a settling in period, where the only goal really is to just get comfortable, try out some of this new freedom, try some activities, meet some people, etc. It’s almost like the goal is to just find a goal, if that makes sense.

Tasha: What does a weekly timetable look like? I guess if you run on tuition this must be a big feature but do the children have enough resources to teach themselves in groups and does social time get timetabled in too? Do families share evidence of their financial status with you or do you operate on a trust basis?

Joel:  The weekly timetable is we’re open 4 days a week (M, T, TH, F) from 8:45-3:15. We typically schedule things in hour long or two hour long blocks depending on the thing. You can see a general listing of what happens each week at our Princeton center here: http://princetonlearningcooperative.org/classes-activities/

Most of the activities and classes are led by either the core, paid staff or about 30-34 volunteers and Princeton University work-study that are at the center each week. Some of our teens also lead small classes for other members and a number if kids are doing independent work in various other areas. Everything that is offered is voluntary so young people can be involved in as much or as little of the classes/activities as they would like and can schedule in whatever “socializing” time that they want. The teens are also free to come and go from the center during the day so if they want to go walk to the shopping center for lunch they can or they can go for a hike in the woods near the center whenever they want.

Some center in the Liberated Learners network do require some kind of income verification for fee reductions or use a 3rd party service to do that negotiation, but we don’t currently. We ask families to make a good-faith effort to pay as much of the fees as possible, but the relationship is based on trust. We feel we’ve only been taken advantage of a few times in our history using this policy, but we definitely understand if other centers want to use other methods.

James: What technologies you are using to implement self directed learning?
Specifically what software/programs/services do you use for tracking student’s projects, activities, goals, successes and failures?

Joel:  Liberated Learners has hired some programmers to design an online portfolio system that is custom built for how our centers run and has the functionality we need to help kids make goals, track progress, keep mentoring meeting notes, schedule classes/activities, document learning and communicate with families. Our member centers have access to that as part of their membership. Before we designed that, it was a combination of Google Docs, calendar, and other free tools.

Beyond that, some of our members use online resources like Khan Academy if that appeals to them or other free or paid online resources.

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Read about the Princeton Learning Cooperative that Joel helped set up:

Tigers, Humans and SDE

Thanks, Carl

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Who Wants to Flip It?

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Who wants to reverse the usual equation of education?  Who wants to have more time exploring what he or she personally wants to know, study, experience, apply, work on and develop and less time cramming the information and knowledge society, school and even family requires one to master by certain prescribed ages?  Oh if we could, but we can’t because this is how society has evolved through time and there is pressure to perform and produce according to expectations.  But say, we wanted to hop off the train because we don’t have to buy the ticket if we don’t want to go to their destination.  Say we have a destination in mind that doesn’t necessitate taking that one train, would we take it?

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I was pleasantly coerced by destiny to use the Business Canvas Model.  Professor X showed it to me hinting I might want to use it.  Just a few days prior to meeting Prof X, my friend Trina tells me that she’s using the Lean Canvas for her start-up and that I might want to consider it, too.  I checked it out and thought it’s too complex then something urged me during a moment yesterday.  After going through some Youtube videos, I was able to come up with this.  Thanks to Trina and Prof X, we can see what Abot Tala is all about in one page.

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Following are presentation slides introducing Abot Tala:

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If You Build It Will They Come

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If you build it, will they come?  Will they really, really come if you provide them with the opportunities for real, not just-a-blurb-in-the-brochure, truest-sense-of-the-word self-directed education?  Why would I pay for self-directed education if by nature of the word self-directed means you can do it by oneself?   You don’t have to.  You are free to choose.   You can homeschool.  You can unschool.  You can stay in school.  What we provide is an option for those who think this route reverberates with their spirit and the spirit of their child.

Abot Tala Center for Self Directed Learning seeks to provide the following:

MENTORSHIP

  1. Our goal is to support you as an individual so you are THRIVING.  Given the right conditions, humans are amazing!
  2. Each member will be given a mentor whom you will meet with you at least once a week, offering some guidance, a lot of listening, and a helpful perspective. We will work with your parents on how they can support you as a self-directed learner.
  3. It’s always good to set goals and have a plan. In weekly meetings with your mentor, small group meetings and on your own, you can set long and short-term goals. Since the only guarantee in life is change, the planning part is often quite interesting.
  4. You will be encouraged to keep notes and narratives of your work. It’s helpful to step back once you’ve worked for a while to see your process & your progress. Ask yourself how you are doing? You know best.
  5. You will have access to an electronic portfolio system designed specifically for SDL learners. You can experiment with multimedia options as you build your portfolio to best represent who you are. Consider sharing your insights, knowledge, and skills.
  6. Your portfolio (evidence of your insights, knowledge, & skills) will be your ticket to higher education, employment, and or all sorts of entrepreneurial adventures.
  7. Community members will provide additional mentorships, such as sharing a hobby or skill like rock climbing, improvisational theater and chess.
  8. Our focus is on individuals and their particular strengths, needs, and goals. We meet teens where they are and support them in becoming whomever they want to be. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, we ask: “What are you good at? What do you love to do?” and build from there.
  9. By having more personal autonomy – while working within the community – teens can practice leadership, communication and collaboration skills in real ways that reflect what they will need later in life.
  10. Mentoring relationships are at the heart of Abot Tala. Each teen is matched with one of the staff, who sets aside time to meet individually each week. It’s hard to overestimate the importance for young people to be heard and known and not just feel like a number. Having a caring, supportive and knowledgeable adult as an ally helps teens to make the most of their time at Abot Tala.
  11. Mentors help connect young people to the learning opportunities in the center, online and in the wider community. We help them keep track of what they learn and the experiences that they have for whatever next steps they are planning to take after Abot Tala.

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CLASSES, WORKSHOPS AND TUTORIALS

  1. Classes represent the interests and passions, interests and expertise of our core staff and extended staff of volunteers. There are a wide range of topics. Most classes have fewer than 10 students.
  2. Rather than attempt to fulfill any particular curriculum, we ask our staff (mentor-facilitators) to share the topics that excite them.
  3. We have a core staff of caring professionals and a large, extended staff composed of interns, and community volunteers.
  4. All classes and workshops are optional and open to every member. Classes vary in length, format, and content.
  5. The format of each class can vary significantly as well, again depending on the vision of the leader as well as the input of the students. We encourage all members to learn about and try as many classes as they can. Once a student decides to be a regular participant of a class, we expect commitment.
  6. There are no grades or punishments, but we expect class members to communicate with the teacher regarding attendance and other issues and to fulfill any requirements such as readings, research, or other assignments.
  7. Some classes will ask for and expect a considerable amount of work to happen outside of class time while others will be more limited. This is made clear in the class description and by the teacher and should be taken into consideration by the student deciding to join the group.
  8. Individual one-on-one meetings are available in a variety of subjects. These are not listed on the calendar. Each teen talks with his or her advisor about what meetings might be helpful and schedules them around other commitments.
  9. Some classes will ask for and expect a work/practice to happen outside of class time, while others will be less directed. This will be made clear in the class description.
  10. Teens can also request to lead a class of their own creation. The teen will present an outline and expectations of the class with a staff member and pitch the class to other members
  11. Teens sometimes lead classes without adults. In addition, members frequently ask for the creation of certain classes and participate in the planning.

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 WHAT’S AFTER ABOT TALA?

  1. Parents usually have questions related to university and career. What steps do we need to take to apply to college? How does a young person get working papers so they can get a job? We can help families do whatever you have questions about. We schedule three routine family meetings throughout the year, but you can get all the help and support you need with just a phone call or email to your child’s mentor.
  2. Many people are astounded by the huge number of opportunities there are for young people to learn independently of the traditional school system. We act as both the provider and connector to this world of possibility.
  3. Many parents worry that leaving traditional schools to use self-directed education will somehow limit the opportunities or choices their children have after they leave Abot Tala. Nothing could be further from the truth!
  4. A large majority of our members plan to attend college after their time with Abot Tala. Many people are surprised that teens who don’t attend school can go to college. There are a growing number of Filipino families who homeschool their children. Our mentors help young people document the learning that they do and create a narrative transcript that translates that into a form colleges understand.
  5. The second most common next step for our members is either to enter the working or entrepreneurial world. Young people can use the flexibility and control offered by self-directed education to start learning the skills needed to be successful in a given career. Instead of squeezing your interests into “after-school” time, you can work on your interests as the main focus of your education.

