From the Field

For the compiling of this report, all facilitators across the network were invited via email and Slack to share stories and snippets from their 2020 adventures. 11 replied; below is what they shared.

Abrome: Austin, Texas, USA

Facilitators at Abrome have kept a detailed daily blog at https://www.abrome.com/blog as they've transitioned to running mostly outdoor programming for the 2020-2021 school year.

They also have a comprehensive Covid-19 plan at https://www.abrome.com/covid-19

Below is a post of theirs from founder and facilitator Antonio Buehler, who also hosted our ALC Network spring webinar sessions on schedule co-creation and college admissions. Before covid arrived in Texas, he did this interview with Akilah Richards on his journey to self-directed education (and love of libraries):

December 5, 2020

Thursday morning was a challenging one for me as I woke up still exhausted from the day before. Fortunately I didn’t have any driving around to do before the morning meeting like I did the day before. After spending a little too much time updating myself on what happened since I unplugged the night before, I brewed a pot of coffee and settled in for some writing. At 10 a.m. it was time for the morning meeting, so I logged onto Zoom and waited for the Learners to show. Each of them did. That morning we talked about who (other than our guardians) has had the biggest impact or influence on each of our lives: grandmother, aunt, brother (twice), therapist, me (honored), middle school teacher, and three friends. Then we talked about the non-person (e.g., incidents, pets, institutions) that has had the biggest impact or influence on each of our lives: pet dog (twice), Georgia Aquarium, arctic bumblebee, computer (“where I met a lot of friends and had a lot of fun”), the pandemic (not a good thing), and the Austin Police Department (also not a good thing). We finished up the call with each person identifying the practice they would focus on for the day, and then we adjourned the meeting.

After the morning meeting I moved into a check-in with one of the Learners. I had scheduled a weekly check-in with each Learner in the remote cell so that we could have some dedicated time chatting to each other. My meeting with the Learner was a relatively short one, but I did get to ask him about his interest in the arctic bumble bee. He told me the particular arctic bumblebee he was interested in was Bombus polaris, and he said that he learned about it while research arctic poppies, which the arctic butterfly pollinates. He told me how it survives in cold climates. While fascinating, I found the other arctic bumblebee, Bombus hyperboreus more interesting and far more disturbing. It enslaves other bee colonies because they do not have the ability to produce workers.

Meanwhile, the in-person cell also had everyone present. Facilitator Lauren said they had a different energy on day two of the cycle. They prior day they were all about socializing, but on Thursday they were all about socializing and exploring the unfamiliar place they would spend their day. Like the day before, the cliffs called them like a Siren, and the spent much of their day free climbing the wall or exploring around it. The Facilitators later said that some of the Learners had overestimated their climbing abilities, and those Learners soon discovered that just because it is easy to get up to a spot on the face of a rock wall does not mean it will be easy to get down. Those types of experiences tend to create some enduring lessons.

Three of the Learners decided to break away from the group and hiked downhill toward a bridge while everyone else walked up toward a rocky area. The former group, consisting of the older Learners, investigated a cave and socialized. Eventually they came back and rejoined the rest of the cell. The older Learners found Facilitator Ariel was hanging out with one of the younger Learners and the prospective Learner who was shadowing, and together they began to use the rocks that were all around as their medium for art. They created designs with the rocks by lining them up, and then they began constructing some impressive cairns. They even produced what I call fractal cairns, a cairn that is composed of multiple smaller cairns.

