There is a lot of misunderstood ideas about this subject. As I’ve heard, “Non-traditional school, kids don’t learn..” “They do whatever they want…”, “Teachers don’t work that hard ..”, “School for crazy people” and the list goes on. I hope after reading this, you may have an introductory idea of what means non-traditional. To fully understand what is happening in this kind of schools, you need to go there and see and touch and smell, listen and taste the rich environment of real learning.
Let me introduce you to Ylonka, an amazing friend, mom, teacher and human being. We worked together for many years and I asked her if, as a mom, she could explain the journey and what meant for her changing her kids to a non-traditional school. This is her story.
After years working as an assistant for the vice president of a duty free zone, she decided to do what she always wanted, study education. She worked very hard to get her degree. She is a person who enjoys studying and learning, that´s why she keeps taking online courses, some she has taken are: Accountable Talk, First year teaching in secondary, Making Thinking Visible and, currently taking, Coaching Teachers. She started teaching Language Arts, Math, Science and History in second grade. After 4 years in elementary she moved to middle school for 2 years, she taught Spanish and Social studies to seventh graders. This is her eight-year in education, at the moment. Right now is coordinating the Spanish Department in high school.
Finding the right school
Finding the right school for your children is a tough decision parents have to make. For me, it was quite a journey… I live in the Caribbean and I have a daughter who is now 19 years old and a son who is 16. Unfortunately, my first choice during their first years in elementary was not the best one, even though I thought so at the moment, I was convinced it was the best one because of all of the values the school I chose promote. This was a very traditional school where students sit independently in a row facing the teacher. Knowledge was passed through worksheets and lectures. Every time I think about it I say to myself, what was I thinking? After a couple of years I decided to search for a different school because my daughter felt pressured by her peers and teachers to reach a high academic achievement. I remember how upset she felt when her best friend won high honor roll and she didn´t. I could not deal with that madness.
My journey continued until I found another one… This time I was sure this was the right one. It was a bilingual school, they promote awareness of environmental issues to students, they use technology, encourage sports in all grade levels and the list goes on. I couldn´t be happier, however a year later I realized the school was not what they sold me. Students were only using textbooks, and they were only memorizing. For my kids School didn´t seem like an adventure, it was more like an obligation. It was time to find something else… This was not what I wanted, I was seeking for something different, meaningful, I just didn´t know where to look…
Then I finally found the right one, and I mean it this time. This is also a bilingual school, a non-traditional, which focuses on individual needs; everything matters, both academic and social. The first thing I was told was, “we don´t use textbooks”. At the moment I didn´t know how that would work, but I liked the idea. Then I realized they don´t use textbooks, but each classroom is full of books for students to read, enjoy and understand; that is how my kids learned to love reading. Science and math is all about exploring, discovering and experimenting. Teachers teach procedures and are able to push students thinking to always move forward. Activities are very hands on and meaningful, going to school wasn´t such a nightmare after all, it was a safe place where they were valued and supported in every way.
My daughter started with little English, and by her senior year she was able to speak and write fluently in English, in fact she even gave the speech on her graduation. My son is a junior in high school; something he says he has learned in this school is to explore, to reflect, to think and to analyze. My kids now see things differently; they are able to debate and criticize using evidence. This school has offered them lifelong skills, which is a big plus for me.
It is not an easy decision; it is your kid’s future you have in your hands. For me it took a while to find the “one,” I guess I didn´t have any good recommendations. I´m not sorry I kept changing them from school to school, because in the end the results were even better than I expected.
I wouldn´t want other parents to go through the things I had to, this is my list of the things you should look for when finding a nontraditional school, I hope it helps.
- Teachers are seemed as facilitators, not as the main authority.
- Teachers provide feedback to students in order for them to grow.
- The student opinion is respected and valued.
- Provides hands on activities.
- The learning is made through exploration and discoveries.
- Decisions are made by group, rather than by the teacher or one student.
- Knowledge is acquire by investigating, having real life experiences.
- Teachers teach procedures.
- Cultivate the love of reading.
- Gives the necessary tools to master writing.
- Foster students thinking.
- Encourage students to solve problems on their own.
Whether one language or multiple languages, these are basic characteristics of a non-traditional school, we hope you find it useful.