Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Newspaper Article Mountain Laurel Sudbury School

From: Jonell Alvi <>
Date: Mon Jul 12 14:41:00 2004

I LOVE your comments! Too often are people's minds closed to new ways of thinking about the world. Oh how I wish we had a Sudbury School in Idyllwild (where we live), so I could send my children there. I'm prepared to home-school, but not to start a school.... I do wish such a place were available to my sons; next to the home, they seem like the best places for children to learn and grow.
Jonell Alvi -- mother of Ben (4) and Nick (1) and wishing Sudbury Schools were the norm...

Carol Hughes <> wrote:
Is it just me or does every single article about Sudbury schools sound the
same? The limitation time and time again is that the interview is most
likely the journalist's first and only exposure to alternative educational

The number one comment is always "there are no tests, grades or homework".
Just kinda bugs me that the first thing stated is what they don't do at
Sudbury Schools. Here's my suggested line instead. All learning and growth
is student-driven. Values placed on knowledge are in the student's own
mind. All the relationships among student and staff are relied upon for
feedback on the fulfillment of a chosen path of learning. The students are
keenly aware of each other's activities and areas of interest.

Predictable comment number two, "no teachers, formal classes or a
curriculum". Egads did the word shepherd really appear in this paper
without the editor throwing it out?

"Students are guided by staff members who shepherd them toward resources and
information." In truth, everyone is a "teacher" at a Sudbury school. Just
my opinion.

Comment number three "lack of structure". Well, yeah, lack of the structure
you remember and know about, but there is definitely a structure of a
different kind.

Then of course we have the "expert" who has his doubts about this sort of
school for everyone. "experts question their effectiveness for all students"
Pulllleeze. Can we talk, as Joan Rivers would say, about the effectiveness
of traditional schools?

Okay, so is this about home-schooling in this journalist's eyes? Perhaps
since the enrollment is so small at this school we can over-look this one.
A Sudbury school is definitely NOT a home-school.

"On any given day, you're as likely to see them climbing trees as reading
books." Now there ya go, we're really "getting" the Sudbury concept now.

"Students shoulder the ultimate responsibility for acquiring the knowledge
needed to reach their goals." How successful these students are depends on
the child and his or her family, said noted author and educator Theodore
Sizer. Those who fare best are instinctively curious, stubborn and highly
self-motivated. Hmmmmmmmm, am wondering how this is different from any
school, students, family, er ah life.

"There are some kids who will simply drift and flounder," Having been to a
private fundamentalist high school, I can assure you that drifting and
floundering is a normal state for many young people. Say who is this Sizer
and how much time has he spent at a Sudbury school?

"despite the lack of direct supervision." Tain't so, this lack of
supervision. Oh well, if you can't see it you can't see it.

"Ultimately it comes down to the individual and how well they apply
themselves." Now there's a radical idea.
Okay, I fell better now,
Carol Hughes
----- Original Message -----

Sent: Monday, July 12, 2004 9:34 AM
Subject: Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Mountain Laurel Sudbury School

