Lift Off!


On the second floor of Commune Cafe at Poblacion, one of the most happening places in Manila, Abot Tala rocketed into space — it’s temporary abode for the summer months of April and May while its home in Taguig is being renovated.  Maybe one week is too short to say but we are already loving it so much, we wish we could expand the age group to cover grade school, not only high school.  Our hearts are brimming when teens, tweens and parents describe their experience at the center.

It’s not too late to join.  If you think self-directed education is something that resonates with you and would like to try it out, just send us a message or drop by Commune.  We’re there Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 3pm.




Abot Tala is a member of the Liberated Learners which seek to spread the North Star model of self-directed learning for teens. Read more about it from Ken Danford himself, founder of North Star: Building a New Reality: School is Optional.

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There are so many people to thank, so many supporters, cheerleaders, believers, people who gave us courage and strength.  Our deepest gratitude and appreciation goes out to each of you for making this possible.


Zee Question


Z asked me, “What are the benefits of going to a self-directed learning center?

I posed the question on the Liberated Learners google group and Maria immediately answered, “The benefits are unique for each individual.  However, in the experience of people from Liberated Learning centers, when teens or kids are given the power to make their own decisions about their life and education, it changes something fundamental within them.  Beyond feeling empowered, after a while, they are able to see things more clearly.  They are able to think about their life differently.”

One parent of a teen attending North Star wrote, “I just wanted to tell you how thrilled we have been as a family that our son is attending North Star.  He is such a happy guy, his stress has disappeared and his love of learning languages is being nourished and supported.  It is such a pleasure everyday to drop him off.  Thank you for providing such a wonderful program.”

Another parent emailed, “Our days and nights have changed for the better.  My son and I are closer and share more with one another and everyday he comes up with new things he wants to explore.”

The students are equally pleased saying, “The approach to education has always felt right for me and the social scene is welcoming.  I spent more time doing what I enjoy, less time being bored and less time fretting that I was falling behind. Through the classes, tutorials and assistance from my adviser, I was able to focus my energy on topics that interest me and fun things like rock climbing, hiking and socializing.”

Another member recounted, “It felt good to finally feel like I was allowed to be myself and to be surrounded by others who were being themselves, too.  I joined Band and Theater, things I had never dared to do before, and I had the time of my life learning and performing.”

Teachers and mentors feel the benefits of being in a learning environment that has none of the constrictions of traditional school.  One teacher wrote, “Through engaging with the students at North Star, I have found that building relationships with others through honest conversation is more valuable and impactful to people’s overall learning.  Each week I facilitate a class titled Solutions for a Sustainable Future.  This course has taken on the form of a discussion space for students to share their ideas and ask questions with regard to environmental, economic and social justice issues.  Within this space, I have encouraged students to investigate the correlations that exist between the condition of our human society and the well-being of the planet we share.”

For more stories and testimonials, check out:


Abot Tala is part of the Liberated Learners (LL) network of centers based on the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens, a model started by Ken Danford more than twenty years ago in Massachusetts.  Each LL center has it’s own name and Ken always emphasizes how each center must respond to the unique local conditions and culture.

Abot Tala is opening soon on April 1 at the Commune, Poblacion, Makati — our temporary home for two months.

abot tala - game changer in education


To learn more about the program and meet the people behind Abot Tala, please feel free to join any of these gatherings.  We’d love to meet you!

  • March 16 Saturday 3:30 – 5:30 pm Commune Café, Polaris St., Poblacion, Makati
  • March 19 Tuesday 5:00 to 7:00 pm   Bo’s Coffee, High Street, BGC
  • March 20 Wednesday 2:00 to 4:00 pm  Tim Horton’s, Glorietta 4, Makati
  • March 21 Thursday   6:00 to 8:00 pm  Starbucks, Grace Mall, Cayetano Blvd., Taguig

See you there!

Other Links:

Launching a Game Changer

If Not Those, What Is It Then?

School is Optional

Teacher Liberation





If Not Those, What is It Then?

True, it could be perplexing.  If it’s not a school, not a homeschool provider, not an after-school program, not a co-op, what is it then?  What is Abot Tala?

It is like a school since it offers classes but unlike school, there are no grades, report cards, certificates.  Unlike the typical gradeschool and highschool, you can choose the classes to attend based on your interest and curiosity.   Unlike school, there is no curriculum except the one you make yourself together with your mentor.

