2014 Graduates Building Reading Lily, Pico, Oak Tree House Friends

The Hudson Valley Sudbury School (HVSS) in Woodstock, NY is an alternative, private school for students ages 5 to 18.  HVSS is based on the educational philosophy first developed by the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA in 1968.

Students who attend HVSS create their own curriculum; they exercise their rights and responsibilities as members of an active democracy and they develop the skills and qualities necessary to become a successful adult.  A Sudbury school respects their students.  This respect is demonstrated by the trust placed in the students to determine their own curriculum and to be part of the democratic governance of the school.

Follow the links at the bottom of this article to get a brief introduction to the school and to our philosophy of education.

At HVSS, students take responsibility for every aspect of their education. All day, every day, students decide how to spend their time. They identify what is important to them  and establish their own goals. They figure out how to accomplish these goals for themselves. In doing so, they develop the confidence and the skills that will allow them to continue to challenge themselves.  They learn that they have control of their lives and that if they want to do something, it is up to them to make it happen.

The Sudbury philosophy acknowledges what research shows: people learn best when motivation comes from within rather than from an external source.

Students at Sudbury schools don't differentiate between work and play; learning and fun. Dividing a student's time between "classes" and "recess" communicates the message that work and play are separate; that classes and learning is "work" and that recess and fun is "play".  Sudbury students don't have this differentiation, they play anything and everything with passion and intensity. They work at play like musicians work at music, like doctors work at medicine, and they play at work like writers play with language and carpenters play with wood.

The passion that students bring to their play is the same passion that they bring to their work.  The seriousness that they bring to their work, they bring to their play.  There is no difference between the two.

Just as the lines blur between work and play, the lines of age become non-existent. There is no separation or grouping by age, instead there is a community of people with different skills and different interests. The competition created by putting kids of the same age together is transformed into friends helping each other move through life in a natural and supportive way.

Staff members at HVSS are part of the age-continuum.  They are friends, mentors, counselors, and they support the environment that allows the freedom, trust and responsibility to flourish in each student.

The underlying message a Sudbury school communicates by holding people responsible is that they are capable: capable of taking care of themselves, of deciding their path, of being an integral and active part of a larger community and helping to shape that community.  Sudbury students come to understand that their voice matters and that they can effect change in the world.

Sudbury schools have very high expectations of their students. It is not an easy place to be. There is room to make mistakes but everyone must take responsibilty for their choices. Students have freedom to do as they choose but also the responsibility to respect the freedom and rights of others.

Sudbury schools are run by a participatory democracy. Each student and each staff has equal representation and an equal vote in the weekly School Meeting. This meeting makes all of the day-to-day decisions necessary to run the school. It is chaired by a student who has been elected by the school and is run like a town hall meeting. All the policies and procedures of the school, including rules of behavior, use of resources and staff hiring are determined by debate and vote at the School Meeting. There is no principal, no higher authority, and no veto power.

Sudbury schools trust their students to make the important decisions that effect the school every day.

Students who complete a Sudbury education are independent. They are responsible for themselves and responsible for their community. They are passionate and articulate. Through their independence they know what they want to do with their lives and are focused on accomplishing their goals.

Instead of passing a standardized test to receive a diploma, students of HVSS must prepare and defend a thesis in order to receive our Certificate of Graduation. The topic of the thesis is "How I have prepared myself to be an effective adult in the larger community". A study of Sudbury school graduates shows that 82% continued their education at a higher institute of learning and that 94% of those graduates were accepted at their first choice.

Thank you for reading our brief introduction.  You can learn more about our unique form of education by exploring the rest of our website. There are articles about the Sudbury philosophy of education.  You can watch videos prepared by other Sudbury schools that demonstrate different aspects of their school.

If you are ready to take the next step, the Admissions gives details on our Open Houses, tuition and you can fill out the Interview Request Form online.

The Support Us section describes all of our various fund raising activites and the Contact Us section shows you how to get in touch with us including how to join our email list.