> Ultimate Unschool
> Courant Staff Writer
> July 12 2004
> Every so often Nick Marshall-Butler gets a call from a former classmate at
Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford. Almost always, they want to know
when he's coming back.
> "Why would I come back?" he asks.
> At Mountain Laurel Sudbury School in New Britain - where Nick is now a
student - there are no tests, grades or homework. Students have a say in
every decision and choose what they want to study.
> There are a total of five pupils and no teachers, formal classes or a
curriculum. Students are guided by staff members who shepherd them toward
resources and information.
> "Most of my friends think it's crap," said Nick, a self-assured
14-year-old with braces and spindly legs. "They are entitled to their
opinion. I like it. It's good for me."
> Everyone involved with this private alternative school founded in New
Britain two years ago seems to feel the same way. Despite the lack of
structure, they are confident there is as much or more learning going on as
in a conventional private or public school setting.
> But Mountain Laurel is struggling to survive. Operating expenses are
covered almost entirely by the $5,000 annual tuition, and, with just five
students, the school is barely viable.
> Board members host monthly open houses to attract new students - the next
one is scheduled for July 21 - but if more don't enroll the school will
close, said Marie Sampson, a retired public school teacher and the only paid
member of Mountain Laurel's six-person staff.
> "It's a challenge until you get going," Sampson said. "It's a new idea and
it can be scary to people."
> Looking For An Alternative
> Mountain Laurel is one of the many "unschools" popping up across the
nation. The growth of these alternative educational opportunities - though
experts question their effectiveness for all students - has been explosive
and is expected to continue. Increased emphasis on standardized tests and
ever more rigid standards in public education are among the reasons, they
> "What's happened is people are fed up with the dregs of the old system,"
said Jerry Mintz, director of the Alternative Education Resource
Organization, a New York-based resource center for home-schoolers and
alternative educators. "Thanks to `No Child Left Behind,' people are
abandoning [conventional] schools in droves."
> In the last two decades, the number of parents home-schooling their
children has grown from 20,000 to about two million - a 100-fold increase,
Mintz said. He estimates there are about 12,000 alternative schools
nationwide, which includes Montessori, charter and public alternative
> Of those, about 300 follow the democratic - one person, one-vote - model
of Mountain Laurel Sudbury. The fledgling operation is one of about 30
"Sudbury" schools in the nation - and two in Connecticut, New Britain and
Hampton - modeled after Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass.
> Founded 35 years ago, that school sits on a wooded estate near Boston.
Mountain Laurel occupies a rented portion of the religious education
building of St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
> Students and staff - a mixture of former home-schoolers and refugees from
the public school system - point to the success of the original school when
asked about their prospects. Close to 90 percent of Sudbury Valley's nearly
700 graduates have gone on to colleges and universities in the United States
and abroad, said Mimsy Sadofsky, a staff member and spokeswoman.
> Everyone Has A Say
> The Sudbury model includes weekly school meetings. At Mountain Laurel,
they are laid back, free-form affairs.
> At a recent meeting, Sampson and Beth King, a parent and part-time staff
member, ran through items on the agenda. Nick stood over a stool nearby
alternately playing cards and offering feedback and commentary.
> Two other students, Emily King, 16, and Shae Nethercott, 13, played Old
Maid at a nearby table. Nick's 5-year-old brother, Liam, the school's
youngest student, twirled in circles in his stocking feet, swatting the air.
> Students draft school laws, and at this meeting - the last one of the
school year - they revised a policy on leaving campus. King dragged a pink
highlighter across a map to mark the boundaries of the downtown area where
students are now allowed to visit.
> The next item: Voting on whether to use student activity funds for
everyone to have lunch at a downtown diner. Approval was unanimous. The
outing was to celebrate the end of the school year.
> King said she home-schooled Emily and her 18-year-old sister, Alex, before
enrolling them at Mountain Laurel.
> "What we were looking for was for her to be able to direct her own
learning but to have a community around her everyday," said King, who heard
about the school from a professor at Central Connecticut State University.
> Nick was bored and stressed out attending Sedgwick, said his mother,
Melissa Marshall, a trustee of Mountain Laurel. "Schools are so focused on
standardized tests that it takes away from real learning."
> Since transferring, Nick seems more responsible, more independent and more
in charge of his own life, Marshall said. "I've seen so much growth in every
single kid at the school."
> The school maintains regular hours, but full-time students are required to
be there only 25 hours a week. On any given day, you're as likely to see
them climbing trees as reading books.
> But equipment is sparse: a couple of donated computers, a VCR and a
television purchased when the school opened. Bookshelves are filled with
mostly donated books and supplemented by the collection at New Britain