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OTHER IMPORTANT POINTS

  1. We intentionally keep the community small, no more than 30 or so at capacity. We want everyone’s voice to matter and not feel like they are just a cog in a machine.
  2. While not perfect, we work really hard to keep Abot Tala community a welcoming and inclusive community where people are respected for who they are. For young people who are coming from a hard social situation in school, the friends and acceptance that they find in the Abot Tala community can be the most valuable experience they have.
  3. Days are set aside for trips and special workshops. Often proposed and planned by members, trips can be anything from a walking in the park, to going out for meals.
  4. Since Abot Tala is a small community, there are many leadership opportunities. Our members organize trips, lead our weekly all-group meeting, take on roles in the community like first-aid and safety manager and even lead classes and offer one-on-one music or other lessons to other members.
  1. If there are students who want to join Abot Tala but cannot afford the fees, it is our policy to find a way to subsidize the member’s fee. North Star, our parent center and the centers that they help start all believe in inclusivity and they turn no one away.
  2. The big message is that anything teens can do by attending school, they can still do through self-directed education. We are here to help provide and connect young people to those opportunities.

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Check out: https://abottala.com/

Resonating Light

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If there was something like the Blended Learning Center (BLC) near where we lived when we tried homeschooling for a year, I probably wouldn’t have quit homeschooling.  I believe in the idea of homeschooling but I don’t want to be the one to teach my kids (at least not the academics — sorry too much teeth-pulling for me and them) plus, I prefer to work.

What I personally believe in more than homeschooling is that it takes a village to raise a child — a community beyond the child’s family and that is what Blended Learning Center provides.  I admire how a lot of homeschooling families have this socialization aspect down to a science — arranging classes, field trips, joining and forming co-ops but for some, the convenience of a regular “school in disguise” is still a preferred necessity.

For me, alternative centers like BLC are like schools in disguise but they shouldn’t be because they may actually be what schools ought to be in an ideal world.  Perhaps in the future, centers like BLC will be more of the norm rather than the rare exception.  They are what schools would look like if governments and institutions have not monopolized and desecrated to a certain degree what shouldn’t be about dragging your feet every morning to prisons disguised as classrooms.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to show for the visit I made yesterday to BLC with my husband and sons.  The photos here are culled from the BLC website.  I was too busy listening to the teachers sharing their ideas and experiences about non-traditional education to a group of eager parents.  BLC has programs for pre-school, elementary all the way up to high school students (up to Grade 10).

While the parents sat focused, all the kids played ball and ran around the garden.  Every time they kicked the ball higher than usual, I was afraid it would go over the wall.  It went and slid down the roof once.

For families seeking a way out of a system that may be constricting (maybe even crushing) the spirit of their children, this invitation from BLC may resonate:

Sound Familiar?

-Too Many students in one class,
-Students Are Ranked Against each other based on a prescribed one-size fits all curriculum
-Show and Tell Teaching Methods which forces students “to memorize” instead of “to understand, analyze and challenge”
-Manila Traffic + Long School Hours = No time to play outdoors, children resort to too much gadgets
-Huge class size, students can either become unsupervised and can result to bullying.

What If….

-Learning can be Passion Driven, Project Based and anchored on “Real Life”
-Learning can be customized depending on their interests
-A Typical school day can be flexible, self paced and learning centered
-The school becomes a safe learning environment, with dedicated teachers, better teaching materials, free from bullying

Based on Studies Non Traditional Learning Provides an Environment for our children where:

-Development is Accelerated
-They become Focused and Passionate at what they Do
–They Develop Self Accountability and Worth
-And they become “Experts” early on

Learn How this is Possible.

How I wish there was a BLC in every part of Metro Manila, not just Cubao and preferably walking distance from where I live.  Long, heavy sigh.  We can only dream.

Here’s what BLC offers:

While all programs at BLC-Manila cater to families who are not of a traditional mold, there are some common qualities that we see in our Blended and Homeschool parents that might help you make a decision. Check out what you think fits you best:

BLENDED LEARNING

Perfect for:

– families who want to homeschool but can’t commit to a full-time “homeschool schedule”.

– children who don’t thrive in traditional classroom or school set-ups, but still prefer socialization.

– families who like to travel and take their children along.

– families who like flexibility and are “allergic” to the unreasonable rigor of traditional schools.

– families who believe that understanding, and appreciation is a better hallmark of learning than getting high grades.

HOMESCHOOL

Perfect for:

– parents who want a first-hand say in how their child/ren are taught.

– families who live outside Metro Manila or the Philippines.

– children recovering from a trauma, and are getting ready to re-enter the mainstream.

Tutorial Services for students
For regular academics and project support.

PEPT preparation for Grades 1-10
Review and consultation on Department of Education-accredited requirements.