Abot Tala operates during school hours from 9am to 3pm so it’s definitely not for those looking for after-school activities.  It’s not a homeschool co-op since there is a permanent venue.  It’s not a homeschool provider either, but we do have a partner who is precisely that.  Laksmi Maluya of the Gopala Learning Haven has been serving homeschooling families for many years.  We have partnered with her so that she can take care of the DepEd requirement side of the equation while Abot Tala can focus on providing the space and environment where young people can be themselves and thrive.

So if we have clarified what we’re not, what are we then?  Three main things:

  1. Mentorship
  2. Personalized learning
  3. Collaborative learning

Every week, each member meets with his or her mentor.  Meetings are used to help keep the teen on track on what they want to do in life, to reflect on choices made and actions taken, to offer opportunities that fit with their goals, to discuss issues that come up, and to challenge them to look at how their choices match up with the dreams they have for themselves.   Oprah Winfrey has a beautiful description of a mentor:

A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.  A mentor is someone who allows you to know that no matter how dark the night, in the morning joy will come.  A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.

Learning is personalized.  The teen can choose what to study and how to go about it whether it is solo or in a small group, through one-on-one tutorial or through classes.  Abot Tala aims to build a community of learners who help each other move forward through their unique paths and journeys.   We hope to connect young people to learning opportunities within and outside the center’s walls, through internships, workshops and by linking up with people who could be role models in the field they are interested in.

Abot Tala is part of the Liberated Learners network with centers across America based on the North Star model.  More than twenty years ago, Ken Danford started the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Back then, he was a disillusioned teacher who did not want to continue playing the role of what seemed to be a prison warden in school.  Since then, the Liberated Learners has helped other communities launch their own version of North Star.

While Abot Tala is based on the North Star model, Ken has always emphasized that each center adapt the model to the specific needs and characteristics of the community.  Thus, each center is even named differently and it’s not like a McDonald’s franchise where everything is copied lock, stock and barrel.

Ken has a favorite analogy to explain the North Star concept to people:  it’s like a YMCA but for academics.  Nobody forces you to swim or take up a sport at the YMCA.  You come on your own volition.


Recommended for further reading:


The Teacher Liberation Handbook: How to Leave School and Create a Place Where You and Young People Can Thrive is for teachers who love working with kids, but hate working within the confines of traditional schools. If you’ve ever dreamed of starting your own school, but felt it was impossible, creating a self-directed learning center instead might be the answer. No mind-numbing standards, no marathon grading sessions, working with young people who want what you have to offer. The Teacher Liberation Handbook provides the information you need to make this dream a reality: stories of educators who left teaching, details of the educational and organizational model, a description of the growing network of self-directed learning centers, frequently asked questions and concerns. Use The Teacher Liberation Handbook to improve your life and the lives of young people in your community.

Check out this video about Abot Tala as well:  Personalized Learning Collaborative for Teens

Voices for Abot Tala

poster invitation - feb 22

poster invitation 2 - feb 22

poster 3

After posting those on Facebook, we got the following re-posts:

Rachael wrote:

Know any teens in Manila who refuse to be trapped in the box? Come meet the mentors and team who can help them gain meaning and focus in their life. Free event, come see what it’s about, open your mind to the future.

Arra wrote:

Won’t it be fun to redesign school in such a way that we can learn and choose our lessons in our own pace? Personalized programs?

From academic classes filled with games, puzzles, and practical activities…to different extra curricular activities that you might want to try, we have it!

Owie wrote:

Instead of diagnostic or entrance exams, we have family meetings. We get to know each teen’s story, passion, interests, goals and dreams. Some teens know exactly what they want while others need time and space to explore their options. There’s one thing they have in common though. Their faces light up every time we tell them that what we offer is an alternative to mainstream high school and that what they truly want to learn matters to us, no matter how unconventional the area of study is. If your teen would like to be part of our community of out-of-the-box learners, we’d like to invite you to our Family Orientation on Feb 22, Friday.

. . . . And Laksmi wrote:

Growing up, I remember, my mom never forced anything on me nor my siblings. She supported whatever we pursued especially with career choices. As long as she can provide.

As teens, we were mentored with different opportunities and fields of learning. Our educational journey is not like any other. Mentoring was a great part of my teen life and it was where I found where I wanted to be. This is the same with my siblings.

Today, I still cannot put a finger on what style our homeschool journey was. The only important aspect of it all was that our mom was determined that traditional school was not for us.

Out of six siblings there were two of us who went to college (engineer and teacher), the rest pursued their different inclinations and natural gifts (entrepreneurs, tattoo artist, and another used to be a Tae Kwon Do coach but currently recovering from kidney transplant).

What my experience taught me was that each of us, has our own journey according to destiny and with this we are given the proper tools and capacity to pursue such path.