On Wednesday, for the first time in ages, I made an agreement to sit down and play Roblox with a Learner, and the time we set to do so was at 1 p.m. on Thursday. While I am no fan of video games myself, I know that they are a big deal to many of the Learners, so it makes sense that I spend some time playing video games with them. The problem has been, in prior years, that I always felt that getting absorbed in a video game with a Learner would take my attention away from other Learners, even though Facilitators highly value one-on-one time with Learners doing virtually anything else (e.g., reading, gardening, arts and crafts, board games). I have also long considered video games a waste of time, even though I know that they are extremely beneficial for many people in many ways. This dismissive mindset about gaming is something I have challenged myself to reconsider as part of my deschooling journey. So at 1 p.m. I logged onto a call with a Learner to play Rogue Lineage. I spent a good amount of time that morning deleting files from my computer to make space for Roblox. I was able to download the game and got all set up, but the Learner who was going to play was less than impressed with how little I understood of the game, and how to do even basic functions with my keyboard. The Learner thanked me for showing up, but said that perhaps I should review a tutorial on the game before the next effort, and he shared a tutorial with me..

After the attempt at gaming, I finished reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years by the late David Graeber. It was a fascinating but long read, and I highly recommend it. Then I opened up Akilah Richard’s Raising Free People: Unschooling as Liberation and Healing Work, in anticipation of the conversation I would be having about the book that evening with the Education Conversations Book Group. At 2 p.m. a Learner joined me for the free write offering I scheduled for 30 minutes each day during the remote cycle. She worked on her comics and I worked on writing some thoughts about Abrome and the pandemic. The 30 minutes flew by, and the Learner said it seemed like it was not enough time to really get into a groove. We agreed to meet for an hour each day moving forward.

At the afternoon roundup only two Learners showed up on time, and one joined a bit late. The prompts were, “what surprised you about the day?” and “what disappointed you?” The surprises and the disappointments were largely the same: technical issues, my ability to game, and attendance at the afternoon roundup. We reviewed how we did with our practices and found that no one had really stayed hydrated during the day. Then we finished the meeting with the counting game and everyone went on their way. After they all logged off I thought about how I had spent my day—mostly on my butt. I missed the vibrant nature of being outdoors with Learners, but I recognize the value of holding space for the Learners who are remote, and bracing for what seems certain to be a fully remote scenario in the coming weeks if we as a society do not quickly flatten the curve.

ALC LatAm: Latin American Network

A collective of facilitators and organizers from across member projects organized several events to support families and communities in Latin America. While folks from a range of places were involved, many are based out of Educambiando and CAAD, in Veracruz and Querétaro respectively, in Mexico.

ALC-Himia "Facilitando Futuros Deseados" (Facilitating Desired Futures)

https://www.alc-himia.org. Online event. Open Space Format. Organized and Facilitated by Isela Mondragón, Alex Aldarondo, and Rubén Alvarado.

"We feel that we are entering an optimal time to create images of the realities that we desire: clear and true. Also, subsequent processes that allow us to crystallize and materialize them. Honor, thank and leave behind the past that is no longer useful. The format of the event is known as 'Open Space', this means that there will be simultaneous sessions and the attendees will be able to self-direct to the activity that seems most relevant to them. They can move between sessions if they wish, stay only in one or not enter one if they want to take a break. Likewise, if any of the attendees wish to facilitate an emerging session on the question 'How to Facilitate Desired Futures?', We welcome you to do so (there is no obligation to do so, of course). 'ALC-Himia' happens partially in the Economy of Generosity, we offer some Gift spaces; Likewise, the money collected from the sale of tickets will be used to support the Latin American LAC Network and its members in the continuation of their operations."

Participants: 35-40 Full Scholarships (Gifts): 10. Partial Scholarships: 10 ish.

Speakers / Facilitators from 9 Countries: Romania, Germany, USA, México, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Colombia.

Attendees: 10+ Countries: Romania, Germany, USA, México, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, etc.

Deschooling Convivium.

Querétaro, México. February 2020. Organized by: Isela Mondragón, Marina Mondragón, and Zucy Reyes

Facilitated by: Rubén Alvarado

Spaces for compassionately observing, integrating and starting to transcend the lived effects of patterns and habits emerged and/or strengthened by our schooling experiences, at school and outside of it.

This events exists in the spirit of Game and Gift. 20+ Participants.

