Open House: What is Self-Directed Learning for Teens?

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We help families reclaim the joy of learning — our teens are taking back their educations, building skills and self-confidence, and learning who they are and what they have to offer the world.  

How does it work? Come talk to us!  Have a tour of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens, look over the current class schedule, and ask all your questions. See you there!

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 12 noon

1324 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids, MI 49506

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Self-Discovery through Self-Directed Learning

by Kate Boelkins

Kate Boelkins is studying to be a secondary education teacher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  As part of her training, she has assisted in several classrooms in the area.  We are delighted to have her as an intern at Open Doors.

Developmental psychologists agree that the voyage towards self-discovery is vital for mental growth, for emotional development, and for self-esteem improvement.

Open Doors Tapestry
The voyage of self-discovery — those who open doors discover new lands within.  If a tapestry says it, it must be true.

Yet self-discovery is often ignored or suppressed in the traditional classroom setting.

In their natural state, teens are constantly struggling with an identity crisis brought on by changing relationships, mounting responsibilities, and simple developmental psychology. Between the ages of 12 and 18 years — a mere 6 years — we expect teens to develop a sense of self, to home in on their interests, and to use those interests to outline a plan for the rest of their lives.

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Every teen must embark on her own version of the hero’s journey, like those found in film and literature.

In theory, this period of self-discovery and identity formation is fostered by the encouragement of adults who reinforce exploration and motivate teens to develop a sense of control and independence in their lives. This encouragement should inspire self-confidence in teens and help them find their core direction in life.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case for a majority of teenagers graduating high school and headed out into the “real world.”

Recent studies show that up to half of college students enter college “undecided”, having no idea what to pursue despite the fact they are paying tuition for their education. On top of that nearly 80% of college students change their major at least once.

Distressing research from Penn State suggests this complete lack of direction is due to a “developmental disconnect”.

These teens simply haven’t formed enough of an identity to define their interests. Why not?

  • The traditional classroom takes students and strictly defines the information in which they will be immersed each year.
  • This knowledge is comprised only of an “academic” load, meaning the traditional subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, and History.
  • The exploration within each subject is shallow and broad, and allows no flexibility for students to delve deep into an area of interest.
  • Areas outside the traditional academic area are ignored, and even rejected from the classroom.
  • Learning is transmitted through books and lectures, not real world experiences.

After graduating high school, students have been exposed to only certain areas of academic information. If subjects in school fail to grasp their interests, teens are at a loss when asked to choose a direction — nothing seems worth pursuing. When they reach college, they’ve had little time to define their own identity and find it impossible to make an informed decision.

Additionally, this lack of freedom affects the psychological state of the teen as a whole. The classroom experience is restrictive– it’s commonly noted that one week we expect students to ask permission to use the restroom, and the next we expect them to have a detailed plan for the rest of their lives.

Raising hands to use the restroom, though it helps the teacher keep order, is part of system that doesn’t support independence and self-direction.

Schools often fail to encourage and support student exploration. Teens need new experiences; it is normal to run through many different trials and errors before they have the self-knowledge to make decisions.

Instead of fostering opportunities and embracing failure, schools often try to confine students to specific ways of thinking and doing.  They look for hard commitments too early in the students’ development, without offering the tools to build self-knowledge.

Teens are then left with two poor choices.

  • Fall into a pre-described identity defined by the school climate they’ve known, which can result in choosing a post-grad path like college that is a poor fit for the student.
  • Avoid self-exploration completely.

The lack of self-discovery and identity formation in the teenage years can have life-long impact.

So how can this change? How can we as a society foster confident, strong-hearted, and self-directed teens?

It begins with adults. We have the responsibility to our teens to change our perspectives on what is important for them. Instead of ensuring they fit in the mold, we need to encourage the quest of new experiences, applaud them when they pursue what they love, guide them when they have questions, and let them know it’s okay when they change their mind.

At Open Doors, this mentor relationship is priority – teens have the freedom to explore what interests them, whether it involve traditional academic areas, video games, or wild edibles. By their side are experienced adults whose mission is to simultaneously participate in their exploration and guide them towards self-discovery and the future.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Open House: Learn About a Self-Directed Education

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Have you been wondering what we do at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens?  Come find out!

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A community gathering at Open Doors.

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

We’ll give you a tour, answer your questions, and talk about the upcoming fall semester.  Are there some classes your teen would like to see offered?  Let’s see what we can do!