It is lifelong learning that is important.

We are all learners and we learn according to need and importance. Even after schooling, we continue to learn – everyday! We assess the lessons we learn with the degree of importance to our lives.

We remember the lessons in our youths and teens because they still matter now.

Therefore, we should be taught how to be lifelong learners. That learning does not stop when our school years are over.

We should be given the freedom to explore different outcomes – fail or succeed – is a lesson because life is not perfect. It is not measured by letters nor numbers.

Life is measured by the kind of life we live.
How we find our way when we are lost.
How we stand up when we fall down.
How we show love, compassion and generosity with the people around us.
How we value our own lives and not how others value us.

What is the value of our degree or grade level if we simply act only because we will be rewarded with grades or gifts or affection.

I took up college because of a need and a dream.

With my experience there was not much of a difference between my experience and my college mates.

What was important is the attitude of each student towards learning.

The desire to better themselves for a certain dream or future. It didn’t really matter whether they came from public or private schools or in my case homeschool.

It is each of our desire to learn because we need it. We pushed hard because we want it. We sacrificed because we understood it is what we needed for our dream to come true.

Those who did not value their opportunity, did not last.  They either transferred, dropped or stopped (of course some had their valid reasons). Some even without much enthusiasm got to reach the finish line but it was all out of obligation or pride but not really seeing the value of it.

So why am I telling you all this?

Isn’t it about time, we give an alternative learning environment for teens, so that when they get to college or finish high school they have a concrete idea which path to take? College or vocational? Yes vocational, it is not only for those who cannot afford college (money wise or otherwise). Vocational courses are important.

We cannot be all doctors, nurses and the like.

Some have to be farmers (just look at what is going on with our country’s agriculture – no one wants to be a farmer anymore)

We cannot all be engineers, architect and the like.

A society flourishes because each of its individuals play an important part. We will not have buildings without carpenters, masons, and the like.

There are millions of Overseas Filipino Workers whose work abroad may not be the profession they finished. So why not, encourage Filipinos to take vocational courses that are competent they can use when they apply abroad.

What we need is to change are the mindsets of people about career choices – about education.

Upgrade the vocational courses so that our graduates become confident with their fields. An acquaintance shared, they have a great need for laborers but simply have difficulty in hiring Filipinos because they have language difficulties. So why not, improve our courses on language.

Change the trend of farming and teach our farmers how to become more competent. Support our farmers – we eat more than three times a day.

It is about time, we guide our children towards fields that they can excel rather than push them where they will fail.

While it is true to support our teens’ inclinations and interests there are still certain aspects where they should be guided. That is why a mentor is important. it is just like in ancient times, where our ancestors pass on their knowledge to apprentice for the next generations. This way, their knowledge becomes a treasure – valued.

It is not some kind of trend. Where teens take it because it is what is trending or where their friends will be.

College or vocational courses should be out of need of our society as a whole. Our generation should be aware of what our future will be and prepare for it. With proper guidance, values and discipline.

Career/profession/vocation is something you have to see yourself doing for the rest of your life or at least until retirement.

I believe in mentoring and have faith in the alternative route because I lived it.

I am happy to be co-founding Abot Tala with Joei Villarama Tinky Cabanatan Cruz Owie Dela Cruz Rommel Dela Cruz Phil Smithson, an environment where teens can discover where they can flourish.

I understand, it is quite radical but it is something to try out, especially for teens who are failing in the classroom not because they are not intelligent or smart but because it is not where they are free to spread their wings.

If you have a teen who needs an alternative environment and within/accessible in the area. Abot Tala is for your family.


. . . . and Joei says:

The picture above is from Laksmi’s Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite.  Gopala is Abot Tala’s partner, more like Abot Tala’s sister.  (Literally, sister from another mother!) Abot Tala is in a highly urbanized setting in contrast to Gopala’s idyllic countryside but that doesn’t stop Abot Tala from dreaming that someday we can still be located within the city, serving more and more young people but there is nature nearby, at arm’s length — we can touch the trees and sky.






Breathing with Honey


Last Sunday, we celebrated eight years of an organization (MLAC) dedicated to the well-being of children and families, over five decades of an individual life committed to this pursuit and seventy five years of Dr. Honey Carandang’s existence spent loving, mentoring, serving, being and breathing.  The afternoon was a joyous tapestry woven with care and attention, rhapsodized with singing, flute-playing, guitar-strumming and grandchildren running and dancing on stage, sharing their grandmother with her many admirers and collaborators.

