Jim Rietmulder Speaking Event | January 15th

Why are so many schools so out of touch? How might we make them relevant again? As a founder and 30-year staff member at The Circle School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Jim Rietmulder has had many opportunities to explore these questions.

As it turns out, self-directed learning in mixed-age, democratic communities helps people master what they most need in the ways that work best for them. On Thursday, January 15 at 6pm, come hear Jim describe what we at Alpine Valley School we call “real learning for real life.” After all, it’s hard to get a lot more relevant than this.

Cultivating Courage: Part 3

In this week’s Cultivating Courage post we answer the question: How will my child get accepted into college after attending Alpine Valley School?

Future-looking parents often come to us with this question, expressing concern that their child will not be able to get into the college of their choice after attending a school like ours. In particular, they often express concern over the lack of GPAs, extracurricular activities, and standard-looking transcripts.

While it’s true that Alpine Valley School doesn’t place the same emphasis on grades as other institutions, our graduates do create their own unique transcripts. As personalized as an AVS education itself, this transcript often includes details regarding school positions the student held while enrolled (such as School Meeting Chair), as well as any involvement in school Corporations and Committees (such as Public Relations & Marketing). Authentic leadership positions such as these can really help a Sudbury college applicant stand out from the crowd.

Dr. Peter Gray (author of Free to Learn) has conducted a research study on grown unschoolers, much of which applies to students at Alpine Valley and other Sudbury schools. One part of his study, focusing on college admissions, can be found here: Survey of Grown Unschoolers: Going on to College. Of particular interest is his observation that “unlike so many others in the general population, most unschoolers do not consider college admission, or college graduation, or high grades in college, to be in any general sense a measure of life success.”

Along these same lines Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, wrote an article called Why Entrepreneurs Sometimes Struggle With Formal Education. Branson makes the point that many individuals who see things differently and are self-directed often struggle in a more traditional educational environment where mistakes (in other words, critically important learning tools) are not generally welcome. On the positive side, the passion and intensity of this kind of learner drive them to overcome obstacles standing between them and their dreams, such as getting into college.

Many individuals do choose to pursue a college education after graduating from Alpine Valley School, and many of them find the freedom they experience in their last few years at school gives them a leg up. AVS students can spend 100% of their time at school focused on studying for the SATs, working on challenging areas of study (such as calculus or English), and preparing all the necessary materials they will need to get accepted into the college of their choice. We’ve found that this kind of focused attention typically gives them a significant advantage over the traditional high school graduate, who does not have that kind of time to dedicate exclusively to college applications.

What are your thoughts? Did we spark any additional questions for you around college admissions? Give us a call at 303-271-0525 or email info@alpinevalleyschool.com to discuss this subject further.

Couldn’t attend the Get to Know AVS event last weekend? Check out the full video of the panel Q&A here:

Cultivating Courage is an ongoing series of posts (text, video, etc.) intended to help Alpine Valley School families feel confident in their choices. Supporting our students means becoming more informed and helping each other along this road less traveled. These posts will address common questions and provide a variety of useful resources.

The “Lazy” Teenager

Earlier this summer an op-ed titled “The Underchallenged ‘Lazy Teenager” appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Psychologist Adam Price focuses his piece on the “perennial despair of the ‘lazy’ or mysteriously and obstinately unmotivated” teenage boy. In his practice, Dr. Price sees young men whose parents are concerned about what he calls the “failure to launch” syndrome.

Their parents, fearing that their sons will never successfully launch into adulthood, have tried everything. They’ve begged, pleaded and bribed. But nothing seems to light the fire of motivation.

At Alpine Valley School we’ve observed the growth and development of many young people, so I’d like to bring some of our experience to bear on Dr. Price’s four instructions to parents. (The op-ed speaks of males only, but I think this is sound advice for young women too.)

  • Stop telling him how smart he is.

  • Stop doing the dishes for him.

  • Don’t let him off easy.

  • Don’t make him shine for you.


Stop telling him how smart he is

What? As parents shouldn’t we praise our children—and isn’t “being smart” a good thing to praise? In fact, Dr. Price suggests that “telling them how smart they are gives them an expectation that they must live up to. Being considered smart becomes their prized identity, one they are loath to lose by taking risks and failing.” At Alpine Valley School, intelligence is based on a much broader understanding of ability. We also prioritize self-evaluation and learning from mistakes. After all, failure is one of the best teachers, and who can judge better than you whether you’re “smart”?


