Uh oh! How do I explain Sudbury to my family at the holidays?!?!

The holidays are coming.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  You get to see family you haven’t seen in a while, they want to know all about your life and they want to know, “what the heck is a Sudbury School?”

Then, the questions start coming… how do they learn math?  How do they get into college?  Aunt Martha was a public school teacher for 35 years.  What do you mean there are no grades, homework or tests?  Students can choose what to do?  Well, that’s just plain crazy.  Pass the cranberries…

In hopes of making your holidays a little less stressful, here are some answers to common questions and tips to help you along in your conversations with skeptical family members.

1.  What is Sudbury?
Every Sudbury School describes it a little differently.  Here’s our take in Atlanta:

  • Individualized Education: Traditional schools are moving toward standardized learning where everyone learns the same things and the outcomes are exactly the same.  At SSA, we believe that young people are not standardized.  They have unique, amazing talents, skills, abilities and passions.  The best way to individualize their education is to let them lead the way.  Students choose and pursue what interests them.
  • Democratic Operating Structure:  Every student gets a voice and a vote.  They manage their own budget, create all the rules of conduct and manage the judicial process if rules are broken.  What better way for students to learn how to be engaged citizens in American democracy than creating and managing a democracy at school?  We sure wish Congress went to a K-12 democratically-run school.  They might have learned how to negotiate in productive ways so the government wouldn’t have shut down!
  • Multi-Age Environment:  All students learn from each other.  It is an organic way of learning for young people that is closed off in traditional schools.  We value the contributions of every student in the learning community. 

Here’s a great one minute video about a parent’s reflections on the Sudbury model.

2.  How do they learn math?
Students manage their own budget through the democratic process.  If they want a school pet, say a gerbil, they need to figure out:

  • How much does a gerbil cost?
  • How much is a cage, food, bedding, water bottle, toys, vitamins, etc?
  • How often do I need to buy additional food, bedding or toys?
  • If a gerbil gets sick, how much is it to see a vet?
They learn math through the experience of pursuing their interests and goals.  Sudbury begins with the human experience and students gain knowledge through the process of trying to reach their goals.  Traditional schools present “subjects” and hope students translate that information to the human experience.  Unfortunately, most students in traditional schools don’t translate it and just complain, “when am I going to use this in ‘real life’?”  Sudbury is real life.

3.  I’ve never heard of Sudbury before?
The original Sudbury Valley School opened in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1968.  There are now about 40 Sudbury schools worldwide.

4.  How do they get into college?
Most colleges now have an alternative school admissions track.  One quarter of all colleges are also “test-optional,” meaning that they do not require the SAT or ACT standardized test scores.  Universities recognize that test scores are not a valid indicator of student success.  As well, statistics from the original Sudbury Valley School tell us that 85% of graduates go on to college and about 80% of those get into their first college of choice.

The Sudbury model is all about empowering students to become independent thinkers, good decision makers and engaged citizens.  So, be confident and don’t take your family’s questions personally.  They are learning too.  You have found an amazing school that fits your family’s needs, goals and aspirations.  We hope that every family can find the same fit, regardless of the educational model.  Happy holidays to you and your whole family.  Please pass the cranberries…