Personal stories giving insight into the Clearwater experience.
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.
-Christine, Parent, 2017
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.
-Kendra, Parent, 2018
One question I’ve asked myself over and over again while preparing to graduate has been “What have I learned from Clearwater?” and I don’t mean learning to read or write, I mean actual things that have helped shape who I am. This is an almost impossible question to answer, because Clearwater is who I am. Clearwater has taught me how to trust. How to trust myself, my parents, and other people around me. It’s given me the space to learn how to be angry and stand up for the things I care about. It’s taught me how to accept people. It’s taught me how to escape boredom, which is one of the most important things, though it may not seem like it. I have truly learned that all voices are equal, and even the younger kids have very important things to say.
Something that I’ve only recently began to think about is the fact that Clearwater gave me the perfect amount of space to grow as a person. One of the biggest examples of this is how my anxiety has progressed over the years. I’ve always had anxiety, ever since I can remember. It’s manifested in many different ways. When I was younger I had trouble sleeping alone, then I had an awful fear of throwing up, and then it became more general, but I was always able to keep it mostly under control. I remember having a conversation with my mom, where I said that if I was in public school, I would have unmanageable anxiety, and I still truly believe that. With all the stresses caused by hours of homework and having to pay attention to classes all day, public school would have been really bad for me. Being at Clearwater let me wait until I was ready to dive into all that stuff, and I think that is very important.
This year has also made me a better leader. I’ve learned to use my voice to help achieve what I want to get done. I’ve only recently begun to think of myself as a leader at all, but lately I’ve realized how much Clearwater has helped with that. I find myself stepping up and sharing my opinion at other places in my life outside of Clearwater. I’ve definitely become a bigger part of the Clearwater community this year, and that’s going to make it harder to leave, but it’s also going to feel good knowing that I really made my last year at Clearwater my best.
-Jacy, Alumni, excerpts from graduation paper, 2018