Below are a few common questions about Sudbury education. We welcome the opportunity to discuss any of these or other concerns in person at an open house, parent coffee, or school tour.
At Tallgrass, we understand that choosing an alternative education path, like the Sudbury model, can cause some anxiety, and we expect that a family’s early days at school will involve plenty of questions and a bit of soul searching. We strive to maintain a strong parent community that provides ongoing support between parents, and an environment to ask questions and voice concerns as the students take this adventure.
Q: What are school hours?
A: Tallgrass is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students must be at Tallgrass a total of 5 hours per day to meet state-required student attendance policies. Students may attend all day, come in later, or leave earlier depending on what works best for each student and their family.
Q: What if I am not sure if my child can't handle the amount of personal freedom and responsibility at Tallgrass?
A: Students at Tallgrass are in charge of their own education, which means balancing freedom and responsibility. Students are expected to sign in and out every day, do chores, participate in JC and the occasional mandatory school meeting, and be able to follow school rules and exist peaceably with the other members of school.
You may be surprised at how well most children, in this environment, rise to meet these expectations. We expect a transition period when a student transfers to Tallgrass, and maintain open communication with families during this time, so that any issues with transitioning can be addressed. However, as with any school, sometimes Sudbury education is not a good fit for a particular student.
Q: How do I know if my child is getting an education (learning math, science, writing)?
A: Sudbury schools do not have any sort of academic curriculum. We believe, and have witnessed, that children learn traditional academics when they are ready for them.
Traditional schools push children to learn specific things at specific times in their lives. This can hold some children back, and push other children to learn things that they may not be ready for, at the expense of other, equally important, development.
When a child does decide to pursue something like math, they will have a higher likelihood of having the information stick with them, as opposed to just remembering it until the test is over.
It is common for children who are self-directed learners to be "ahead" in some subjects and "behind" in others during their time at school. However, more than 50 years of Sudbury education have shown that Sudbury students leave school with the skills and knowledge necessary to follow their chosen path.
Q: How will my child learn math if there is not a specific math class offered?
A: At Tallgrass we believe that children seek information when they are ready to learn it. When they come across situations where they need higher math skills they will acquire them.
Basic math skills are learned in everyday life, at school and at home. Things like using money, playing video games, creating art, and reading the time, are all examples of using basic math daily. If "being taught" is the path to learning the student chooses, staff are capable and prepared to teach many different subjects at a student's request.
Check out this TED Talk from a conventional math teacher.
Q: Will my child be able to get into a traditional high school or college?
A: Students who have left Tallgrass have gone on to university, community college, high schools, public schools, and trade programs.
Tallgrass does not focus on preparing students for high school or college level work. If the student is interested in attending a more traditional school it is their responsibility to ensure they are prepared. The staff are here to support the student in their pursuits.
Tallgrass has a voluntary diploma program for students who have been enrolled 2 or more years, and who successfully defend a thesis at a school Assembly Meeting.
Q: What if all my child wants to do is play games all day?
A: That's great! Society often views play as a waste of time, but at Tallgrass we consider it a very important part of development. Through play, children learn to express creativity, cope in social situations, learn about their interests and develop their sense of right and wrong, among many other skills.
Here is a blog post on "Mind/Shift" about the importance of play.
Q: How will my child get exposed to things that they haven't already expressed interest in?
A: In a conventional school, students are largely isolated from the world around them, then “exposed” by teachers to select knowledge and opportunities deemed appropriate for that population of students. At Tallgrass, students are exposed to widely varying ideas and activities simply because the students exist both within the school community and beyond, so that parents, siblings, friends, and media are all considered valid influences and sources of knowledge. Students learn about opportunities and ideas through conversations, play, and by seeing what other students and staff are doing. If a student becomes passionate about one interest, he or she has the time and space to pursue it intensely.
Q: Do you serve children with special needs?
Students with special needs like ADHD, learning disabilities, and many autism spectrum disorders have thrived at our school. All students must be able to function safely in our school environment and communicate well enough to understand and follow school rules. If you have questions about special needs, please call 708.777.1037 or email us and we'd be happy to discuss whether our school would be a good fit for your family.
Q: Is religion part of Tallgrass?
Religion is not part of any school activities at Tallgrass, inside or outside of school hours. Students are free to follow their own religious beliefs while attending Tallgrass. Our school is located on the top floor of the Riverside United Methodist Church, but we are not affiliated with that or any other church.
Q: Can parents be involved?
As at most schools, parents are not generally present during the school day. Parents are welcome to stop in for a few minutes during drop off or pickup. Our parent volunteer group organizes parent volunteer opportunities as well as community activities, like parent coffees and camping trips. We also encourage all parents to be involved in our Assembly, a group that votes on decisions like the school’s yearly budget and graduate theses.
Q: When was Tallgrass founded?
Tallgrass Sudbury School was founded in 2008 by Melissa Bradford.
Q: Where can I learn more?
A past volunteer has written about his experiences at Tallgrass.
Michael Goldberg, an educator on a mission to learn more about meaningful education, shared his thoughts about Tallgrass.
Check out psychology professor Peter Gray's wonderful Psychology Today blog, Freedom to Learn, about the roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning: "Children come into the world with instinctive drives to educate themselves. These include the drives to play and explore."
Peter Gray has also published a book, Free to Learn.
Want to raise safe, self-reliant kids without going nuts with worry? Read Free Range Kids.
Drive by Daniel Pink explores how we find our true motivation when we have the freedom to self-direct our own lives.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of schools in the US and in other countries following the principles of Sudbury education.