Espacios Abiertos / Open Spaces

We created a Series (3) of Open Space-format events Called “Serie de Espacios Abiertos, Dejar ir-Dejar Venir” in February that aimed to:

  1. Create bridges of communication, connection and creation for our communities in the initial state of the pandemic while

  2. Facilitating the emergence of dynamics of letting go, visualizing and crystalizing.

  3. We had 40 participants from 6 countries who directly impact 767 people in their communities, through: Education, Art, Caretaking, Permaculture, Sciences, etc.

They took place in February-March 2020.

Demographics

In each category, totals and percentages include all who directly participated in co-creating the gatherings, including members of the organizing team.

General:

Participants

Percent of Total

Families

25%

Organizations

48%

Independent

15%

Location (Country):

Location

Percent of Total

México

73%

Ecuador

5%

Brazil

3%

Puerto Rico

8%

Peru

3%

Argentina

3%

Colombia

3%

Arenas and Occupations:

Category

Percent of Total

Educator

35%

Facilitator

28%

Artist

10%

Living Being

10%

Heart of the Home

10%

Playful Being

10%

Dancer

5%

Lawyer

5%

Yoga Instructor

5%

Government Employee

3%

Salesperson

3%

Mother

3%

Uncertain

3%

Biologist

3%

Professor

3%

Agile Learner

3%

Manager

3%

Org. Consultant

3%

Designer

3%

Urban Agriculture

3%

Medicine

3%

Bees

3%

Inspiration

3%

Impact

Participants Intended to Share Learning With:

N/A: 5

Family: 10

An Organization or Project Team: 20

An Independent Person or Project: 1

Character of Organizations and Projects Referenced:

General: 1

Arts: 4

Education: 19

Government: 1

Health: 2

Community Organization: 6

Environmental: 1

Measuring the Impact: Participants of this wisdom exchange estimated that as they shared their learning and experiences with their families, organizations, and projects the initial impact of the project would grow to 767 people.

Feedback

I loved...

...being connected.

...the diversity of the group.

...the flow of the conversations.

I didn't like...

...that meetings were short.

...not knowing the tools.

...not knowing the offerings in advance.

...there was too much time spent explaining the tools.

I want more...

...permaculture offerings.

...non-violent communication offerings and practice.

..."Dragon Dream."

...continuity of thought.

...exploration of interaction dynamics.

Ideas to improve next time:

Use the Game Shifting Board more.

Find a way for conversations and connections to continue [after the formal sessions end].

More encouraging participants to change and diversify offerings.

Keep offerings more focused.

Send out videos explaining how to use the tools.

"Ofrecimientos Inter-ALC LATAM"

April-June. Practitioners (students, facilitators, principals and other guests) organized online gatherings to continue facilitating SDE experiences among our Latin American communities. "We had various talks, among others: mindfulness, languages, art, music, how to make a solar oven, the digestive system, storytelling, communication networks, planting, etc." Participants: CAAD ALC, La Orquídea, Educambiando, Alex Aldarondo, Ana Isaura González, Gabriela Jiménez.

More session videos to explore and enjoy: https://youtu.be/iH51ReRzYBk

https://youtu.be/UgYDR8XWoVY

https://youtu.be/WsnIZCXFl80

https://youtu.be/OuNYIw9jgIk

https://youtu.be/3vs-8LYKnBo

https://youtu.be/ccKD2cjZays

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqK2nlca7I8

ALC Mosaic: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

From founder and facilitator Nancy Tilton, who you can read this piece and more from on the Mosaic blog at https://www.alcmosaic.org/2020-year-end-report/2020/12/11/alc-mosaic-annual-report-2020

2020 has been a year of challenges and growth. Due to the pandemic, we have not had any summer or fall ALF trainings and retreats. While we have missed connecting with other ALCs in person, we have had the ability to take many months to dig deep in our community and make some important upgrades to our community structure and space.

