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As I talk to more and more people about Open Road, I’m realizing that there’s some real confusion around this question. The term “alternative”, in the context of school, makes many people associate us with the kind of “alternative schools” that have come to dominate the landscape in mainstream education - places where schools, after having gone though a series of escalating interventions, finally send their misfits, the oppositional/defiant kids, the chronic truants, the ones whose need for something different is glaringly obvious because they’re either so disruptive, unsuccessful, or miserable in school.
Open Road is a place for kids like these. Certainly, if school is a miserable experience for a teen, we want them to know that they don’t have to go there anymore. They can simply walk away and start living the life they want to live. If they don’t know what that looks like yet (as many don’t), then we help them figure it out, listening and responding as they lead with their ideas, offering but never requiring opportunities to learn in a myriad of ways. As these kids gain the understanding that their learning really is up to them now, and that they can live for their dreams right now and every day, without the many pressures of school sitting like boulders in their paths, their confidence and sense of themselves can take leaps forward. For these kids, self-directed learning can be a lifesaver.
But freedom of choice and self-direction is not only a solution for the kids who absolutely couldn’t make themselves follow the routines of regular schools. It is a powerful path for any kind of teen, or really, for any kind of person of any age. Many students experience great success in school, but they don’t necessarily experience powerful, inspirational learning experiences - at least, not often enough. Through self-directed learning, kids can follow their interests as deeply as they want to. They can create amazing things and develop talents that school would simply not value. They can hone in on what they’re great at, or what puts that spark in their eye, and become experts. They can begin (and graduate from) college early. Today and every day, they can live the life that they want to live, and aim for the life that they want, even as their ideas about these things shift around as the wide world unfolds before them.
For whom is the opportunity to freely pursue one’s own path anything but exhilarating?
— By Alan Burnce, Founder of Open Road Learning Community for Teens