Re-defining ‘School’


By: Lockey Coughlin 

What is a ‘school’ and why do they exist? How can we, as a society, improve upon the current standard model of education? These are questions that, while previously addressed by alternative schools to some degree, are getting a new and rather pointed look by most everyone in 2020. Because of COVID, parents are looking at a long and innovative list of educational options for their children and they are interested to hear more. This new attention will undoubtedly have positive effects as we begin to incorporate some out-of-the-box educational ideas in our efforts to address current public health and safety concerns creatively.

Outdoor education, cohorts, micro-schools, homeschooling, pods, online education, hybrid options, and private or semi-private tutoring are all viable options for parents who are anxious about their children’s education and their own need for mental health, job security, and space to breathe. What do all of these terms mean and where do you find support for your family’s educational choices outside of your traditional school model? Right here. Read on.

Outdoor Education Programs: This tops my list because it is of paramount importance for emotional development and mental health, no matter what year it is, but in 2020, more than ever, we need to get our kids outside. Many of these programs are a bit of a drive, but they are worth it since they are day-long programs and your children will come home exhausted, generally covered in mud, and with stories to last the entire ride home. Masks are generally not required.

The Pratt Center in New Milford, CT (PrattNatureSchool.org, 860-355-3137)
Great Hollow Nature Preserve in New Fairfield, CT (GreatHollow.org, 203-546-7789)
Two Coyotes, programs in Newtown, CT (TwoCoyotes.org, 203-843-3112)
Find Us Outside in Newtown, CT (FindUsOutside.org, 203-491-0596)
Westbrook Nature School in West Redding, CT (WestbrookNatureSchool.org, 203-664-1554)
Resource: Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

Cohorts: Describes groups of children who move as a unit throughout their day at school. The idea is to minimize exposure to possible infection by reducing the number of people encountered during the day. Students attend the same classes together and social events like lunch. Yup, that qualifies as a social event these days. Schools choose these groupings and should be communicating all of the required information to parents and students.

Pods: Describes groups of families that have unified to share resources and supervision of children to allow parents time away for other pursuits, access to other adults for teaching purposes, and time to play with other children. The ‘pod’ will move between three or four homes, alternating as needed by the parents. The idea is similar to cohorts in that this model minimizes exposure. If you have a regular group of families with whom you gather and this sounds good to you, call them up and start planning together.

Online Education: I think we all get this by now. This is highly convenient and, generally, affordable. There are a ton of options available, though, and that can be overwhelming. Many homeschoolers use Oak Meadow, which is an online school, or check OnlineSchools.org.

Homeschooling: This is not the same as distance learning or online education. If your child is still enrolled in a public or private school, even if they are home, they are still subject to the guidelines and requirements of that institution, and, therefore, they are not homeschooled. Homeschooling is done at the discretion of parents, who choose curriculum, scheduling, and extracurricular options that are individualized for their children alone. If you are interested in homeschooling, the best place to start is a Facebook group. Just search ‘Homeschooling in CT’ on social media and you will be on your way. Current homeschoolers are always happy to guide newbies on everything from withdrawing your child from school to curriculum choices to social gatherings.

Micro-schools or Resource Sharing Groups: Micro-schools are differentiated from pods in two key ways. First, they employ professional teachers and tutors, and second, they generally rent space in which to hold classes, rather than gathering in someone’s home. There are some terrific micro-schools in the area, many of which also double as excellent educational consultants, and private tutoring programs. When researching programs for this article, I had the pleasure of speaking with several staff and founders of these programs. These were the most flexible, open, and pleasant among them.

Browns Educational Consultants: BrownsEC.com, 203-661-2483
Greenwich Education Group: GreenwichEdGroup.com, 203-661-1609
Sunflower Studios: SunflowerStudioCT.com, 203-491-7927
Education without Walls: EducationWW.org, 860-350-3006

Hybrid: Options are generally a combination of online and in-person instruction, being offered by most educational institutions right now. I find this to be the best option if you are looking for some respite from a COVID, masked world for your children, while still allowing them the opportunity to be in a vibrant and personally interactive learning environment. If your school has not already made this option available to you, ask if they might be willing to allow your child to zoom in for classes one or two days per week. Now that we are all really good at online conferencing (or at least familiar with it) this option should be readily available.

More than anything, remember to advocate for your children. No one knows what they need better than you. Kids should be able to advocate for themselves, of course, but unless they are exceptionally self-motivated, mature, and self-confident, they need you to fill this role for them, most of the time, at least through about the middle of their sophomore year in high school. Show them how it’s done!