“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.

two hula hoops
Crazy for hula hoops!

Juggling
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

a happy teen member
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.

 

“I Used to Worry All the Time”

by Amy Carpenter Leugs

Recently, as I was working on my computer on the couch in the Gathering Room at Open Doors, one of our members came in and sat with me as she ate her lunch.  Cecilia had just come back from studying with a naturopath, Angie, with Continuum Healing in our building.   As we sat and chatted, she shared with me what she’s been doing since she left high school a few months ago.  Here are some snippets from our conversation.

Amy:  Last time we talked, you were looking for a long-term research project.  How is that going?

Cecilia:  I found one!  Fifteen years ago, my Grandma had a rare type of cancer in her throat, and due to the surgery to remove it, half of her tongue is paralyzed now.  We’ve contacted her surgeon and we’ll have a chance to refer to her records and see exactly what has been damaged and what the treatment was.  With so many medical advances over the last 15 years, plus the knowledge available from a naturopath like Angie, I want to see if anything can be done to help her.  There are other projects I want to do,  too, but this one is a good place to start.  Maybe there’s nothing we can do, but on the other hand, I might actually help someone.

Cecilia with heart diagram

Amy:  That’s great.  And you’ve found some other interesting projects, haven’t you?

Cecilia:  Yep.  This summer I’m going to do a six-week surgical internship with the horse veterinarian that I shadow, so I’ll learn a lot there.  I’ll also be going to the Grand Tetons with David Buth from Summer Journeys — it’s called a leadership adventure and we’ll be horsepacking in.

Amy:  What have you learned about your own learning style since you’ve been here at Open Doors?  I remember when you first started, you thought you wanted to do a dissection every week.  But then you realized you needed some time to diagram and write things out, to process it, right?  What else?

Cecilia:  I also need to keep searching out mentors in the fields I’m interested in — I really like to learn with people, and especially with people doing their jobs.  I want to do more internships.  So that will be a challenge for next year, to find people in the fields I’m interested in.  Over the last few months I’ve learned what works for me, and I can use that next year.

Amy:  Now that you’ve been out of high school for a few months, are you glad that you left?

Cecilia:  I am pretty glad.  The only thing I miss — I loved being with a large group of kids my age.  So next year I’m going to take yoga and choir at my high school, and have lunch period there as well.

Amy:  That’s true.  We do have more teens here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you have different interests and so you’ve been here on Monday and Fridays, when we just have a couple members here at a time.

Cecilia:  And even now I still get to see my friends after school and on weekends.  In fact, I get to enjoy my time with them even more, because I’m not stressed out about my own homework.

That’s the weird thing — sometimes I help my friends with their homework, and I realize that it’s mostly just busy work.  I can figure it out without having been in the class. But my friends are so worried about grades and GPA and getting into college.

I used to worry all the time, too.  Even though I didn’t believe in the system — I didn’t believe that good grades meant you were really learning — I still wanted to get good grades and go to college.  And now I’m just out here, learning things and doing things.  I’m doing dissections, I’m seeing how a naturopath works, I’m helping a vet.  The other day a group of teens and I did biology in the Grand River with David Buth — we identified specimens we found in the water, and checked for mutations due to pollution.

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Amy:  That sounds fun.  And I agree — grades don’t reflect much about learning, though they might show how good a student is at memorizing.

Cecilia:  Yes!  I used to just cram everything in my head for a test, and then forget it all afterward, so I could cram the new stuff in.  Now I don’t forget as much — I keep building one thing on another.

Amy:  Right — I notice that you keep asking questions, and those questions keep leading you to new places.

***

Soon our conversation drifted onto other things.  Our talk about college placement tests led Cecilia to ask questions about my own college experience.  I explained that though I loved college and learning, I also found it quite intellectual, when I often wanted to seek out the more emotional and relational side of life.  When Cecilia asked if I ever considered going back for a higher degree than my Bachelor’s, I reflected that I had always found ways to meet those learning needs outside of college — whether through unschooling my own three boys, writing children’s books or other pieces, or working with a Jungian community in Three Rivers.  Life has always presented me with an integrated way to “live the questions,” to use Wendell Berry’s phrase.

