At this time of year, I spend a copious amount of time explaining Deep Root Center and the concept of self-directed learning to potential students and their families, as well as volunteers. One of the most frequently asked questions, after they listen to the basics, is: so, you have kids from ages 5-18, they all have their own learning plan based on their interests, there is no physically separated space determined by age or grade level, and, they are each in charge of their own education – how exactly does that work?
Very simply, we all work together to create the conditions that foster a welcoming, educational community. When a young person walks into DRC they intuit the difference immediately. It feels like home. It is colorful, bright, and open. The central room (dubbed the chill space) is set up with cozy furniture as well as pillows, beanbags, and blankets, and, there are student designed murals painted directly on the walls in every single room.
It is obvious at first glance that people – student members, staff, and volunteers all enjoy being here. DRC is a positive, comfortable, non-coercive, safe, environment where everyone has explicit permission to be themselves, as long as they do not hurt anyone or anything else. Respect for ourselves, each other, and this space is our only rule.
Our students have unencumbered access to all of our facilities, resources, and materials where they are free to play, imagine, explore, experiment, build, create, and ask questions. This encourages an open, receptive, and objective mind-set that generates curiosity about new ideas and concepts, which then inspires them to ask additional questions and make future decisions based on those discoveries.
Quite predictably the second question is, “but, what does all that look like on any given day?” My answer, without a moment’s hesitation is, “to be quite honest, absolute chaos. When you take a few moments to really observe what is going on, however, you appreciate the deeply, fundamental, and natural learning that is happening on so many awesome levels.”
If you had been a fly on the wall this past Thursday and Friday, you would have witnessed these snapshots, just a few of the scenes that also included a visiting chicken in her cage in one corner, as well as DRC’s endlessly patient, resident pet, Warren the Bunny, who was the inspiration for the vignette below.
Five kids of various ages, knee-deep in a pile of cardboard boxes, designing a bunny mansion and maze – the 16-year-old wielding the box cutter and hot glue gun, while the 5-year-old spins like a top, off to one side, and the three tweens discuss appropriate habitat while directing the placement of the walls.
Three girls, ages 10 -15, repainting the entrance wall, blue, for the background of a new mural inspired by the movie “Finding Dory”, finding images on-line, and tracing them onto plastic sheets to be projected onto the wall, after they figure out how to operate the overhead projector.
Three teens playing Scrabble and then Battleship on the coffee table, with the “assistance” of a rotating group of “cheerleaders” on the couch and recliners, a Seedling filling in a green Lego platform with individual Lego pieces, and, two other teens watching a video on a phone. Four Seedlings, ages 5-9, sitting at the classroom table collaboratively building a space ship with Legos scooped by the hand full from the big bucket of Legos. One of them decides to grab the postage scale from the science shelf to begin weighing the large container along with individual components of the space ship and then the entire thing – adding and removing pieces to generate changes on the scale. Three students, ages 10-16, working together with brushes and rollers to paint a large wall in the maker room one solid color, so a new mural could be designed to replace the mishmash of abandoned pieces. Six kids, ages 7-16, jamming on keyboards, guitars, drum machine, and mics in the music room. Five Seedlings sitting in a circle on the floor listening to a story and then discussing it with an adult. A five-year-old placing and removing different items in the balance scale. Eight students, ages 12-17, and a facilitator at the classroom table investigating on-line pre-algebra and algebra classes considering how to work together and help each other, even though they are each learning different skills at various levels. And, the 16-year-old lounging on the beanbag with earbuds firmly inserted, quietly playing a game on his iPad, while designing the panoramic timeline, in his head, that will depict all of the world’s history from Big Bang to now, which he intends to paint along the ceiling of the classroom. As you can see, at DRC, we are continually inspired by each other, because, we celebrate independence, eccentricity, collaboration, creative ingenuity, and kindness. We expect that every student will take charge of their education, as well as participate positively in our community. Within that, they each understand explicitly that we will support them in any, and, all of their endeavors, and, that we trust them to follow their instincts to do what makes their hearts sing.