Stop doing the dishes for him

According to Dr. Price, “Successful people tend to be those who are willing and able to do things that they really don’t want to do.” When parents do the dishes, for example, their kids may develop an attitude of “I am above all of that drudgery.” Alpine Valley School students have many, many opportunities to share in the “drudgery” of running a school. From mundane cleaning chores to administrative tasks, students dive in and help out in doing things that need to be done but aren’t so much fun.


Don’t let him off easy

At our school, everyone has the responsibility to follow the rules, to face the consequences of their actions, and to decide how to deal with things that don’t go the way they’d like. If someone’s rude to me, for example, I can file a Judicial Committee complaint, or I can address that person directly and say, “What you said to me yesterday hurt my feelings. Please don’t do that again.” If I think a rule is unfair or doesn’t make sense, I can start the process of changing that rule. Each person is expected to be respectful and responsible, to look out for the general welfare of the school. While Alpine Valley School offers a supportive community, no one here is “let off easy.”


Don’t make him shine for you

Dr. Price ends his last instruction with this: “A college counselor I know likes to say that a good college is the one that fits your kid, not one whose name adds class to your car’s rear window.” This is a little touchy, as every parent’s heart swells with pride when their child does something noteworthy. The point is that we parents need to understand that if our kids do something completely different from what we did or what was expected of us, we can still feel pride. We as a school certainly take pride in our graduates and current students for the fantastic people they are—because they’re pursuing their own lives in a peaceful, responsible manner—not because they “shine for us.”

The “Lazy Teenager” is an interesting concept. While Dr. Price sees no cure, I think he’s right to speculate that it has something to do with a sense of autonomy. Step back for a minute and wonder with me: How is it that at just the time children naturally want to be more adultlike, they become lazy? I looked at a couple of dictionaries for context, and found roots for “lazy” that mean “weak” and “corrupt.” Could it be that these teens are displaying a natural reaction to excessive adult direction? Could it be that we as a society have had a hand in creating the Lazy Teenager? All the more reason to be glad that places like Alpine Valley School emphasize empowerment and responsibility.

Cultivating Courage: Part 2

Today in our continuing series Cultivating Courage we answer the following question: How can I trust that my child will act in their own best interest while at Alpine Valley School?

Once students have been enrolled at Alpine Valley School a while, parents often start feeling anxious about how their child is spending their days. In particular, many parents want to know that their child will make choices beneficial to their future in a place where many, many different options are available to them every day. As it turns out, the very act of trusting students can itself make all the difference.

Here are some real stories from Alpine Valley School graduates about how the trust they experienced while enrolled has shaped their adult lives:

It’s true that Alpine Valley School students are free to chart their own course, educational and otherwise. It’s also true that with this freedom comes responsibility—mainly the responsibility of taking charge of their own lives and making decisions that will impact their futures. Well, over the past 17 years we’ve found that the longer students are enrolled here, the more aware they are of this responsibility and the more seriously they take it. In addition, those students who are completely trusted with the reins of their own lives are more empowered, more engaged, and more excited about their future.

Dr. Peter Gray touched on this subject when he spoke at Alpine Valley School last year. Here’s he summarizes his findings on how children respond to this level of trust and responsibility:

Author and speaker Lenore Skenazy writes a blog called Free Range Kids (plus an outstanding book with the same title) whose tagline is: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Kids (Without Going Nuts With Worry). Her blog is chock-full of fascinating resources on the subject of trust, but here are a few examples particularly relevant to this subject:

What are your thoughts on the subject of trusting students? Do you find that trusting your child by enrolling them in Alpine Valley School (or a school like it) has made a difference in your family? Contact us at info@alpinevalleyschool.com or 303-271-0525 to let us know your feedback!

Also, did you know that we’re hosting an Open House on September 13th? Check it out and get your free tickets now!

Cultivating Courage is an ongoing series of posts (text, video, etc.) intended to help Alpine Valley School families feel confident in their choices. Supporting our students means becoming more informed and helping each other along this road less traveled. These posts will address common questions and provide a variety of useful resources.

Can You “Dig It”?

Over the summer we worked on several projects at school, one of which was a sunken patio. Under the direction of our landscaper, members of our AVS Community, including many students, dug a 52x12x2-foot hole, transforming it over the course of several weeks into a beautiful “wow factor” for our school.