Community Structure

Throughout the first half of the year, the increasing public awareness of police brutality to black and brown bodies has created more opportunity for our community to talk about race and how white supremacy shows up in our daily lives and structurally in organizations. We had families here participate in the protests for the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other murdered black citizens as well an alarming experience here where armed police came on our campus due to a false report from driveby citizen that there was black armed teenager on our campus. Additionally, we had some of our teen students profiled by the security cop at the Aldi’s across the street. Students, facilitators and parents came together to decide how to respond to each of these events, all of which raised our collective awareness on police profiling, brutality, and structural racism.

We had families leave due to the responses of our leadership (the staff and board), which we accepted as we strive to hold firm in our desire to listen to the black and brown voices in our community. At times this looks like us requesting that a white family listens and waits for us to respond to and meet the needs of a community member that has been historically marginalized and oppressed. As we continue to hold firm to doing this, we have lost some families who feel we are not being fair or just to them, but this has ultimately helped us continue to move forward as the organization we want to be.

The shining light for us over the summer of 2020 was led by Amber Irvin, who is starting her third year facilitating at Mosaic and her 2nd year as the Director of our Branches program. After a particularly challenging conversation about race took place over a community email thread, she spearheaded a new organization structure inspired by sociocracy to help our parents and staff understand which staff supports various domains in our ALC and found a better communication platform for parents to connect with each other and the staff. Tomis also revamped our admissions process and our new families entering Mosaic this year are coming in prepared for who we are and what we stand for.

Space Upgrades

Mid-March we closed our doors to students for the rest of the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic. This ended up being an opportune time to close, however, because our third building was under construction and the many construction vehicles present would have made it challenging for our students to play outside. While the pandemic created some delays in the construction process, we were still able to finish the building over the summer. The staff that remained on campus throughout the shut-down was Tomis and Nancy, who live at Mosaic, and Lacy and Miguel who live nearby. We also have a parent volunteer, Sarah, move in whose housing was displaced due to the pandemic. Many outdoor space projects were worked on during the 5 months students were not on campus, including growing new grass for our fields, clearing out brush in our wooded area of campus for kids to play, building a retaining wall, fresh landscaping upgrades, new swings, and more. Re-opening in August 2020 was really fun and exciting as we saw the kids exploring and playing in our revamped play areas.

This space used to be overrun with brush, now it’s cleared out for play!

Re-Opening through the Pandemic

Through our new organization structure, we were able to develop a plan for re-opening the 2020-21 school year that felt safe for almost all of our families. We re-opened with a two pod system, a large pod for families who self-identified as low-risk for complications if they encountered the coronavirus, and a small pod for families who have risk persons in their families that they want to protect from the virus. The large pod attends school on campus Monday-Wednesday and has field trips Thursday and Friday. The small pod has some online offerings Monday-Wednesday with occasional optional small pod gatherings, and then they occupy our school space Thursday and Friday while the large pod is away on their field trips.

We have moved our community meetings to zoom and have had pretty good attendance in the parent forums, led by a parent representative that takes that feedback to our monthly community change up meetings (also on zoom). We added in a deschooling plan to our staff agreement that parents are welcome to join as well. This year our deschooling plan consists of:

  • Watching the movie 13th and discussing (we did this in September)

  • Reading and discussing “Raising Free People” by Akilah Richards (October-Nov)

  • Listening to the Seeing White Podcast by Scene on Radio (December-Jan)

  • Reading and discussing “Love and Rage” by Lama Rod Owens (Jan-March)

  • Reading and discussing “Decolonizing NVC” by meenadchi (Spring 2021)

So far the year has been off to a great start and we feel grateful to be in connection and community with each other. The time with students off campus has offered us the opportunity to reorganize and start the year off with a clearer and stronger sense of who we are and how we want to engage with each other.

