Sunset Sudbury School featured in the Miami Herald

Earlier this summer, our founders group was contacted by a reporter from the Miami Herald, Patti Roth.  Patti had heard about our efforts to start a school and was interested in doing an article about us.  We met with Patti as a group and each of us spoke with her individual to answer her questions.  We were excited for the opportunity to get the word out about our school to our community.

The link to the article on the Miami Herald website is no longer active.  So, we have provided it here.

Freedom at the Heart of this New School

Students will choose what they want to learn at a school being planned by a small group of South Florida parents who want to model it after a ‘democratic’ school founded in New England in the 1960s.
by Patti Roth

Several South Florida families are working to launch a school that gives students unconventional freedom.

At this private school, which organizers want up and running by next year, youngsters pursue their own interests — learning what they want, when they want and how they want.

It’s a philosophy that organizers agree sounds far-fetched. But they like the theory and the way it’s working at some similar schools around the world.

”When you’re driven to learn something by your own desires, you learn it,” says Kathy Williams of Hollywood, mom to Joshua, 6, and Benjamin, 3. “I just think when children are left to learn what they want, they’ll be more inspired.”

The plan here is based on Sudbury Valley School, established in 1968 in New England. Enrollment at the Framingham, Mass., school is about 180 students. About 30 similar schools exist elsewhere in the world, each functioning separately. Among them is Spring Valley School in Palm Harbor, north of Clearwater. That school, with 23 students last year, opened in 1997.

The idea behind Sudbury Valley School, which accepts students ages 4 to 19, is that people are curious by nature. Students initiate their own activities. The school runs democratically, with all youngsters and staff members receiving a vote. Students are not required to study any pre-set lessons.

”They come to school and figure out what they want to do and do it,” said Mimsy Sadofsky, one of Sudbury’s original founders. “Kids who go to school here leave extremely confident and competent of their ability to find their way.”

Dionne Ekendiz of Plantation is among the parents who think Sudbury’s academic freedom makes sense. She’s enthusiastic about it for daughter Leila and wants to enroll her in the South Florida version – called Sunset Sudbury School — when the little girl is old enough.

”I don’t want anyone telling her what she has to learn and then sitting in judgment about her work,” said Ekendiz, who has a master’s degree in education. “I want her to keep in touch with her own interests and inner strengths.”

Some of the South Florida parents planning the nontraditional school say they originally wondered if the Sudbury Valley style went too far. But the more they read about it, the more they liked it.
”Basically, it’s trusting that the child is going to want to learn,” said Idelma Quintana of Hollywood, a former elementary school teacher who is mom to 5-year-old Ian.

Quintana said adults in the program, referred to as ”staff members,” might offer a lesson or demonstration on a specific topic — and it’s up to the students whether they want to participate. At some schools, students interested in a particular subject might vote to hire an instructor if none of the regular staff members are suitable for the topic.

Another key element is the democratic approach to running the school. Students and staff members vote on various aspects of how the organization is run, from policies and purchasing equipment to hiring and retaining staff members.

Debbie Marin of Hollywood, mom to Munirah, 6, was among those initially skeptical of giving students so much independence. Now, she’s a strong supporter and thinks academic freedom would be great for her daughter.
”It’s her education,” Marin said. “It taps into her desire to learn what she wants, to learn when she’s ready to learn it.”

Marin said that when she attended traditional school, she remembers doing well if she was interested in a topic. But she also recalls being bored, sitting at a desk, staring out of the window. She also sees value in the mingling of different age groups, rather than separating students by grade.

Williams of Hollywood believes the Sudbury model functions similar to the way life functions. Throughout life, humans generally learn what they need to know, along with what they’re personally excited to learn, she said. Her enthusiasm for the snowy slopes, for example, prompted her to learn to ski. She believes that through Sudbury, her boys are going to be able to pursue their passions and learn what they need.

”I don’t know if they’ll ever learn the Pythagorean theorem,” she said. “And I don’t think they’ll be hurt by it if they don’t.”