MLAC is an acronym for Tita Honey’s full name but it also stands for Mindfulness, Love and Compassion — what Tita Honey and a team of psychologists want to continuously and tirelessly nurture among families and communities.  It’s their contribution to nation-building as well, especially in this age where hate, disrespect and violence pervades social media, the news and is sadly even exacerbated by leaders who are meant to protect the people.

During her talk, Tita Honey mentioned things that perfectly describe the kind of environment that we want to create in Abot Tala, an alternative to mainstream high school.

  1. When people are treated with reverence, they became conscious of their own sacred worth.
  2. Celebrating together, working together, playing together, singing together — These are the ways in which discipline of community can be practiced.  This is mindfulness.
  3. In this listening together, a true creative silence can grow.
  4. In a true community, we are windows constantly offering each other views of the mystery of presence of the spirit in our lives.
  5. Solitude and community are the discipline of which the space becomes free for us to listen to the presence and the Spirit to respond fearlessly and generously.
  6. Mindfulness, or total presence and attention has a magical aspect that gives VITALITY.  Total presence, attention, no judgement, being available, caring, listening.
  7. Attention is a form of kindness and lack of attention is a form of rudeness.
  8. Inattention is cold and hard.  Attention is warm and caring.  It makes our best possibilities flower.
  9. Never forget our inherent dignity and capacity for kindness and compassion.  It is our birth right.

Often in traditional schools where there are around 40 or more people in a class or even in schools where there are only 20 in a class, there are students who are not given enough attention, who fall between the cracks, who are not thriving and who are looking for options out.  We’d like to provide an alternative to those kids and to those who yearn for more freedom to direct their own education.  When I asked Tita Honey, if this type of space can exist in the Philippines, she replied that their team at MLAC can help prepare the mentors of Abot Tala to be able to provide an environment where mindfulness and care are practiced.

I wouldn’t have been able to attend this event had it not been for a Chilean psychologist whom my sister met in an event at the Chilean ambassador’s place.   Daniela and I linked up on Facebook and tried to set up a meeting.  Since she’s based in Cavite, I asked when she’ll be in Manila next and serendipitously, she mentioned she’ll be attending Tita Honey’s talk.  Here is how Daniela introduces herself on her FB page:

I’m Daniela, a Chilean registered Psychologist in the Philippines interested in mental health, community service, and learning.

I have created this space to connect with other mental health professionals, organizations and individuals invested in the overall well-being of Filipino children and youth. This, out of a desire to better understand mental health and wellness within your cultural context, learn about the work you do, and share what I discover in the process.

If you would like to know more about me and my motivations, check out the “LET’S TALK CHILD & YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH” section under the “About” tab.

I look forward to connecting with you! Help me understand your culture and the state of mental health for young Filipinos!


Check out Daniela’s Facebook page.

Following are photos of slides from Dr. Honey Carandang’s talk:


From the talk, I also got a number of Tita Honey’s books including the newest one which includes this beautiful passage about family being a school of compassion and kindness:

Tita Honey requested for kindness when she sang her breathing song and when she played the flute.  I just wish I could’ve recorded her singing this because it would be great to hear and exercise this several times a day.


Read more about Dr. Honey Carandang here.

Read more about Abot Tala here.


Video Googoo


Upon the urging of Mavis and Lia to make a one minute video for Abot Tala, Owie and I were stoked to come up with a script.  Here are the options:

Video script by Owie dela Cruz:

If you could redefine and redesign “school” for teens – fit for the 21st century  – what would it look like?
Before you answer, take a second to think of all the paradigm shifts happening around us.
What if teens had the freedom to spend their time learning what matters to them?
What if classes and mentorship sessions were crafted based on whatever the learners are really interested in and it constantly evolves as their needs change?
What if we trained them in making life decisions, including how to manage their time, by allowing them to choose their schedule and classes instead of telling them what to do. You know, to actually prepare them for the real world.
What if teens struggling in the current school system – for whatever reason – just need a change in environment?
What if I told you that this option exists here in Manila?
Abot Tala is an alternative to mainstream school. It’s not an after-school program.
It’s a personalized learning space where teens don’t study for quizzes, tests and grades. They’re there because they enjoy learning. They’re inspired to work hard because they get consistent quality feedback and mentorship.
Abot Tala.
It’s what school would look like if we could redefine and redesign it.
Set a family meeting with us. We’ll tell you more about it.
Abot Tala is a member of the liberated learners network.