Agile Learning Center NYC: New York, New York, USA

Agile Learning Center NYC shares most on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/agilelearningcenternyc/channel/

Co-director, facilitator, and administrator Abby Oulton hosted a session on the philosophical roots of ALCs, produced the series, and edited the recordings of all sessions for captioning and publishing. Co-director and facilitator Ryan Shollenberger hosted a session on the meeting we call "Change Up" and one of the tools we use for it. Facilitator Mel Compo contributed to transcription of the series.

From early 2020, here is a essay from early in the pandemic and a video shared with families in June showcasing what they'd gotten up to over the school year that they were ending:

The new school year, starting at the end of 2020, continues to be fluid and continually adapting as New York City updates regulations for schools on [so far] a bi-weekly basis. We have a full array of online offerings -- cooking, astronomy, biology, math, party games, art history, video game chat time and more! And we've been meeting in small, masked groups outdoors for all day adventures around the city.

Below are a video community members made describing what they like about ALC-NYC, Abby in Central Park the week NYC schools shut down again talking about ALC-NYC's plan and rationale, and a link to blog posts about the city situation that have been shared with families to explain why the school continues to operate remotely and outdoors (masked) only:

Blue Bridge ALC: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

From founder and facilitator Candis Ogilvie: Blue Bridge ALC opened this September, serving children ages 3-12 years. It's been a wild ride of continuous growth and learning, especially amid the pandemic. Here are some photos. We also share daily stories on Facebook and Instagram.

Cottonwood: Montana, New York, Oaxaca

Director - Operations Director Sari Gonzalez shared this update on the current Cottonwood projects in the US and Mexico:

This year has brought us lots of unexpected twists and turns as we navigate COVID times, but that said, we have had quite an impactful start to the year as we are building community with over 70 families internationally despite the pandemic. We are grateful to have received COVID relief funding which helped us to open our doors in Montana to several self-directed learners and their families directly impacted by COVID. Via the efforts of our dedicated staff, we are grateful to be back in operation at Cottonwood in MT with 40 learners ages 3-17. We have a group of 12 learners ages 6-13 at our learning center in Brooklyn (Cottonwood NYC) which had a soft opening mid-September and we have close to 20 learners ages 4-15 in Puerto Escondido, Mexico which also opened its doors in mid-September! This year, Cottonwood and Explora have collaborated to open a new Agile Learning Community Center in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca Mexico. It is a center for learners of all ages, including an international exchange program for global self-directed explorers.

Gastonia Freedom School: Gastonia, North Carolina, USA

Gastonia Freedom School has videos and their covid-19 plan on their website at https://gastoniafreedom.org/

Founder and facilitator Crystal Byrd Farmer -- in addition to hosting our ALC Network spring webinar sessions on technology, 21st century skills, and the intersection of disability and self-directed education -- celebrated the publication of her book The Token: Common Sense Ideas for Increasing Diversity in Your Organization in late 2020.

Green School Romania: Cluj-Napoca, Romania

From founder and facilitator Dr. Sonia-Maria Donca-Bercuci, who is also a key contributor to the research group of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and the event planning group for the Summerhill Centenary celebrations:

I will write here a few thoughts on Green School in 2020 (for the annual report). I added pictures from our ALF, along with few from the school year (we had the chance of being face to face starting June). Here are our thoughts: for Green School Romania, 2020 was a year of gratitude and appreciation, of resilience and transformation.

We started the school year growing and healing from all the mistakes and the fights to validate the self-directed and the nature based philosophies in Romania and little did we know that March will bring one of our biggest challenges: from nature directly to online learning. As agile learners, facilitators and managers, we adapted to the new context and dived into agile learning from home. We zoomed in and out of our passions, interests and intentions and we learned a lot about listening to each other, self-care, mental health, emotional support, compassion and appreciation for each encounter.

In June we went back to working face to face, nature-based setting and we valued each moment and each drop of rain (because it poured every single day for a month).