PEPT + for Grades 7-10
Review and consultation on Department of Education-accredited requirements, plus expanded classes and activities that add more value to the learning process.

Teacher Training on Blended Learning

Our inward-bound approach to being the best teacher you can be.

An Invitation to Those Questioning the Education System

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We’re forming the Abot Tala team and reaching out to teachers, parents, students who may be questioning the education system and wishing there was an alternative for teenagers.  We are reaching out to those who believe in the freedom to direct one’s own educational path from what to learn and how to learn what one has chosen.

What Abot Tala offers:

  • A safe, dynamic, welcoming community of learners who believe that self-directed education is the most authentic and innovative way to support young people so that they thrive and become productive adults
  • A bridge and a way to help teenagers live and learn outside the traditional school system through mentorship and by utilizing the wealth of opportunities in the community
  • An educational experience that supports and encourages independence, resourcefulness, flexibility and collaboration in a non-coercive, dynamic environment where young people can create their own pathways based on their passions and interests
  • A space where young people feel free to be themselves, to know themselves deeply and what makes them come alive, to discover and develop their gifts and talents, to soar towards goals and dreams they set and cfor themselves

 Who do we serve?

  • Young people who believe that school is doing more harm than good to them
  • Young people who want to get out of the school system but do not know where to start
  • Young people who are already homeschooling or unschooling but wish to be part of a community that meets regularly
  • We serve young people ages 13 – 19. We can consider younger or older members on a case-by-case basis.

 What does membership in Abot Tala include?

  1. Mentoring and coaching – each member will have an advisor. The advisors are full-time and part-time staff at Abot Tala.  Through regular meetings, we help envision and realize goals, track progress, organize tutorials and facilitate community connections.
  2. Access to all classes and workshops offered – the classes and workshops will be determined by the interest of the members and the expertise of the mentors, staff and volunteers of Abot Tala. All classes and workshops are optional and open to every member.
  3. Family conferences – each member and his parents will meet with the advisor at least two times a semester (one semester is five months) to map out possibilities and review progress and achievements. More meetings are scheduled as requested.  Parental involvement is encouraged.
  4. Personalized approach – the focus is on individuals and their particular strengths, needs and goals. We meet teens where they are and support them in becoming whomever they want to be. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, we ask: “What are you good at? What do you love to do?” and build from there.
  5. Collaborative learning – teens can teach each other; find common interests and have group tutorials; traditional schools emphasize competition while we emphasize collaboration

 What about going to university in the future?

  • If the family wants to comply with Dep Ed requirements, we can assist them through our partner, the Gopala Homeschool Support
  • If the family does not want to go through Dep Ed, should the time come that the young person wants to attend university, then we can map out a plan together with the student on how to apply and get in the university.

 What Abot Tala is Not

  • Abot Tala is not a school. We do not give certificates, grades or report cards.
  • We are not a homeschool provider although we can refer you to providers. We can help you with homeschooling requirements through Gopala, our homeschool support partner.
  • We are not a homeschool co-op. We do not organize families to become a homeschool co-op which homeschooling families can do on their own.

Membership:

Full-time membership: 4 – 5 times a week

Part-time membership: 2 – 3 times a week

 

Membership Includes:

  • Advisory relationship with Abot Tala Core Staff Member
  • Family meetings with Abot Tala Staff
  • Development of a family homeschooling plan and a personal life plan
  • Group classes at Abot Tala
  • One-on-one meetings or tutorials with Abot Tala staff
  • Use of Abot Tala space for socializing and study
  • Invitations to all trips and special workshops
  • Support to design and complete private academic projects and curricula
  • Support to find volunteer work, jobs, and internships outside of Abot Tala
  • Support to find classes and activities outside of Abot Tala
  • Long term support for alumni teens and families

 

Abot Tala is being started with the guidance of Liberated Learners.  North Star Self Directed Learning for Teens was started twenty years ago by Ken Danford.  He then set up the Liberated Learners to help others around the world initiate centers like North Star.

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These are the programs that Ken Danford and the Liberated Learners helped set up:

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If you are interested, please email me at: entirelyofpossibility@yahoo.com.ph

Check out: https://abottala.com/

Rosa and the Stars

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“It looks like a cult group. Kinda scary for a parent to entrust their kids to.  Sounds too deep.  It can alienate those who are not so academic.”  My well-meaning friend, Rosa who wants to help told me.  I replied that this was only a very quick lay-out borne of ecstatic excitement that we finally came up with a name.  It may not be the final name but at least we have something to work with and fill in the blank formerly occupied by Northstar PH.

