A friend and colleague had shared with us a story from their affiliate school, The Humanist Academy, about one of their most enthusiastic and committed families leaving just after Thanksgiving break. They were very sincere about following their "child" and it was a really difficult decision. Not even a month into their public school experience, they wrote the letter below about why they left. They are currently reapplying to return to The Humanist Academy and are about to have their trial week.
Why We Left The Humanist Academy...and Why We're Coming Back
The Struggle of an Acton Parent After 4 years at The Humanist Academy (THA), we made the difficult decision to leave. Our journey at THA was a wonderful one - full of ups and downs and so much learning. And...so much questioning. The journey of an Acton parent is a largely uncharted one.. one that is full of questions and new discoveries. The processes, structure, culture are all things that we didn't grow up with in a traditional school setting. You wonder - is this working? Are my children really learning without being taught? Is their contract being upheld fairly by other children? And even more of a guilt trip is... Are my children missing out? Am I taking something away from them by not giving them that 'common' experience everyone has - like extracurriculars, more teachers, more kids, homecoming etc? And many times you think "I turned out just fine and I went to a traditional school - so woudn't they?" The Catalyst And then it happened - my daughter Alisha (8) asked to try out another school. She was unhappy with what she perceived as unfairness in Integrity Points, Council, and Warriors not taking the time to help each other or being inclusive in quests. So that was the catalyst - but really all the questions I mentioned before had been brewing for years and this was just the tipping point. After that followed weeks of anxiety. I debated this decision so much. I reached out to others that had left, THA leadership, and many of the parents in the THA community (thank you!). Personally, I felt conflicted as a strong advocate for Acton and THA but I knew this was something we had to do and if we never did it, we would keep wondering "what if?" and would never know.
The Transition So, we decided to leave after Thanksgiving break, take some time to detach and enjoy the holidays, and start their new school in January. We had agreed that if we were going to do this - we would go full in. We would commit to the new school for an entire semester (lol...), we'd join the PTA, complete all work with dedication, and be involved as possible. We would have checkpoints as a family and then make a decision at the end of the school year on how to move forward. BTW, I had worried so much about the transition to a new school. And thought they would need a couple months to acclimate. I'm here to tell you - False. These kids jumped right into the routine day 1. Children are really so resilient and flexible. So if you're worried if your child will be able to adjust to a traditional school - don't - they'll be fine. More than fine. They'll excel. New Experiences Alisha earned the Student of the Week award less than 6 days into the school. Raiya earned line leader (apparently a big deal in Kindergarten) within the first few of days. I wish I could tell you some huge thing happened that made us want to come back...or that the experience was so awful we couldn't take it anymore. It was none of those things. The experience was...great. Both kids had wonderful, caring teachers who worked extra hard to help them fit in. They were making friends. We even got to walk home from school. It was the little conversations we had on these walks - the observations and comparisons they were able to make that made it increasingly clear how much better of an experience THA was.They were able to assess and appreciate so many details about THA that we had taken for granted... but there were two that stood out to me in particular. Lesson 1: Having a Voice One walk, Alisha observed "Mommy, the kids here only raise their hands if they need to use the restroom, or if they have a question on an assignment". I thought - umm okay, that sounds pretty normal. You raise your hand to ask a question, what's weird about that? Alisha continues, "At THA we raise our hands to provide input, to share our thoughts, or to say why we disagree." And I was speechless...because this may seem small, but in my child's subconscious this was huge. We're conditioned from a young age to think you only raise your hand to ask. We then often learn the hard way at work - that you should raise your hand to share your voice and thoughts; that it's important to speak up, and that your contribution matters. Alisha - at 8 years old - had already learned this. Maybe, more accurately, it wasn't something she had to 'unlearn' - she hadn't been conditioned by a traditional system to think you only speak to ask permission or help... she had learned all along at THA that you speak to share your mind - respectfully, but often. This hit hard... and its just one example, but there are so many subtle ways the processes, culture and structure of an Acton school shapes our children.
Lesson 2: The Value of Community On another walk Alisha said: "Mommy the kids aren't a community here." Me: "Oh what do you mean? Aren't people friends with each other?" Alisha: "Well, yes, like they're friends with each other... but they aren't a community." I don't even know when it was that I truly understood the value of community. Maybe it was in college after I transitioned from a small campus to a large one. But, even then, I'm not sure I distinguished friendship from community. So perhaps it was after I had my first child and learned the meaning of 'it takes a village'. But it definitely wasn't at 8 years old. In 2 sentences, Alisha had unraveled the thing we had taken the most for granted at THA- the community. THA had shown her that community is something more than just friendship. It's leaning on and supporting each other, holding one another accountable, having shared goals and experiences. It is belonging, and supporting one another's growth...and so much more. Maybe she can't articulate all of that yet - but I know she feels it.
These life lessons are intangible - they aren't graded, they aren't on a report card. We probably don't even talk about them, but our children are learning so much more than we can imagine.
So...we don't regret that we left THA because stepping away made it so much more clear for us all the amazing things about THA... We've gained a completely new perspective on this irreplaceable, learner driven, project and discussion based community.
I could go on forever... but I'll save it for a coffee chat :) We are so looking forward to being part of the community again!
-Amber, Ricky, Alisha and Raiya