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Open Road is an alternative to school for teens (11-18 years old) who have been unhappy in the traditional school setting. We work with our teen members and their families to create individualized learning opportunities that are non-compulsory, self-directed, and relationship-driven. Open Road empowers teens to follow their natural curiosity and passions as they learn what, where, when, how, and with whom they want to. We want teens to live lives they love right now, and to inspire them to continue living that way for years to come. We believe that autonomy, gently guided by respectful, compassionate adult mentors, provides the ideal platform for teens to grow into the adults they will become.
Open Road makes non-compulsory, self-directed learning possible for teens in the Portland metro area. In our collective experience as educators, we’ve taught students who boast all kinds of skills and talents but don’t succeed in school. We’ve taught others who do just fine, but still wish desperately for another way to learn. Some enjoy great success in terms of grades but feel unchallenged, bored, or stifled anyway. More than a million teens have made the choice to homeschool or unschool and have found far greater joy and fulfillment having done so. We’re here to help students choose that path for themselves. Here’s how we do it:
Support Personalized, Self-Directed Learning
We exist to make possible the learning that our members want. That means that we teach classes, but we don't have a core curriculum. We have hours we're open, but we don't track attendance. We support deep, invigorating learning experiences, but we don't give grades, or even a diploma.
So what do we do? We ask members what they're interested in. We ask what their goals are. We don't make them feel like they should know the answers to these things if they don't -- but we work with them to figure it out. We don't do this on a preconceived timeline or calendar, and we don't require or expect that they will do any particular activity. We give true freedom to spend their time however they choose to. Because we believe that humans are naturally curious, naturally learning beings, we know that they will spend some of their time on things that traditionally count as learning, as well as on things that do not, but in which learning is manifest. Because we believe that the worst thing traditional school does is to shove knowledge at students without asking them who they are or what they want, we operate in the opposite way. We put the emphasis on the individual. We trust that as one gains some self-knowledge and appreciates that s/he really is free -- that no one is going to dictate what must be done or cajole a member into doing whatever we're secretly convinced ought to be done -- one will take hold of that freedom and growing self-knowledge and make strong, determined choices about learning and life that reflect one's unique interests and intelligence. We help our members do that in whatever way they could possibly need. Whether it's helping them understand themselves and their life goals, make connections to mentors in a field they're interested in, enjoy classes and workshops they choose to take, learn through one-on-one tutoring because that's what they prefer, undertake experiential learning opportunities that let them do the things they want to do, or whatever else would bring desired learning in a fun and engaging way, we are here in order to make it possible.
Provide a Relationship-Focused Environment for Self-Directed Learners
To fulfill our mission, we strive to provide a safe, supportive, friendly space in which teens can learn and grow according to their own talents and goals. To this end, every teen works in partnership with a staff member who serves as their personal advisor in weekly one-on-one check-in sessions. In these meetings, we review how members are using their time, how they're feeling about it, and whether they feel like they're working towards their goals. Driven, goal-oriented teens may get support plotting their best way forward to achieve their dreams. For members still finding their path, we’ll simply explore what their goals might be and different avenues that are open for exploration. Through this dialogue, we build a genuine relationship with our members, helping them create a meaningful journey for themselves in learning and in life. Advisory is always focused on the member, not on some pre-determined curriculum or set of assumptions. Advisory meetings are among the very few required elements of Open Road membership. We also have community meetings weekly in which members can discuss what's working and what's not program-wide, so that we can make adjustments accordingly, as well as three progress meetings a year with parents.
Provide Endless Learning Opportunities
Open Road provides a wide range of learning opportunities for members. We teach classes -- we do value the classroom as one of many possible places to learn. The content and style of our classes are always driven by the desires of our members as much as by the intent of the instructors, and expectations will always be clear from the outset. However, the classroom setting is not always everyone’s ideal learning environment, so we provide a wide range of other learning experiences as well. We’ll offer workshops, which are more hands-on and skill- or craft-based than more traditional subject classes. Students can be tutored 1-on-1 in virtually any subject. They can be guided through their own independent study. They can learn in the broader community through apprenticeships, internships, actual paid jobs, and volunteer opportunities. They can propose classes that they’d like taught and participate in the planning process if they’d like to, or they can even teach classes or lead seminar groups themselves and plan all of the learning activities with or without staff guidance. They can audit classes at some local colleges and universities. If and when students want to enroll in community college, we’ll help them navigate that process purposefully and confidently. Many of the learning opportunities we offer will revolve around artistic and craft-oriented pursuits - things increasingly neglected by our schools. But the key remains that none of this is required. Open Road members learn what, how, when, and where they want to, from whom they want to, at whatever pace works best for them. Alongside whatever skills and understanding they’re gaining, Open Road members are always learning to make choices and determine their own way forward.
Help Members Take The Next Step
A high school diploma is not necessary for a four-year college degree, but some paths will be best traveled with either a diploma or GED in hand. We’re here to help our members understand their options, make their choices, and execute them successfully. Those who decide to apply to college will be welcome to ample advice and assistance with the entire process, from compiling transcripts and portfolios to choosing prospective schools to completing standout applications (with an emphasis on phenomenal essays) to finding and earning as much financial aid and scholarship money as possible.
- Alan Burnce
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