Rosa continued to interrogate me which I appreciate since we would be faced with loads of questions every time we discuss this harebrained scheme.

Rosa: If it’s not a school, what is it?  A club?  A support group?

Me:  (copy pasting from our introduction)

What We are Not:

  • This is not a school. We do not give certificates, grades or report cards.
  • We are not a homeschool provider although we can refer you to providers or we can help you with homeschooling and Dep Ed requirements through Gopala, our homeschool support partner.
  • We are not a homeschool co-op. We do not organize families to become a homeschool co-op which homeschooling families can do on their own.

Rosa: Center housing people to be homeschoolers legally.

Me:  Nope.  Homeschooling is just a tool in this case.  If they want to just homeschool, they can go to a homeschool provider, choose a curriculum they want, study at home, get tutors etc.  But this is a center which is like a school if you would let the teenagers themselves envision it but we can’t call it a school because we don’t want to be boxed in by curriculum, standards and tests so it’s more of a club and that’s how Northstar also describes itself.

Rosa: If it’s undirected, how do you encourage towards progressive direction?

Me: Regarding progressive education — it’s quite different from self-directed.  In progressive, there’s still a curriculum, but in self-directed, the curriculum comes from the student.  I elaborated on the difference here in this article I wrote about our road trip researching alternative education.  There’s a spectrum there between traditional to progressive to self-directed.  And here’s the explanation of psychologist Peter Gray about the difference.

Rosa: What if they just want to hang out?  Is that allowed?

Me: When I went to visit the self-directed schools and centers, I also asked the question, what if they just want to hang out or play computer games the whole day?  And they allow it.  There’s a school where one student just explored the forest for a couple of years and one day decided to take up dance.  They eventually learn about self-regulation naturally and organically rather than forced from the top.  But I struggle with my own kids and feel I’m the WORST person actually for this.  I don’t know why I’m the one doing this.  Should be somebody with more conviction, credibility, experience.  But then, that’s why we’re forming a team where people have different strengths.

Rosa:  “Abot Tala” is obviously saying the goal is set high.  But your explanation is more like a free space for anyone tired of structured learning or tired of learning (altogether).  In other words, the ideas are not complementary.  So it might be the wrong name for your purpose.

Me:  It does seem contradictory but only at first glance.  The free space for unstructured learning is founded on respect and the belief that each person has a natural “genius.”  Some probably go unrecognized because school is standardized and there are kids who fall through the cracks.  If we are to believe in the uniqueness and “amazingness” of each child, of each person and that each one can dream whatever he or she wants for himself or herself, then anyone can reach their star no matter what that star is.  And they define that star.

Our society tends to define the star for us sometimes but it’s only us who can define our own star.  And this recognizing the genius in each person can be difficult sometimes because society has defined “genius” for us, too.  I struggle with that as a parent daily.

Rosa:  So there’s a premise that everyone will get to their proper place in the skies?  That’s a nice thing.

Thanks for introducing me to this.  If my kids knew I’m into this, they’d give up school in a wink.

 

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For the logo design, I was aspiring for something that looked like one of these (centers that Northstar help start) but probably need to work on it some more.  The name and logo should be the least of my worries now.  There’s the SEC documentation requirements, the Kafkaesque red tape of government agencies plus the challenge of finding space, mentor-staff, refining the business plan and getting this off the ground.

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Peter Gray posted this article today:

Why don’t students like school?

Just wanted to draw your attention to the comments below the post:

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Unholy Traffic

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It’s been a while since I experienced Holy Week in the Philippines.  Like Christmas in China, it is not an important holiday so I’ve forgotten how much of nightmare getting out and into the city could be.  A three-hour drive to Subic turned to six and a one-hour drive from Zambales back to Subic tripled in length.  I was mulling it over in my head that it wasn’t this bad years ago and I remembered we just stayed at home mostly because my grandmother wouldn’t allow any form of merry-making during this solemn period.  Maybe as the mantle was passed from generation to generation, the rules have relaxed and now, most everyone would abandon the city for the beaches.  The more sensible ones know better, wait when the crowds are gone and won’t budge from their homes till it’s safe to venture out.  That’s what we promise to do next year.

Despite the unwanted hours on the road, when we got to our destination, we stayed in my aunt’s place, woke up to monkeys clambering over the trees in her backyard and biked around the village embraced by the rainforest.  We are still so lucky and blessed to be in the presence of all this lush, towering Eden.