What do you call a group of 4- to 9-year-olds who don’t do any homework or have any teachers? In Florida, they’re calling it a private school.
The Sunset Sudbury School is located just outside Orlando in Davie, Florida. It’s part of a group of 24 loosely connected Sudbury schools across the U.S. The first school was founded in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1968, designed to provide an alternative to the systematized public school system.
At Sunset Sudbury, students can arrive at any time between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m. The school stays open until 3:30 p.m., but parents can remove their kids whenever they want. Each day, students meet with four adult staffers to discuss their plans for the day. Students police themselves and have their own judicial committee to address rule breakers.
If a student wants to play on the computer, he can. Watch the clouds? Sure. Come to school dressed like Quailman? You bet. All of the learning done at the school is completely voluntary. And there’s no age segregation. Whatever the age, all of the students are equals.
Students don’t take any standardized tests, and they don’t receive a regular high-school diploma. However, founders of the Davie school maintain that 80 percent of Sudbury graduates are accepted into their first-choice college—behind the success of their essays and interviews.
Sunset Sudbury hopes to eventually serve K through 12.
Jerry Mintz, director of the Alternative Education Resource Organization in New York, said,
The regular public school system and even some private schools tend to operate under the paradigm that kids are lazy and need to be forced to learn. We take a diametrically different approach that starts with the assumption that kids are natural learners.
Natural learners all kids may be, but the Sudbury system is not for everyone. Plenty of kids won’t have the discipline or motivation to develop in such a free-form environment. The school’s founders admit this, though, recognizing that every child isn’t cut out for a Sudbury school.
But that’s not the problem.
Unfortunately, at $6,600 a year, it’s still not a real option for underprivileged children. And the ones who can’t afford Sunset Sudbury’s unregimented socialization might be the ones who need it the most.
What do you think about Sunset Sudbury? Are the founders crazy? Or could the democratic system work? Do you wish it were more accessible? Let us know.