I am really honored and flattered to be asked to speak again this year.  It’s always a pleasure for me to fabricate heady rhetoric. So, thanks guys.  But actually, you know, after they asked me to speak, I went to them - maybe it was just Kiran, and I asked him who he would really like to speak, and he said Steve Buscemi, of course.  I found Mr. Buscemi on americanspeakers.com and there was a form to request him as a speaker - the lowest fee you could offer was $5,000, so I offered that and added a note that really I was really only offering $250.  We didn’t get a response.  So you’re stuck with me.

A passion isn’t something we pursue - it’s how we pursue when we are engaged in our activity.  What’s more, if we hone in on one particular activity and call it “my passion,” we run the risk of separating our passion from our life, and I’d hazard a guess that what most parents want is for their kids to passionately and lucidly engage all aspects of life.  I would argue that to do that, it’s necessary to live deliberately - that is, to actively choose and create your own life, and that’s what we really mean at HVSS when we tout our students’ freedom to “pursue their passion.”  Students here must choose whatever activity they engage at any particular moment.

Hope TurinoUpon entering the doors at the Sudbury School for the open house, I noticed that there was no one available to engage my expectations for the usual handshakes and prepared introductions. Instead, warm but non-intrusive faces said hello, spaciously waiting for a hint of what we needed as visitors. It also felt like no one owned the building, space, or school, but instead expected that you should fill it as you like, not with “egoic mentalizations” that reflect the proscribed culture and conditioning we are accustomed to. At once I felt that I had to allow myself more space. A short while later, I had the recognition that all that hand shaking and greeting I am accustomed to is actually a kind of “sell.” “Sell” is the norm of the culture I was brought up in. In my family and community and schooling, you sell yourself by becoming articulate, learning how and who to hang with and when to drop names and by adorning proper handshaking. This way you will let people know you belong to the “right” club, or are cut from a certain cloth. Hence, it was an old and recognized structure in me that felt the respectful peace and non-pressured atmosphere at Sudbury as a discord. But as I challenged my usual internal frame, I also experienced it as hugely relaxing and pleasurable. Here there was no one imposing their will on another. After a while of exploring the physical space and finding their own way around, the group assembled to answer questions for the visitors. Again there was a deep peaceful space that was palpable as I calmed my “ready to step-up and fill the void self” back down again. Instead, I was able to notice what I can only describe as the roominess to be.

I have been working in theater for the past 12 years (directing for 9), and in that time I have worked with numerous groups of peers and students of all ages. During those experiences a few habits of each group emerged that made the rehearsal process challenging. Yet, with the students at HVSS the challenges never matched normal group tendencies.

Eamon agreed to let us publish one of he recent college essays in our blog.  He talks about what it means to be an educated person.

Education is a misunderstood term. It is often confused with related concepts such as knowledge and school. Education sometimes happens at school (and sometimes doesn’t), and knowledge can be a sign of an education, but neither are education itself. Simply put, education is the willingness and ability to learn for the sake of learning. The truly educated person learns constantly without supervision or external reward. To truly define what education is, we must first look at what it is not.

On Wednesday the third, the first day of the school year, the kids came streaming off the buses and nearly broke down the doors, even though they were unlocked. I myself had just set my personal record for my bicycle commute (still though, the rest of the staff were already there when I arrived). Kids were hoping out of cars all morning and racing towards the building like it was made out of gingerbread, or as if it were some kind of supercharged happy-magnet. Everyone was eager to trade the decadence of summer for the nourishing thrill of getting the band back together, reuniting the clans, and returning to work on the ten thousand projects of making a life. And of course everyone was off to work immediately - no need to ever wait around here.

"Claiming responsibility for your own life, for your own community, for your world is glorious.  “I am responsible!” That’s heart; that’s love. Something extraordinary is happening today, and we need responsible people."
Find out what else Matthew said at the 2014 graduation ceremony!

I was talking to the father of a newly enrolled student recently.  During the conversation he told me about his experiences telling his friends about having his son enrolled at the school.  He said the basic conversation goes like this:

Friend: “So how is your son doing?”
Father: “Great!”
Friend: “Where is he going to school?”
Father: “He just started at the Sudbury School.”
Friend: “Ooohhhhhh….”