In July we hosted our second ALF summer event (adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions regarding number of people and event length). 18 people joined our event: 6 kids and teens, 8 adult learners and 4 ALFs hosting the event (Sonia from Green School ALC, Luiza - online - from Rubik School ALC, Claudia from Rainbow, Mihaela freelance facilitator). We had one week of woodcrafting, board games, coding, music, searching for fossils, shadow theatre, improvisation theatre, learning about learning, children psychology and the agile learning approach. The summer continued with other Agile Learning Summer camps for children and youth and the new school year started in September, face to face.

When November brought as the news that the schools will be closed again we already knew that the Agile Learning is on our side and we are embracing, with gratitude, each day when we get to meet and learn from each other online. The children are really happy, although missing a more genuine human connection, and our hills and muddy areas and workshops and makerspace, but learning does not stop with Covid. If anything, is even more powerful!

Rivers and Roads: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

From Amber Sawyer, founder / facilitator / director and ALC Network support call host of the past 3 years:

January 2020:

A book club was formed. We played and rested. Cooking classes continued- there was a heavy emphasis on curry and juice making. There were Korean and Japanese classes. We took multiple computers apart. We put together boards and a pamphlet for a school choice conference. This process was insightful because we had the students cultivate the words they thought defined us most. They landed on :self directed education, OKC is our classroom, kids rule the school, and multi-age community. The students also directed and represented Rivers and Roads at the School Choice event.

February 2020:

We explored our creek and river systems. We gardened. Cake baking was the focus of cooking class. Curry making was still happening on the regular. We did a week full of egg drop activities. A committee formed to focus on putting up new art in our space and renovating some of the classrooms. We golfed. WE painted. We renovated. We enjoyed time with our two school cats. WE explored downtown okc more regularly with the hopes of forming a flying squad that would invite other self-directed people to meet up with rivers and roads students. One of our moms that studied ballet in Brazil started offering a weekly ballet offering.

March 2020

There has been a group of students that have been working on a board game for the last three years. This month was a big focus period for them. They started a lot of the character development and map making. We did more hiking, ballet, and painting. We learned how to make doughnuts. A pedicure shop was opened. We bagan remote learning March 13th

April-July 2020

We co-created a remote learning website. We adapted and trouble -shooted as we learned. A couple of the major obstacles were sleep schedules and making sure people didn't feel obligated to attend meetings. This allowed us to come up with using Flipgrid so people could sometimes work on their own time table and still collaborate with each other. This helped a lot of the group projects still have progress and feedback. This is our website - we still use this for our students that are not attending in person this year, as well as for students to have access to after school hours and on weekends. https://sites.google.com/view/riversandroadsremotelearning/workshops

August- November 2020

We started a new school year! Here is a compilation newsletters we publish for our parent group: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OIjTAcGLCIDQGHG65UXv3YJU5XcWGvokEN-c2OsjMxs/edit?usp=sharing

Wildwood ALC: Boone, North Carolina, USA

Beyond book clubs, crafting, music, classes, and games, the community stayed active using Slack, sent each other scavenger hunt photo challenges while separated, connected with each other and other ALCs for online programming, and compiled this slideshow reflecting on their year:

The "Wildwood Times" Newspaper regularly features 10+ pages of interviews, articles, and images from the week! Here are two issues:

Founder-facilitator Rebekah Canu shared with local community members back in March:

It feels so strange to go this many weeks without seeing people in person -- it is definitely harder to touch base and find out how everyone is doing. I hope you are all finding moments of peace and connection in the midst of all this. I'm so glad we are still able to meet up online, and I'm very grateful for all the unexpected silver linings and creative ways our community has adapted... we are finding ways to connect and learn/share with each other that we never tried before, have wonderful old friends involved with Wildwood again, and are making new connections and engaging in all sorts of new experiences through the Inter-ALC offerings. The spirit of the Wildwood community feels strong to me, and seems like it's able to survive and thrive even across physical distance. Luckily being agile and co-creating new ways of being in community are familiar to us...this is really the core of what Wildwood is!

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