My name is Thomas and I’m 16 years old. My family moved to Summitville when I was 10. I attended a regular elementary school through fourth grade in the suburb where we lived before moving here. I took enrichment classes at that school, but things were often frustrating because I didn’t feel challenged in most of my classes. When we moved here, I was told I was in charge of my own education, which I didn’t exactly believe until I was assigned my initial support team.
My support team met with me several times just learning about me and sharing about themselves. My parents are part of my support team, as they are for most students. The rest of the team included other students ranging in age from around 8 to 16, a SLC alum, and a district learning facilitator/advisor (we don’t have “teachers” here). It seemed weird having a student younger than me on my support team, but it helped me see that the SLC was serious about students being in charge of their own goals and learning and stuff.
It was also weird seeing the students interact with my parents like they were truly equals. They were very respecting toward them, but they were also incredibly confident. They clearly knew all three of us needed to adapt to a whole new way of doing things and that they were the primary ones to help with that. My parents admitted it was hard not to be “in charge” of me and my decisions, but also admitted we moved to Summitville because they believed in the approach they were using. It would just take some time to adjust.
After taking a couple weeks of everyone getting to know each other, the other students explained how they had developed learning plans, even the younger kids, and that they were going to help me develop my learning plan. We began with discussing the things I enjoyed doing and why, as well as thinking about the types of things I wanted to do in the future. They asked if I knew what sort of job or career interested me, but I really didn’t know.
They also asked my parents a lot of questions, some that really made them think. They asked them about their own education and the journeys they took in their lives. They asked what lessons from those journeys they wanted me to learn. They asked them what they most wanted for me as I took my own life journey. And they didn’t settle for simple answers; they really challenged them to think deeply for their answers.
Over the next few meetings I began creating a list of knowledge and skills I thought would be important to me in the future and everyone weighed in with their thoughts. Some of these were easy because I always loved math and science so came up with a lot of things for that. I also loved reading so included that. I didn’t like writing (and really still don’t), but the support team helped me see how writing skills would be useful for almost anything I wanted to do in the future. They also showed me how learning about history, civics, and other cultures could help me become a better critical thinker, so I added some related things.
From that list of knowledge and skills, the support team helped me develop a list of specific knowledge and skill standards I would work to pursue. Since I was only 10, this seemed a bit weird, but when I saw everyone else’s, it made it okay. Once I had the list, we began deciding how I would demonstrate each standard. Actually, I really decided those things, but they provided a lot of ideas of how I could do it.
Finally, we came up with strategies for achieving the standards. That really blew me away. Even though by then I knew Summitville didn’t offer regular classes, I was kind of expecting to have them and just set up a schedule. Instead, we laid out strategies for achieving the standards and then developed plans for executing them. I was introduced to a sort of app for making everyone’s learning plan work by linking up people with similar interests, strategies, and standards.
Since then, I’ve achieved my initial standards and countless more in so many ways I can’t remember them all (though they’re all documented, so I could figure them out). In a lotta cases, I found others with shared interests and piggy-backed off things they were already doing. One of the coolest things about that is we are always pushing each other to go further in what we’re learning and trying to accomplish. A group of us started a Science Bowl team based on our love of science and made it to the national competition in Washington, D.C. I would never have done that as part of a regular science class. I also linked up with students and faculty at the university near us and am now doing a research internship.
I’ve also been able to pursue my interest in music by linking up with fellow students, a SLC learning facilitator, and some local musicians. I’ve learned to play three instruments, and we’ve formed a couple jazz groups that perform for various events in the area. There are enough soccer (my favorite sport) and track athletes that we have competitive varsity teams that I’m on. We schedule practices to accommodate everyone’s individual schedules. I also play hockey for a nearby team through a coop agreement since we don’t have enough players to form our own team.