Accompanying this sound is a rather quizzical look.  While not saying any words, the sound and the expression convey a lot of meaning: thoughtfulness, concern, incredulity, and a large dose of “I don’t know what to say about that”.

"This is the kind of gig I had in mind when I moved to the Hudson Valley." That's what Jason from the King of Rome said when he took the stage at the January 2014 Music Night, and everyone who has ever been knows what he meant: Music Night is suffused with the kind of intimate ambiance lent by the glow of warm embers in a friend's fireplace

Perhaps it’s because rainbows operate in our psychology as a symbol of plenitude, especially for children, most of whom spend a great deal of their time under strict surveillance in secure pens called “schools,” which is ominously defined in Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “an institution for the teaching of children.”  Rainbow-land is where we will finally be free to do as we please and be respected as complete human beings.  But more on rainbows later.

While we have not yet started to make a big deal of it (yet – just wait smiley), we are fast approaching the 10th anniversary of the first day of school in our building on Zena Road.   Between now and June 14th, I will be writing some blogs that will provide some history of the school.  In this first installment, I will discuss the school’s enrollment.  This particular topic is forefront in my mind because we are starting to face one those good news/bad news situations.  The good news is that we have the highest enrollment since the very beginning of the school.  The bad news is that is looks like we will have to start thinking seriously about how we handle a waiting list.

One of the best things about a Sudbury School is Age Mixing.  This allows people of all ages to learn from other people of all ages - whether the person doing the learning is 5 years old or 30 years old.  Here is another episode in the continuing saga of one of our staff members "getting schooled".  One would thank that participating in a Milkshake sale would be simple, well one would be wrong...

When I was seven, I found myself at the Sudbury Valley School, in Framingham MA, and knew I had found the perfect school for me. I spent the next four years there. During my time there I was the free to play and be a kid. I played all day, everyday. I learned by asking others for help when I needed it, by being in a social environment with peers of all ages, by being hands-on in the art room, and by participating in a fully democratic society. Whenever I tried to force myself to learn something because my parents told me I had to, the attempt inevitability failed.

As most of you know, I am a new staff member this year, and I don’t know many HVSS graduates personally.  The school is still so new there aren’t many graduate anyway.  But, I did recently catch up with HVSS’s first graduate, Alex Delia, now 26, to see what he’s up been up to lately, and I wasn’t disappointed, to say the least.  

I would like to suggest that perhaps - just maybe - if more of our nation's children had the freedom, trust, and responsibility that students at HVSS have, other addresses given this week assessing states of affairs might be able to be more honestly positive.  Perhaps, if children and teenagers were respected as complete human beings - inexperienced, but complete as they are at any age (imagine!) - many, many problems  assaulting our nation and our earth would begin to soften and diminish.

Last Thursday as I put together the School Meeting Agenda I noticed that it was thin - it outlined what would surely be a quick and boring meeting.  I wanted something more interesting, so I thoughtlessly sponsored a motion to ban the use of smart phones, tablets, and similar devices at school, chuckling to myself.  I posted the agenda in the Lounge Extension, and went about my day.  Soon, students began addressing me, “Why the hell are you sponsoring that motion, Matthew?”

This blog is the second part of an Alumna's perspective on her HVSS education.  The first part can be read here: http://sudburyschool.com/blog/perspective-alumni-part-1.  This installment largely focuses on what Marina has done since graduating from HVSS.

I am not the kind of person who is good at sitting around doing, “nothing,” and when I was younger I was even worse. After enrolling I suddenly had endless amounts of time during the day to…choose what I wanted to do? What a strange concept. How wonderful! How incredible! Okay, so, what do I do? Hmm…. Um, can someone please just tell me what I’m supposed to do? There’s got to be something that someone thinks I ought to be doing. Someone? Please? Anyone?  No? Okay, I guess this means I really have to think for myself. 

This week's blog is a joint effort from Staff Members Vanessa Van Burek and Matthew Gioia.  They both reflect on their recent experiences with gifts, giving and community.