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Need to get your hands into your learning? Here’s our hands-on dissection class from last year.
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Want to get outside and learn in the real world? Our Wild Edibles class last year foraged foods to share!
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If you learn from video games, we can support that, too!

See you at the Open House!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens

Dear Friends of Open Doors:

It’s been a busy summer here at Open Doors.  With your support, we’ve offered a fun summer art program to some very deserving teens and sparked their creativity. Thank you!

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Art with Nature — part of our Summer Program

We’ve also been gearing up for our Fall semester — it’s Not Back to School time!

We’ll have new incoming members this fall, so we’re lining up member-requested classes like Mechanical Autopsy and Duct Tape Art.  

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Duct Tape Fun!

Our popular Critical Thinking and Feeling class is set to continue, with its emphasis on fun and non-violent communication, led by Adena Koslek.

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Teen Instructor and Coach, Adena Koslek

 

We’ll also continue our Film Studies class, led by local director and film enthusiast Bruce W.

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Bruce, with popcorn, watching the movie Brick with the teens last year.

We’re also offering new classes like Japanese, Political Science, and Hands-On Algebra.

Of course, Open Doors teens choose which classes they’ll take (and whether they’ll take any at all), so the list will change as the semester gets closer.

As you know, classes are only a small part of what we do here at Open Doors.  We look forward to checking in with each and every teen member.  We’ll listen to their goals and questions — we’ll dream with them as they consider how they want to learn at this moment — we’ll laugh as we brainstorm options and imagine possibilities together.  We can’t wait!

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We are literally doing back flips. Well, one of us is.
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So excited!

Will you help us spread the word?  Share this article, come by for one of our new yard signs, tell your friends with teens about Open Doors, or join our team of volunteers — we’d love to have you involved!

Enjoy the rest of your summer ~

Amy Carpenter Leugs, Outreach Director

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Amy Carpenter Leugs

“Better than a Report Card” — One Parent’s Open Doors Story

Dear Open Doors;

I am in awe of the tremendous growth I have seen in my son Tristan after his first year at Open Doors. He started the year very reserved and hesitant to get involved, which is true to his public persona. (Or at least it was!)

He tended to avoid situations that could potentially be embarrassing. He spent the first semester asking to be picked up immediately after his Biology class and wanted absolutely nothing to do with any activity in which he might feel the need to “share” anything – verbally or otherwise. He politely refused to have his picture taken and added to the website.

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Though he didn’t want to share most pictures, Tristan did give us permission to share this photo of his hands chopping dandelion roots in the Wild Edibles class.

The staff and members of Open Doors respected these things completely. (I am confident a school would have seen this as a “problem” to address.) Rebecca and Adena did a great job of offering him ways to participate and contribute individually – painting a much needed sign, helping to move things, inviting him to meetings about fracking, etc – which gave him the space he needed to “warm up” while still feeling that he was vital to the center.

Ever so slowly, he started asking to be picked up later and later. He stayed to hang out and explore other classes. He chattered about film studies and foraging. He told me about sharing his theory of fluctuations in the stock market being related to fears of the “blood moon” with his finance class. He loved to tell me about conversations he had with the other members about their hobbies.

By the end of the year, my reserved kiddo was cracking jokes and showing off his juggling and hula-hooping skills at the end of year celebration in front of all of the members and their families. My heart sang that night.

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Crazy for hula hoops!

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His juggling blew us all away.  We also like the Grateful Dead shirt and the sunglasses.

As a parent, you want your child to shine to the world as much as they do when no one is watching; to be their true selves, no matter the situation. I am positive that if it were not for the respect and room to grow given by everyone at Open Doors, the world would never know the funny, bright and confident Tristan that I do. And that would be a shame.

A special thank you, Open Doors, for the letter you sent at the end of the year. Your insights about Tristan were spot-on and it made me feel awesome to see that you really know him and are acutely aware of his needs. It was so much better than a report card.

Sincerely,  Danielle Bodziak

Tristan and his chair
Tristan built this in a summer woodworking class that we heard about and shared with his family. Awesome!

A Note from Parents

Last year, we received this affirmation from two of our member parents:

“We have been really happy with our family’s experience at Open Doors this year. Our son has thrived in the inclusive and accepting atmosphere at the Center.  Open Doors’ teen-centered approach is very effective; teens and adults treat each other with mutual affection and respect.  It has been exciting to see our son taking control of his education, developing talents and exploring new interests.” -Hilary and Mike Arthur

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Laughing in Film Studies Class

It can be hard for parents to visualize, but Open Doors is an alternative to school where teens learn as they were meant to learn, and they thrive.