Video Script by Owie dela Cruz: From a Teen’s Point of View:

I know you value school and it prepared you for the world you grew up in and that’s great.
But take a look around you. So many things have changed and continue to evolve.
My needs as a learner are far different now.
We’re called 21st century learners and according to research, what our generation needs in order to thrive in today’s world are creativity, critical thinking, collaboration & communication.
Our happiness, relationships, mental health and stuff we’re passionate about are just as important as learning academics.
And we need a learning community that supports that.
A safe space where we can discover who we really are and what we’re passionate about.
A community that encourages us to embrace our uniqueness and inspires us to help make the world a better place.
Classes and mentoring sessions that allow us to make mistakes as well as voice our opinions, so we could learn to process our thoughts and make wise decisions while we’re young.
We need mentors who respect us, guide us and believe in us.
We don’t need grades to tell us if we’ve done a good or bad job.
After all, high grades don’t translate to bright futures.
We don’t need tests to check if we were listening in class.
We need rich learning experiences, discussions and consistent feedback so we can improve and constantly strive to be better.
The school system may work for some of my friends…
but there are teens like us who need an alternative to mainstream school.
What we need is finally here in Manila.
Yup, this place exists and it could be the answer your teen is looking for too.
Abot Tala is what school looks like if we could redesign and redefine it.
Visit for more information.

We made a script based on the flyer which I thought was stilted compared to the ones above but then Tinky liked it so it’s in the running, too.


What if your kids can choose what they learn?
What if your kids could learn without stress and pressure?
What if your kids could grow and thrive in a space rooted in love and passion?
If they could, they would reach for the stars.
Abot Tala is an alternative to mainstream school that may provide the answers you’re looking for.
Is your child bright but bored in school?
Learns differently?
Pursues something seriously?
Suffers from anxiety?
Doesn’t want to sit and listen all day?
Simply wants to be the author of his own education?
Maybe your child is already homeschooling but searching for a community without the rigid structure of school?
In Abot Tala, say goodbye to homework overload, chasing grades, standardized curriculum.
In Abot Tala, say hello to caring mentors, flexibility, interest-based learning, small welcoming community.
Learning is personalized
and collaborative.
What do you get from Abot Tala?
Once a week one on one mentoring sessions
Classes, workshops, tutorials – attend only those that you are interested in
It’s a community 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 for themselves within their own time and terms, not other’s.
If school is not working for you, know that there is an alternative.


Which one among the three options would you choose?




Check out: Abot Tala

Continuing the Dialogue


I forgot to comment on another important aspect that Ken touched upon on his article about his visit to Manila:

There are some significant cultural differences that this team faces in the Philippines. On a practical level, there is no system of community colleges, which have become a central resource for our members. I have not yet learned how Filipino homeschoolers might get an early head start on college the way that we promote in the United States. Also, The Philippines do not have a system of public libraries, a favorite and essential resource for many of us here. These two cultural institutions, community colleges and public libraries, are so central to our daily work that it takes a few minutes to contemplate how to proceed without them.

In his talks in Manila, Ken would always mention the system of community colleges, libraries and volunteering that make North Star and Liberated Learners centers in America doable, feasible and attractive.  This thought always ran in my head, “Well we don’t have those.  Tough luck.  Third world woes.”

If we offered the same center here in the Philippines, we would have to work with the existing context of a poorly developed social infrastructure.  We don’t have community colleges.  It’s not possible for high school students to get a head start and get college credits.  We don’t have a healthy system of public libraries.  Volunteer work is also not common practice although there are a lot of NGOs some of which work with volunteers.

That only means the work of Abot Tala would be more challenging but since we have existed without those structures mentioned by Ken, it also may be just fine.  No point wishful thinking.  You don’t know what you’re missing if you never had it anyway.

I’ve always been excited as I’m sure fellow bibliophile, Tinky is too, to set up a library within Abot Tala.  And even if we don’t have community colleges, I always thought the way Liberated Learners treated their members is as if they’re adults in college and offered classes much the same way in universities.  They can choose from a wider variety than the usual high school curriculum.

But what if there was a way to connect with universities and see if they would be open to taking high schoolers?  Would colleges balk and laugh at the idea?  Would there be a few who would embrace it?   Would it mean more work and hassle for them so no thank you, Ma’am?   We’ve asked the universe for many seemingly impossible requests for Abot Tala to come to fruition, it won’t hurt to ask for more mountains to be moved.

The attraction of community colleges is it’s affordability; some of them are even tuition-free.  Talk about first world country envy, Germany has a number of universities that are for free.  In the Philippines, there are so-called diploma mills where the quality of education may be questionable. The fight for affordable, quality education in this day and age, should not be as difficult as it was years ago since the world wide web has made more options available to many.  However, the quest for more accessibility and more opportunities will most likely remain constant.