Sudbury #srlsy | Life Lessons from a Free-Range School

By Rebecca Layton Gunter

I just became a commuter.

Those are words that I never thought I would ever say. My husband and I are smug city dwellers. We’ve called either The Hill (Capitol Hill, that is) or Brookland home for the 13 years we’ve been together. We scoffed at the lines of cars piling in from NoVa on 395n. We turned up our noses at staid suburban life and the “sheeple” who spend three hours of their day in a car on the way to/from work.  

But...now I am one of them.

I load the kid up at 7:30am, haul ass down route 50, turn south near Bowie, and soar deeper into the countryside. I slow down just enough for the kid to EJECTOR SEAT and then Mario Andretti it back into the city. I work at an office a mere 3 miles from my house and I’m putting 80+ miles a day on my car for what I hope will be worth every moment spent in traffic.

Why I am subjecting myself to the cruel world of commuting?

Because it means a better quality of life for my 8 year old daughter. It means she can attend a Sudbury School. Never heard of it? Me neither... until 3 weeks ago. And now I am SO drinking the Kool-aid.

After 5 years in public school, Lucinda was falling into a troubling pattern all too common for those who run at higher vibrations. Impulsivity, refusing to tow the party line, emotional outbursts, and bucking the system are just the tip of the iceberg. “She’s so smart,” her teachers would complain, “but she won’t do worksheets, slow down, or show her work. She won’t sit still on the carpet, she walks out of the classroom, she’s defiant. The other kids think she’s weird because she’s always behaving in unexpected ways.”

As a parent, what can you do? Get a diagnosis (ADHD), lock in an IEP, try Ritalin, and work with a therapist. Brace yourself for the calls from camp counselors, teachers, and parents of her classmates. Read everything you can about modifying your child to fit into other's comfort zones and arbitrary definitions of “good.”

Or… take the road less traveled.

Consider a place that un-teaches the time-honored tradition of “Sit! Stay! Shut up and learn!”: the model of education that primes us for the cramped cubicle, restaurant shift, or the rigid routine of the Army.

Instead, jack up your odometer for your child to participate in a “free range” school. A place where she isn’t MADE to sit still, she can run unbridled around a 12-acre campus. A community  where the philosophy is simple: Love to read? Do it. Want to learn about fossils? Take a walk with founding staff member Mark to the stream. Thrive in a place that champions personal responsibility, deep conversation, and independent study — in lieu of chronic standardized testing and the occasional mind-numbing field trip.

What if work was “Free Range?”

I wish everyone had the chance to experience a Sudbury school. For most of us  — mere mortals subjected to traditional education  — we’ve got some seriously limiting beliefs to get over before we can find our purpose and live our best life.

The lessons that I am learning through Lucinda’s experiences have shaped the way that I CAN think about work. I am inspired to nurture our own tribe vibe at Sisarina, one that’s equal parts independence and accountability.

  • You are in charge of your own education. I’ve spent hundreds of hours with clients and colleagues who just don’t know what they “should be doing.”  It’s probably because you’ve always been told that someone else holds the answer key, that there is only one way to come up with a solution to a problem. Banish that thought and start taking charge of your own professional development. When the power of “who is in charge” rests on your shoulders, you will get great at work.
  • If you are a kinesthetic learner, move! Not everyone is wired to sit at a desk and listen to a lecture. Go out in the world, network, touch things, ask questions. Pace the room, walk and talk, and see the sun.
  • Pursuing deep interests take time, longer than you think. If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, then why are you beating yourself up for not staying on top of every business trend? Do deep dives into the contemplation of the things that interest you, and you’ll soon find yourself a Subject-Matter-Expert.
  • Conversation is how collaboration happens. In school we are taught to stop talking. And if we ask someone else the answer, well, that’s cheating. Deep conversations that start about pop culture often end up as the new MUST DO idea that drives your business or project forward. It is a process. Trust it.
  • Learning occurs when you’re doing everyday things. You did not acquire your business acumen in a vacuum. You did it by going out there, talking to people, peddling your product. You did it by running into an old classmate and explaining your business idea. You did it when driving the car and then POOF!, you’ve figured out a new way to do something.
  • If you don’t fit into a tried and true model, go find one that works. Traditional school models are not the only way to do things. If your ADHD is always going to pit you against the system, find a new system. If cubicles and 9-to-5 make your heart sad, then go find a different kind of workplace. (I’m sure glad that I did!)

I am super excited for Lucinda.

Not ONLY because she gets the freedom to stop taking meds, going to therapy, AND stop getting hundreds of negative messages all day, but because she will not emerge from her childhood like I did, full to the brim with “shoulds” and “musts” and “or elses.”

She won’t have to restructure everything she learned about blending in, achieving good grades, and getting into the best college. She won’t know the agony of Middle School, where burgeoning hormones and budding academic stresses combine into a perfect shitstorm. She won’t be shackled with outdated concepts of who holds the cards in her future. She’ll walk into the world as a girl who knows what she wants and the confidence in herself to manifest it. That’s what she’ll learn at Fairhaven School. Don’t we all wish we could live our lives this way?

(Needing inspiration for how to do this for yourself? Listen to Episode 3 of Adventures in Branding Podcast where Melanie Spring breaks it down into bitesize brain nuggets.)

Shout out to Cheney Williams for editing the HECK out this post. You rock!