A parent suggested an informational blog post on "what staff do at HVSS." He added that when he explains the school to people they often infer that, because no one has any formal teaching duties, the staff members are essentially "babysitters." That tickled me, because when I worked at a public school I used to joke that, due to bureaucratic restraints, sloppy scheduling, and copious testing, I was often merely performing a minimal social service akin to - yes - babysitting.   

One of the biggest ongoing stories in education today is the debate over the Common Core, a set of K-12 standards dictating what students should learn and which has been adopted by 45 states.  Objections to the rollout of the Common Core have been numerous and vocal, but one in particular was highlighted for me at our Gift Sale on Saturday: having a "common" curriculum built around intensive testing is an attack on creativity. 

Recently, a staff member made a motion to put a defunct law called “Chase and Pursuit,” which forbids indoors chase games, back onto the books.  It passed to Second Reading, which means that it can be made into official school law at the following meeting.  But this law proved to be controversial, and the debate that followed revealed how in a democratic community even a seemingly simple proposition involves a complex web of implications.  In a small direct democracy, different perspectives inform and balance each other; it’s harder to get things done than in autocratic systems, but what’s done generally has more consideration behind it.

One of the most effective ways of learning a new skill is through an apprenticeship.  This style of learning is essential to a Sudbury model school and is practiced naturally all day, every day.  This blog entry gives a couple examples of this style of learning in action.

One criticism of the Sudbury model that comes up again and again is that it fails to “prepare kids for the ‘Real World’” because Sudbury provides too ideal an environment.  Sudbury spoils them by daring to respect children and teenagers as full-blooded human beings.  In contrast, the Real World is anti-human and is going to disrespect, subjugate, and crush them as soon as it gets its hooks into them.

Ness Boers... I thought about it for a bit, and a realization came to me - Sudbury, as a whole, was different. The philosophy was obviously different than the compulsory schooling most kids were used to. The kids were nicer, funnier, and more social. The parents cared more about their children, and the staff didn’t take the job for any superficial reason - they loved kids, and they loved to teach them the way they were supposed to be taught...

Last week we had a trial that raised some interesting questions about the age-old problem of individual rights vs. community - an intense philosophical, political, and metaphysical problem that still vexes human society and makes the news every day.

In a certain respect, Sudbury is an experiment in finding the balance between individual and community; individuals have freedom, but that freedom is limited by the freedom of others.  

Every day, somewhere on the Sudbury campus, students are engaging in scientific pursuits. In the last couple of days this has included cooking in the kitchen, making homes for wooly bear caterpillars, tending the garden, pulling out a magnifying glass to get a closer look at “diamonds” discovered in an old broken brick (“No, that’s QUARTZ!”…“No, it’s a diamond!”)...

After a few months, my parents realized that grounding me was making it worse. I got new medication. They sat me down and asked me if I would like to try out a private school. A Sudbury school. A non-stressful, no curriculum, democratic school that lets its students choose how they spend their days, learning through everyday experiences and play. 

This year – my tenth as a staff member at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School – I have been given a gift; I get to follow my ever curious toddler as he explores campus and interacts with the big kids.

Last year I spent my afternoons tutoring students who came to me mostly from high-powered traditional private schools. I didn't do much during sessions; I spoke casually with the students, commiserated, encouraged, laughed, asked occasional questions, and tried to stay out of their way as they navigated the difficulties of compulsory performance. But the students, their parents, and the owner of the company all thought I was doing a lot, and they happily bestowed upon me the credit for improvements...

I am a new staff member here at Hudson Valley Sudbury School.  I moved from Massachusetts with my wife Ana and our baby Susannah to be a part of this place, and this post is meant to offer some insight into why we would do that.  

Last Friday evening my friend Douglas called me up to ask how it was going.  We’ve both taught in public schools, and one way we liked to describe the atmosphere in those schools was “tense boredom.”  In was tense because we were charged with ensuring that at all times our students were behaving according to enthusiastically precise guidelines...