A high percentage of conversations I have about Deep Root Center start with that question. This is my short answer: “We are instead of school. We support kids to leave school and get a life. We offer kids the opportunity to follow their interests and passions now instead of after they spend thirteen years sitting at a desk taking tests and being told what to do.”
Yes some would say what we do is pretty original, pretty out there, and some would even venture to say, pretty radical. Sometimes I understand why most people don't “get it” the first time they hear the explanation. We have, after all, been brainwashed into believing that kids aren't going to learn unless we put them in a classroom, at a desk, listening to a teacher, or doing worksheets for six to seven hours a day, and then send them home with two to three more hours of homework. I have even heard people claim that students won't get into college if they don't have access to AP classes or take Regents exams.
There are so many myths and untruths in the previous statements. Firstly, we have concrete, scientific proof from a multitude of sources that people learn and retain the knowledge--when they are interested, completely involved, and engaged in the subject. In other words, learning does not happen just because someone stands at the front of a classroom and lectures. It doesn't happen because kids are sitting still at their desks, and it certainly doesn't happen because they took a test and scored well. All that proves is that they learned the material for long enough to take the test or they are good test takers.
Secondly, colleges, and employers are actually looking for interesting, passionate individuals who know themselves, have the “soft skills” (outlined in this post), and are open-minded, life-long learners. They want to talk to young people who are compelling and have something unique to offer their institution. They want students who have actual portfolios with writing, and creative or STEM based projects. To reiterate, they are not looking for sheep and carbon-copy kids who have the same exact transcript (with AP classes or not) as every other student who comes through their admission's or human resource's office. In fact, many colleges and universities are intentionally choosing to be test-optional. Some are even refusing to accept SAT or ACT scores as part of the admission process. You can find the list at FairTest.
To return to the original question: What is it you do? Here is the longer, involved and more complicated response. We do whatever a student wants us to do, because this is self-directed learning! We listen closely to each individual youth and their family to develop a learning plan that is realistic and reflects the enthusiasms of the student. We offer rigorous classes for those seeking them; we offer a creative zone; we offer hands-on activities; we offer help finding internships and shadowing opportunities; we offer mentoring; we offer the space to think independently and to learn from experience; we offer the joy of exploring new ideas and concepts; and, most importantly, we offer the opportunity to learn how to learn.
And on the other side, this is what we don't do: We will not tell any child or family what to do or learn. We will not say “someday you will need to take x or y class, because . . .” We do not give exams, we do not give grades, we do not judge any student based on labeling or their past experiences, we do not get any state funding, and we do not make excuses!
Deep Root Center is here for kids who are excited about learning and don't want to wait until they are eighteen to explore their options. The world of possibilities is open to them now. They can break out of the mold, stop following the flock, and choose something original, bold, different, and radical today!