Public Library, where students also rent videotapes and use the computers.
> There are no graduation requirements. If students want one, however, they
could propose it and bring the matter to a vote at a school meeting.
> "We create rules as we need them," Sampson said.
> Not For Everyone
> Such liberties come with a price. Students shoulder the ultimate
responsibility for acquiring the knowledge needed to reach their goals. If
Nick, for example, wants to attend a college requiring a diploma or the SAT,
it's up to him to master the material needed to pass either test.
> How successful these students are depends on the child and his or her
family, said noted author and educator Theodore Sizer. Those who fare best
are instinctively curious, stubborn and highly self-motivated.
> "There are some kids who will simply drift and flounder," said Sizer,
former dean of Harvard University's graduate school of education and founder
of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a school reform initiative.
> Some youngsters mistakenly think "democratic" means "I can do anything I
want," said Sizer. "There is another side, a very difficult side, that
involves pitching in and working together to make the community collectively
function. The whole thing rests on the paradox of having a structure in
place that allows kids to learn how to work as a community in a democratic
> Whether that's happening at Mountain Laurel is hard to say. Students do
appear happier, though, and extraordinarily mindful of rules despite the
lack of direct supervision.
> On one warm June afternoon, Nick, Shae and Emily huddled on the stone
stairs outside the church chatting and reading paperbacks.
> "Here you're not going to be forced to read a certain thing and then tell
everyone about it," said Shae, whose mother describes her as a bright,
strong-minded kid with a thing about rules.
> Shae, who transferred to Mountain Laurel from Chippens Hill Middle School
in Bristol, battled with her mother nightly over homework. She took three
different medications for a collection of learning and behavioral problems,
including attention deficit disorder, sad Liz Shupe, her mother.
> "In public school, you have to fit into a box otherwise you're in
trouble," Shupe said. "You're not to question anything. She's not that kind
of person."
> At Mountain Laurel, Shae is "functioning beautifully" and no longer
requires medication. "She's much easier to deal with and much happier,"
Shupe said. "It's such a relief."
> Nick, who is fascinated with politics, spends one day a week doing
volunteer work for U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd's office in Rocky Hill. Emily
is enrolled in a pottery class at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
> If such freedoms seemed radical when alternative schools such as Summer
Hill appeared on the scene 40 years ago, they don't anymore. For more than a
decade, public educators have been using the approach to deal with so-called
"high-low" students - low performers with high intelligence - or those not
finding success in a traditional school setting.
> Colleges have come around, too. Receiving applications from students who
lack grades or traditional transcripts is not a new phenomenon, said Reggie
E. Kennedy, senior associate dean of admissions at Trinity College in
Hartford. Instead of transcripts, administrators rely on interviews and
> "We just take those on a case-by-case basis," Kennedy said of such
students. "You never want to close the door. Ultimately it comes down to the
individual and how well they apply themselves."
> Trustees at Mountain Laurel have set July 31 as the deadline for
bolstering enrollment. Whether the school survives hinges on how well they
convey their vision to parents like Heidi Alletzhauser.
> The Bristol resident and her husband were among those attending one of two
open houses at Mountain Laurel last month. They are weighing whether to
register three of their four sons and concede they are still undecided.
> "What draws us is the egalitarian nature of the culture there: the ability
of the kids to be able to pursue deeply what interests them," said
Alletzhauser, who moved to Connecticut from California two years ago.
> The lack of a permanent facility, the school's small student body and its
uncertain future are among their concerns, Alletzhauser said.
> Melissa Marshall hopes the school can be saved. She is certain that both
Nick and Liam will come away from their education there better equipped than
they would from a public school.
> "I think they are learning a broader set of skills to be self-sufficient,"
she said. "Instead of working on tests, projects and getting A's, they are
focused on self-examination and what they want in life."
> Copyright 2004, Hartford Courant
> -------------- Original message from Mike Sadofsky : --------------
> > >July 12, 2004
> > >Ultimate Unschool - Hartford Courant
> > >At Mountain Laurel Sudbury School in New Britain there are no tests,
> > >grades or homework. Students have a say in every decision and
> > >choose what they want to study.
> >
> > These are the opening words in an article in today's Hartford (CT)
> > Courant. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make it through their
> > *registration* process in order to access the entire article. Perhaps
> > someone else will and will post the entire text here.
> >
> > Mike
> > _______________________________________________
> > Discuss-sudbury-model mailing list
> >
> >
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Received on Mon Jul 12 2004 - 14:40:03 EDT

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