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

From: Mike Sadofsky <>
Date: Mon Jul 12 14:47:00 2004

Hey Carol,

So what do you expect from what passes for a journalist today?

Just think about how ineffective most of those who rise to the top of
their profession are at asking probing questions and constructing a
picture of anything out of the ordinary. But how about a letter to
the editor that asks these same questions? Perhaps enough of them
might get someone thinking? Maybe this is a strategy worth


On Mon, 12 Jul 2004 14:28:06 -0400, "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 -----
>From: <>
>To: <>
>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
>> >
>> >
>> _______________________________________________
>> Discuss-sudbury-model mailing list
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Received on Mon Jul 12 2004 - 14:46:55 EDT

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