Families share what it's like to send your child to Clearwater
My 13-year- old daughter is singing and accompanying herself on the electric piano in her room. She will do this for hours with intense focus as she learns an existing song, or composes one of her own on piano or ukulele. When she is engrossed in one of her many artistic or musical endeavors, she is the hardest working person I know.
Eleven years ago, she began her journey with The Clearwater School. I have watched as she seemingly magically learned how to read and write without any formal teaching. She learned as the need arose. She wanted to read what her friends were reading, she needed to read and write to communicate, and she wanted to be in the school play. For Clearwater kids motivation is internally driven. No external motivation in the form of grades or competition is necessary when kids are conducting their own learning.
This year she chose to attend 8th grade in a public school. She wanted to explore what she thought she might be missing by not having classes, teachers or external rewards. I am not surprised that she wants to return to Clearwater. She is handling the classwork just fine and enjoys her curriculum (particularly a research paper she conducted on Harlem Renaissance sculptor, Augusta Savage), but she misses the freedom and the responsibility expected of her at Clearwater. She misses being treated like an equal by adults. She misses the maturity of Clearwater students—the freedom from bullying and unneeded drama she experiences in public school.
I now know many Clearwater graduates. They head into the greater community with an internalized respect for the responsibility inherent in freedom and a life-long working knowledge of how to be democratic citizens. I am confident that my daughter will choose the life she wants—not one that is expected of her or chosen for her – which should be the ultimate gift of education.
Our Clearwater School journey started in a most unusual place, a YouTube video by the British rapper known as Boyinaband. Our son, Aron, was a Freshman at our local high school last year. Middle school had been really hard on Aron emotionally and we were hoping a fresh start at the high school might prove to be a better experience. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The very early start time (7:20), the mindless, overwhelming homework load, and the large/noisy student body were overwhelming for him.
Aron was doing some online research regarding alternative schools, and found the YouTube video called: You don’t legally have to go to school. He showed me the video in the winter, and casually mentioned that there was a Sudbury school close by in Bothell. I’m a big reader, so of course I looked up “Sudbury school” and started to learn more. After some exhaustive research, I said I thought we should tour the school. We visited last spring (2017). All it took was an hour at Clearwater to realize this might be the perfect fit for Aron.
His father and I had concerns about just how he would graduate from high school, how he would learn without classes and grades, how he would fit in to such a small school, and how he would move on to college. After speaking with the staff at the school, getting more clarification on the process, and doing more research, we agreed to give it a try. I’m going to be honest, it was a perfect fit from day one. We feel like Aron has found his tribe, so to speak. We had a meeting with the staff after the visiting week, and we sort of laughed because we didn’t have much to discuss except how happy we were with the school, staff, and students. In addition to fitting in so well socially, some other bonuses we have found are the flexible start/end times between 9:00 & 5:00 (Aron’s preferred time is 10:00-3:30), no homework(!), freedom to choose what do do with his time, and the emotional maturity that seems to have almost happened overnight.
Aron enjoys volunteering for the JC (judicial committee), helping with school-related art projects, participating in the Parent Meetings (students have a voice here too), participating in various clubs including the newly created Spanish Club, and having the freedom to choose how he spends his time each day. He has gained so much confidence these past few months! All this extra time free from stress and busywork has allowed him to really consider what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He is thinking about pursuing a career as a book editor. Maybe. Possibly. His passion for visual arts will also continue to play a major role in his life. The options are endless, and now he has the time and the freedom to ponder the future.