If you want to help more families find a natural way for their teen to learn and thrive, please donate.  We are a non-profit organization and our membership fees do not cover all our costs.

If you want to learn more about helping your teen take control of his or her education, contact us.  We would love to talk.

 

Summertime Art

The Open Doors Prizing Your Power Summer Art Program continues.  It’s simply so fun to support teens as they explore different ways to express themselves.  We do it during our regular program, as an alternative to school, and now we’re doing it with our summer program, exploring how together we can create art to enrich our community.  Join our fun and enjoy the photos!

Fabric Art:  Towel Origami, featuring Mythical Creatures

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Meet Terry the Pink Elephant. (Get it? Terry? Terrycloth? We knew you got it.)
Towel Loch Ness Monster
Hello Nessie! (Questions we ask ourselves: would a Loch Ness monster made of terrycloth soak up all the water in the lake/loch?)
Towel King Kong
King Kong lives! (Extra Absorbent Version)

Nature Art

Acorns and husks
Nature Art: Starting Small
Goldsworthy inspired
Inspired by Goldsworthy — Nature Art
Inspired by Goldsworthy -- Nature Art
Creating and contemplating …
Parking Lot creation -- Inspired by Goldsworthy -- Nature Art
Art is everywhere and anywhere.

If you’re looking for educational options that respect teens — if you want to support those teens as they explore self-expression — if you’re looking for a community who can help you grow in these directions  — contact us.

Let the Prizing Begin!

The Open Doors Summer Art Program, Prizing Your Power, began today.  This week, we’ll be getting familiar with different media for creating art — painting, fabric, words, and more.  Here are some pictures of today’s goings-on —

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We doodled while we got to know each other in the Gathering Room …
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Then it was time to explore with India ink …
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India ink with different brushes …
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India ink on different papers, plus the start of a canvas piece …
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Everyone thought it was a great space in which to be creative …
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Yep, it’s looking to be a great summer program!

As we all grow more playful and comfortable with our creativity, the plan is to explore how art is power, and how we can communicate our passion through our art to the community.   Stay tuned!

Prizing Your Power is supported in part by the Wege Foundation as part of the Open Doors “Your Life — Your Learning!” project.

 

“A Little Genius In Every Madman”

Joey Ramone of The Ramones was always “different.” (image credit: Adam Louttit)

In our culture, when a teen is really different, the adults in his life often feel a crushing pressure to try to fix him and to get him to conform.  “How will he ever succeed in this world?” we ask.

Joey Ramone’s brother, Mickey Leigh, had this to say about how his brother’s unique gifts were supported:

“Fortunately for my brother, our mother was an incredibly nourishing person, and raised us in such a way to never think of any individual as useless because they may not be on a par with the status quo. That because a person might be struggling with whatever mental or physical condition they have been afflicted with, it does not mean they have absolutely nothing within them to offer society, or to contribute, be it artistically or another way. She instilled that in me, and though it was very difficult to grow up sharing a room with someone turning lights on and off, running the water in the bathroom for hours and hours, unable to throw things away; or to walk to school with him as he stepped on and off the curb while the other kids pointed and laughed- due to the way my mother raised me I was about as sensitive as a younger brother could possibly be.

“If I had been like a jock, or macho type of kid, I don’t think he would have fared as well. I’ll admit I lost it several times, but l never treated him as a hopeless lump of flesh. I encouraged him as much as possible, taught him how to play the guitar, and encouraged him to get into bands.

“When he found himself unable to deal with his problem and felt suicidal, he voluntarily admitted himself to St Vincent’s Psychiatric Ward for evaluation. That was when I told him ‘don’t worry, there’s a little genius in every madman.’

“We were not your average family. Our parents got divorced when we were very young. Our mother was an artist who encouraged us to recognize and express our individuality. I knew we were different from the other kids. My brother was not normal, and we lived in the same room, so neither was I. It was impossible for me to be. I shared his problems right along side him, and knew I had to, like it or not. We were both freaks. Fortunately he was able to tap into his inner strengths and realize them, unleash the incredible talent he had within him, and was in an environment that allowed him to thrive. And as fate would have it, thanks to rock & roll, it worked out pretty damn well for him.”

Supporting and accepting a teen for being exactly who he or she is — that’s where it all starts at Open Doors, whether it’s through our regular program or our Summer Art Program.  There are many, many ways to be in the world — many ways to make a living, and many ways to contribute.  Help us explore these many ways with our teens:  donate or contact us to find out more.

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