It is always such a pleasure to converse and reflect with our teens — they are each so different and each finding their way, and I know I speak for all our staff and volunteers when I say that witnessing it all is a huge honor.

Amy Carpenter Leugs is the Outreach Director at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens.  A former teacher, Amy unschools her three boys, reads and writes widely, plays with people of all ages, and speaks about life learning every chance she gets.

Member Feature: Evolving My Dream

By Adena Koslek   

Tara self-portrait in shadows
Tara Burns: Self-Portrait in Shadows

In this interview, Tara Burns sat with me and shared her experience since she opted out of her old high school and jumped into the self-directed approach of the Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Learning. Tara is a teen who went on a quest in the summer of 2013 to find out who she could become without the distractions of traditional school, something her experience told her “didn’t quite fit with what she was feeling within.” It was so pleasing to hear of her empowering experience at Open Doors. Tara went from having low attendance and low grades in her traditional school setting to feeling pangs of guilt if she ever has to miss a single class at Open Doors.

The insight gained by her self-directed studies has helped Tara discover what had long been her inner dream: to become an Art Therapist. Tara’s confidence has increased now that she has a specific direction in life: not only does it feel great, but she is pleased that the outcome is going to benefit others.  Within six months of being at Open Doors, Tara is able to take significant steps to begin actualizing her desired future. With assistance from Rebecca Kirk, the Director of Open Doors, she’s been developing a Personal Learning Plan which includes setting up interviews and internship possibilities to help her learn and grow in the direction of her dream.

Here’s the interview:

Adena: Who do you feel you were when you began at Open Doors?

Tara: I didn’t know. But, I was excited. It felt like new things and opportunities in life were happening. High School was feeling really “out of reach” for me after freshman year. It felt impossible. I tried Online Schooling but that wasn’t fun.

Adena: What was the biggest need that was not being met in your traditional school setting?

Tara: It felt like subjects were being pushed. Like, we would start something I was interested in and then we would change the topic in a couple days and begin talking about things I wasn’t really interested in. I really wanted to keep studying the subject I was interested in more deeply.

Adena: What are some of the classes you are taking now and your opinions of them?

Tara: I am learning a lot in all my classes. I know we don’t do grades here, but (giggle) I would give me an A in every one of them. (We both laughed.) I like the U.S. History Class because I am really drawn to learning about Civil Rights and we are really staying focused on that because that’s what the class members want. Personal Finance is interesting because when I took the little test on “what I knew” before the class started it was interesting to see what the answers to things like ‘saving’, ‘taking care of yourself’ and ‘paying bills’ really were. And I love my Film Studies class. I am also learning some really neat things in a class called Stalking The Wild Asparagus which teaches about wild edibles. I also take a Non-Violent Communication class with many of the adult members, and a Feeling and Critical Thinking class; both of which are very helpful when considering the direction I want to continue to take with Art Therapy.

Adena: Is Open Doors satisfying you as your needs grow and evolve?

Tara: Yes. I feel more freedom creatively and I like knowing where I take my education is my responsibility.

Adena: In order to opt out of traditional school and take the challenge to become Self-Directed here at Open Doors, a member must become homeschooled under the law. When your family first learned of this, how did they feel?

Tara: Excited for something new. My mom was very skeptical. It wasn’t until after our first meeting with Rebecca that she really began to feel more settled. It’s not what people might think.

Adena: What did you want to do with your life when you came to Open Doors and has that changed?

Tara: I couldn’t really say when I came here, but I knew I felt “Art Therapy.” I could sorta feeeel it inside me as an idea. Not really a concrete reality. It wasn’t until Open Doors members helped me learn how to research those things that I learned it was a real job! Art in my old high school was mostly me sitting with a group of kids who really didn’t care about art. It was a lot of talk about drugs and whatever their homework was for another class, but never art the way I wanted to learn about it. I don’t even think the art teacher knew my name. I’m pretty sure she called me by a completely different name during conferences.


After the interview, Tara got back to her projects and I to mine. At Open Doors we are pleased about the versatility that the timeless clock offers us and the great pleasure it brings to work with teens who simply need some respect and the opportunity to learn in their own unique way.

Adena Koslek is an Instructor and Teen Coach, as well as a founding member of the Leadership Team of Open Doors.