These centers (sometimes called alternative schools) are places where you have permission to be a self-directed learner all-day long.
North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens (in Western Massachusetts) is an incredibly inspiring center that has become a model for many others. Watch the video and listen to the interview below with North Star co-founder Ken Danford.
The Liberated Learners Network is a coalition of centers inspired by North Star.
- Bay State Learning Center – Dedham, MA
- Beacon: Self-Directed Learning – New Haven, CT
- Bucks Learning Cooperative – Langhorne, PA
- Compass: Centre for Self-Directed Learning – Ottawa, ON
- Deep Root: Center for Self-Directed Learning – Canton, NY
- LightHouse Personalized Education for Teens – Holyoke, MA
- Open Doors: Center for Self-Directed Teens – Grand Rapids, MI
- Princeton Learning Cooperative – Princeton, NJ
- True North Teen Learning Alternative – Collinsville, CT
- Ingenuity Hub: Personalized Learning Collaborative – Leominster, MA
- Raritan Learning Cooperative – Flemington, NJ
- Abrome – Austin, TX
- Arcadia Learning Commons – Wilmington, OH
- Cooperative Homeschooling for Everyone – Providence, RI
- Element Education – Tulsa, OK
- Fertile Grounds – Hamilton, ON
- Freedom to Grow Unschool – Hull, GA
- Kite’s Nest – Hudson, NY
- Macomber Center – Framingham, MA
- Open Connections – Newtown Square, PA
- Parts and Crafts – Somerville, MA
- Proprius Learning – Colorado Springs, CO
- Creative Bridges – Evergreen, CO
Agile Learning Center model
Agile Learning Centers are micro-schools that leverage “agile” tools to support self-directed education. Listen to the interviews below with ALC co-founders Tomis Parker and Nancy Tilton, as well as Endor ALC founder Liam Nilsen.
- Agile Learning Center (New York, NY)
- ALC Mosaic (Charlotte, NC)
- ExAlt ALC (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
- Endor ALC (Asheville, NC)
- Heartwood ALC (Atlanta, GA)
The Sudbury Valley School (in Framingham, Massachusetts) is the original “democratic free school” in the U.S., and a huge source of inspiration for many alternative educators.
Browse the full list of Sudbury-model schools in the U.S. and abroad (too long to list here).
Here’s a funny story from College Without High School about my deep admiration (while in college) of the Sudbury model:
Framingham, Massachusetts —The giant stone mansion looks just like the photographs. Children dash across sprawling green lawns under the New England spring sun. I walk a twisting asphalt footpath to the Sudbury Valley School: the first and largest US free school and the focus of two years of my independent study in college. The school’s founders agreed to let me visit, a privilege denied to virtually all outsiders in re- cent years. I should be basking in my fortune, but all I’m thinking is, Are they going to scream at me?
I suppose plagiarism isn’t the best way to say hello.
Earlier that year I decided to make the grandest college course reader (textbook made from photocopies) ever known to humanity. It was for Never Taught to Learn, an undergraduate education course that I had started. The reader, resembling royal parchment on its oversized and spiral-bound paper, included excerpts from every major unschooling-friendly author, including those of one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School.
To produce this masterpiece, I did what every college professor does: photocopy directly from the author’s books to create my reader. With only 12 students in my tiny class, I assumed that some vague notion of academic freedom protected me from any potential legal qualms of photocopying, oh, 3/4 of one of the SVS books. That assumption was my big mistake.
Four weeks into the class I received an unsolicited e-mail from the one of the school’s founders with a single line of content: “Blake, I noticed that you’re using some of our books in your course reader. Would you please tell me exactly which books and how many pages you’re using?” Woops —I guess I shouldn’t have posted the course syllabus online. Defaulting to honesty as the best medicine, I wrote him back with the exact numbers.
The next day I received a scathing e-mail from another one of the school’s founders. She accused me (rightfully) of plagiarizing the school’s books and demanded royalties and an immediate apology. It was a slap to my face to realize that I’d committed intellectual theft, but I admitted my mistake, stayed up all night writing an apology letter and mailed it the next day with an $80 royalty check.
Slipped into the end of my apology letter I included a humble question. “I photocopied your books because I deeply admire your school,” I wrote, “and I would cherish the opportunity to see it in person.” It was a shot in the dark for an opportunity I assumed I’d already ruined.
To my utter surprise, I received a response by e-mail only a week later. The staff had read my letter, were touched and grudgingly decided to allow me a one-day visit. What authors, reporters and graduate students had consistently been denied — a full day visit to the country’s oldest free school — I had just been granted.
Three months later I found myself walking down that twisted asphalt path, circled by cartwheeling free schoolers, wondering if this was a booby trap. But I wasn’t executed in the dungeons of Sudbury Valley. I shook the founders’ hands and spent a fantastic day soaking up Sudbury’s unstructured, democratic school culture. I met my heroes and the experts of the free school movement.
But there are better ways to do it.
Independent & unaffiliated centers suggested by readers
The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) maintains a comprehensive global list of of alternative schools. “These schools and organizations generally have in common a learner-centered approach to education. Members include K-12 schools, colleges, homeschool resource centers, and other organizations.” The list includes Montessori, Waldorf, and other schools that may take a more traditional approach than the centers listed above.
Is there a resource that belongs on this page?