Video Conference with Spring Valley School

A great big THANK YOU  to Corri and Diane Ballou for taking time out of their Sunday last week to answer questions and share their experiences as a student and founder of Spring Valley School. Their Sudbury school has been successfully operating for 13 years in Palm Harbor, Florida and serves as sister and mentor to Sunset Sudbury School. Here’s a quick taste of what happened at the meeting, for those of you did not make it to the live video conference last Sunday.

This meeting focused on the experiences of 11-13 year old students. Corri (13 y/o) answered the question of what a typical day looks like for her. She shared with us that she is currently the Chair of the Judicial Committee, a role that rotates every 2 weeks to different students at her school. She is also teaching a class on the Holocaust to 3 other students at school. Corri explained that she usually spends time the entire week preparing to teach this class that takes place once per week.

An audience member also asked Corri what she would do if she needed help in mathematics, abstract or geometry concepts. Corri and Diane both looked at each other and smiled. Diane was a math teacher prior to starting the school and has taught math classes for students at Spring Valley, when they requested it. In fact, in about 3 months time Diane was able to teach all of the basic math concepts for K – 8th grades to small groups of students. This is what can happen when students want to learn and are able to get the individualized help they need. Diane went on to explain that if a staff member or online resources are not enough to answer a student’s questions, the school will hire consultants to work with students. On many occasions, this need has been filled by parent volunteers at Spring Valley.

Much of the rest of the conversation centered around the parents. Diane said that,

in order for kids to be successful in a Sudbury school, parents must agree to let kids go. The letting go process can be very difficult for parents. It is hard for parents to accept that they have no control over the kids activities and let children learn through play”.

We talked about the importance of offering parents support with ample opportunities to talk to staff and to each other. This is something we, at Sunset Sudbury School, are trying to make sure happens even before our school is officially open.

One participant asked Diane to share what was the biggest reservation expressed by parents that enrolled their kids at her school. Diane responded that even when parents have a thorough understanding of the model, there can be moments of discomfort. One example is when a child doesn’t learn to read by the expected age. Diane herself experienced this fear with one of her own children did not show an interest in reading until after she was 9 years old. Diane admitted to moments when she worried, but waited and trusted that her daughter would eventually find that interest. Diane said that her daughter had developed an unorthodox way to learn to read. She could decode new words by sounding out the letters, but only if she did this by starting at the end of the word and worked backwards. Diane is sure that if her daughter had been attending a different school, she would have been labeled with a  learning disability. She finds it amazing the way that when we allow them to do it, the kids find their own strategies for learning. Her daughter began reading at age 9 and is now (2 years later) reading, and most importantly,  enjoying books above her typical grade level. She is currently reading The Spiderwick Chronicles.

We are working on setting up an in-person visit to our school from Corri, Diane and others at Spring Valley. Keep an eye out for details on that event. We end this article with one of our favorite quotes from our conversation with Diane.

“Learning is not something that happens to you, it’s something that happens from the inside out”

If you have any suggestions for future information events, please let us know.