 You can see from the pictures below how lovely this turned out. More importantly, our new patio illustrates how students learn at Alpine Valley School, and why I firmly believe this model of education helps them gain useful knowledge and skills as they move toward adulthood and a fulfilling life.



This past May our Grounds Clerk, Larry Welshon, spent many hours consulting with others, designing a patio that would assist with both drainage and campus beautification. He then put out a call for assistance, and several of our students voluntarily showed up to help―not just for a few hours on one day, but hours and hours for days on end. Some of them even came in after their own summer jobs to work some more.

As the summer passed, I watched them dig out the hole and remove large rocks in what seemed like a never-ending cycle. When all those gazillion rocks were removed, they tamped down the dirt so that the surface was smooth and level. Pavers were placed along the bottom and decorative bricks up the side, with planters installed at the top, along with steps that are both solid and inviting. Precise measurements were made for odd spaces, then passed along to the landscaper. Finally, the day before our back-to-school brunch, the planters and trellis were in place and the fence was up―and let me tell you, our backyard was a sight to behold!

 A casual observer might ask, “Are your students getting credit for this, or satisfying a volunteering requirement?” The simple answer is no, not in the usual sense. They did all this hard work because they wanted to, which may seem puzzling and hopefully intriguing. The Sudbury Model proves that intrinsically motivated people do things without needing reward or validation. Our students take ownership of every aspect of their lives, including the campus of their school. When there is a job to do, they step up and do it.

 Have I piqued your curiosity? Go to our website, www.alpinevalleyschool.com, or call 303-271-0525 to set up a tour. We’ll be happy to introduce you to Alpine Valley School and the Sudbury Model of education.


Cultivating Courage Series

We are proud to unveil a new blog feature this week called Cultivating Courage, intended to help Alpine Valley School families feel confident in their choices. Supporting our students means becoming more informed and helping each other along this road less traveled. These posts will address common questions and provide a variety of useful resources.

Today’s question is: How do Alpine Valley School students learn the basics when they’re allowed to do whatever they want?

We often hear this question from new families who are trying to understand how their child will acquire foundational skills such as mathematics or literacy when they aren’t necessarily taught these subjects in a formal classroom. In reality, there are better places to learn these things than classrooms.

Not only do we find that acquiring the “basics” happens naturally, without any additional pressure from outside forces (parents, teachers, etc.), students actually learn better in the natural learning environment we provide at Alpine Valley School. In particular, they spend their time focusing on things they actually enjoy rather than subjects they are compelled to study, and they’re faced with a variety of real-life scenarios on a regular basis which provide excellent educational opportunities.

We asked AVS alum Joshua Mann about his experience, and here’s what he had to say: “AVS offers all of [the major] subjects, so long as the student is willing to put the effort and time into organizing and attending the classes. This is a method of curriculum that requires the student to be in charge of his or her own education in every sense. However, I believe there is so much more to learning than just that. Every conversation, every interaction, every moment we spend doing the things we want to do is an opportunity to learn. The reason I was able to learn so much at AVS is because that unstructured environment allowed me the freedom to do so.”

We also asked this question to a group of graduates at a recent panel interview. Watch a video clip below: we think you’ll find their answers fascinating and persuasive.

Dr. Peter Gray has written extensively about the subject of unstructured learning on his blog Freedom to Learn. Here are some brief examples of his insights:

So, what do you think? Does this match with your own child’s experience at Alpine Valley School? Contact us directly at info@alpinevalleyschool.com or via phone at 303-271-0525 – we’d love to hear your feedback!

We Need Your Help: September 2014

Volunteer Opportunities | September 2014 

Many people have asked us how they can get involved in helping the school on a regular basis. Here are some things you can do to help out this month:

If you are interested in helping out with any of these opportunities, please contact the appropriate person or group (indicated beside each item).

  • Check out the fundraising opportunities on our website: Support AVS
  • Write a guest blog or provide a testimonial for our website. Consider submitting a few paragraphs about what you did on your summer vacation! (Contact Missa)
  • Assist the Building Maintenance Clerk with some upcoming improvements to the campus (Contact Larry)
  • Use Amazon Smile so AVS gets a small percentage (at no extra cost to you!) when shopping online: Amazon Smile (Contact Connie)