I had met with three of the Learners in one-on-one check-ins the day before, and I had planned to meet with three other Learners on Friday. The sessions were really helpful in terms of gauging how the Learners were doing slightly more than one cycle into the year, with two of the Learners being altogether new to Abrome The sessions also provided the Learners an opportunity to share their concerns with me in a private setting, away from the other Learners. And while Katie had been talking to the Learners all week about their experiences, I had also planned for a panel on Self-Directed Education (SDE) so that Katie could benefit from a collective voice from the Learners. The weather was perfect, and I was bringing Cuddle Buddies Ingrid and Ivan. And a Learner who had been out all week, and most of the prior cycle, was finally going to be able to attend beginning on Friday. The last day of our first cycle promised to be a good one.

I showed up at the meet up location just after 9 a.m., at about the same time that Katie showed up. Katie and I began talking about what she hoped to get out of her last day, and then we started talking about some of the more challenging considerations around time and money of opening an SDE center. Most of the Learners did not show up until just before the day officially started at 10 a.m., so we were able to get into some detail before everyone showed.

Petting the Cuddle Buddies was an intention that was accomplished

Petting the Cuddle Buddies was an intention that was accomplished

As the Learners began to stream in for the day I asked them to write down their intentions, as always. Like most days the intentions were varied and included: swim (multiple times), catch up with people, write a story, pet dogs, breathe, socialize, read, play with dogs, meeting with Antonio, SDE panel for Katie, and don’t die.

Friday mornings are when we have a longish morning in terms of meetings as we have our morning meeting, set-the-week meeting, and our Check-in and Change-up meetings. One of the Learners agreed to be game master for the morning meeting and she set the conditions for the meeting, and then Katie facilitated the morning meeting. We have not done any set-the-week meetings this year given the more fluid ways we have been approaching our days, and our inability to drive Learners around town, so we moved quickly into the Check-in meeting.

Normally in the Check-in meeting we have the Learners raise awarenesses—things they think we should fix, or things they think we can add that will improve the culture of Abrome. But on this day, since half of the Learners came from my cell the previous cycle, and the other half came from Facilitator Jennifer’s cell last cycle, we also reviewed all of the awarenesses that the cells focused on during that prior cycle. We then opened up space for new awarenesses, and we came up with five of them. I believe three of them were raised by Katie or I, and two were raised by the Learners. We then moved into the Change-up meeting where anyone who wanted to stick around would help us come up with practices that we could agree on that might be able to address the awarenesses. While there is an expectation that Learners will participate in the Check-in meeting, the Change-up meeting is optional, but all Learners stuck around for the Change-up meeting on Friday. For the five awarenesses raised, we came up with nine practices that we will work on in the hopes that we can positively shift the culture of Abrome so that it better meets the needs of all Learners and Facilitators. We will revisit those practices at next Friday’s Change-up, and let go of the ones that do not work for us.

After finishing the Change-up meeting everyone decided they wanted to move toward the lake. As we began walking I told Katie that while the Check-in and Change-up meetings were led by me, that it is my hope that the Learners will take over the process entirely at some point, and that the Facilitators will only be participants. It was not long after we arrived at the lake that several of the Learners decided to build a fire. They gathered fire wood and then placed large rocks in a ring around the wood. Then they lit the fire and got lost in conversation around it. But unlike the prior times they made a fire place it did not hold their attention very long and they found that it was a burden as someone had to stay with the fire while it was burning. So they began to extinguish the fire, although I had to have a conversation with the leader of the group as to what putting a fire out entailed. After additional water was applied to eliminate smoke and embers, the Learners made their way back to the dock while I started meeting with Learners one-on-one.

Much of the rest of the day was spent in or near the water for the Learners. No, I did not get a hike in with the Learners this week. As much as I wanted to make that happen, the Learners did not. And the thing about Self-Directed Education is that I am not going to force them into it, even if I think it’d be good for them. But the other Learners did start getting in the water. First one Learner waded in for a while. Then a few jumped in. And before long, Learners were climbing onto the roof of the dock to jump in. It was joyful for the Learners, and it was fun watching some of them overcome their fear of heights.

But before we ended the day, and ended the week-long shadow for Katie, we invited the Learners to participate in the SDE panel. Katie asked some really good questions and I was pretty moved by some of the answers that the Learners gave her. Here are some highlights:

A unique seating arrangement for the SDE panel

A unique seating arrangement for the SDE panel

  • Just because SDE may not look like learning to someone from the outside doesn’t mean it’s not learning.

  • They talked about how important and helpful it was that everyone at Abrome was nice, and that they did not need to worry about bullying. Several of the Learners spoke of how much they valued the other Learners at Abrome and appreciated having them as friends.

  • The Learners did have insecurities around being at Abrome. One of the insecurities was having to explain what Abrome is to people who were antagonistic to the freedom of SDE. Another was the fear of missing out on experiences that happen in school such as prom, arguments, and fights (!!). Another Learner said, “I could be invisible when I was in public school,” whereas at Abrome everyone knows you.

  • The Learners all agreed that SDE was not for everyone. In particular, those whose identity is wrapped up in being a really good student.

  • They all agreed that Abrome needed to grow with an ideal number of Learners ranging from 30-50. Several said they have tried to get their friends to enroll, but they also agreed that the parents of their friends were most often the reason their friends could not enroll.

  • They all agreed that a dog is a must have for an SDE space. (Although many of them have cats, and love cats, it was the dog that was a necessity)

After sitting in and listening to the panel, I was a bit relieved. I often see the Learners in a less than euphoric state and I take that personally. I can listen to their complaints and gripes, and attribute them to the shortcomings of Abrome, or my shortcomings in helping to contribute to a healthy culture at Abrome. I sometimes over-focus on what is not perfect, and miss what is fabulous. But listening to their responses I was reminded that the practice of freedom over extended periods of time is something that is inaccessible to most young people, and that these Learners recognize that and appreciate the opportunity to participate in it. I felt privileged to be a part of that for the Learners.

Because several of the Learners spent the panel baking away in the sun, and the panel lasted for a good while, we decided to forgo the usual afternoon roundup, and we shared some gratitudes instead. Afterward, I joined some of the Learners in jumping into the water several more times, and then we packed up and went home. A great ending to a great week.