Beyond my support team is my “coalition.” That seems like a funny term for a teenager to use, but I think all of us in the SLC are just used to it. The coalition I’m part of call ourselves “The Fellowship”, which is really short for “The Fellowship of the Ring.” We really came together through a shared interest in role-playing games and fantasy books like The Lord of the Ring. While we do spend a lot of time playing D and D and Magic the Gathering, we also advocate for each other in numerous ways. I think we’d be friends and do these things even if the SLC didn’t ask everyone to be part of a coalition, but doing that has helped us form much deeper and stronger bonds.
The parents of one of our Fellowship, Robbie, were going through an ugly divorce and it was taking a pretty hard toll on him. While he wasn’t really wanting to talk about it, the rest of us could see how it was hurting him in a lot of different ways, including that he was getting off track with his learning and stuff. We had a sort of intervention to get him to open up so we could figure out how to help him. Once he did start sharing with us, it was like a huge weight came off him. It seemed to help him just to talk about it, but it also allowed us to find ways to help, like enlisting some adults to help us talk to his parents about what their divorce was doing to Robbie. It was really hard, but it felt really good to help Robbie stand up for himself—and he was able to get himself back on track. The best part for me is knowing The Fellowship is there for me, too.
From the standpoint of learning and developing, probably the best thing about being in school here—if you can call it school, it’s so different from schools everywhere else—is I’ve achieved dozens of standards that match up with those for getting into nearly any college or university. The standards I’m still pursuing are almost all well beyond the level of entering college. I found a few colleges that are willing to grant credit for prior experience and demonstrating the knowledge and skills I already have, so I’m hoping to have fewer classes to pay for once I actually enroll.
I’ve been at SLC long enough now that I can barely remember what my old school was like, but I know I’ve pushed myself far past what I could possibly have done in that old district, and I’m completely confident in taking responsibility for myself and my future. When I get together with my same-age cousins who go to a regular high school, I can sense their frustration with school and their worries about the future. It makes me wonder why every “school” isn’t like ours.
I have a wide range of interests and so I have a wide range of standards and means of achieving and demonstrating those standards. These are some activities I’m undertaking along with a sample of standards they will achieve and demonstrate:
- I will conduct research on the nature and scope
of injuries related to soccer, hockey, and track, three sports in which I
participate. I will then present my findings to teammates, their parents, and
the coaches. I will also execute a means of sharing the important elements of this
research with youth sports players and their parents. This is a small sample of
core academic standards I will demonstrate with this project:
- Synthesize the key elements of multiple texts to support a common argument (ELA)
- Prepare written arguments supporting findings and claims (ELA)
- Prepare written report using proper conventions and that is readily understandable by the target audience (ELA)
- Present and support synthesized findings, claims, and arguments of research project (ELA)
- Make inferences and justify conclusions from sample surveys, experiments, and observational studies (Math*)
- Use probability to evaluate outcomes of decisions (Math*)
- Differentiate between causation and correlation (Science)
- Predict effects of changes in variables on outcomes (Science)
- Evaluate the possible interpretations and impacts of claims and arguments on various audiences (Social Studies)
- Using scientific practices, conduct research related to a problem or issue affecting individuals and/or society (Social Studies**)
- In addition to core academic standards, Thomas will demonstrate standards in Computer Science, Health Science, Information and Technology Literacy, and Physical Education.
- I will develop and demonstrate numerous Physical Education and Nutrition standards through participation in soccer, hockey, and track through documentation of training, diet, and performance.
- I will develop and demonstrate numerous World Language and Social Studies standards through participation in a local organization made up of other students and community members that immerses us all in French culture and language several times each week.
- I love math and science and so am taking self-paced, online classes and more traditional college classes. Since I’m really interested in these subjects, I learn effectively and am meeting numerous math and science standards in these courses.
- I am involved with math- and science-related competitive teams made up of SLC students and am meeting numerous math- and science-related standards through these teams.
- I play flute and saxophone with two different local groups that include current and past SLC students and a few community members. I also take both individual and small group lessons to supplement the bands. Recently I started playing trombone so will be working that into my program at some point.
*Taken from Wisconsin Common Core Essential Elements for Mathematics (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014)
**Taken from Wisconsin Standards for Social Studies (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2018)