Tucked away in the woods is an enchanted fairytale school that seems to have been transplanted from the English countryside and, in many ways, it was.
Tallahassee’s Grassroots Free School is modeled on the educational philosophies of A. S. Neill who founded a school in Suffolk called Summerhill. Neil’s methods were child-centered and he adhered to the maxim of “freedom, not license.”
“Grassroots Free School is a democracy. The teachers are not the end-all authority figures like most schools. We work with the students,” explained theater and music teacher Robin Jackson. “They create and vote on rules and decide how the school is run. The students have freedom of choice.”
Through regular meetings, teachers, students, parents, and siblings can offer solutions to challenges, sort out logistics, set guidelines, share announcements, celebrate successes, and offer support. At Grassroots, each individual’s needs are considered and students are encouraged to make their own decisions, including which classes to attend. Jackson is one of seven faculty members serving 25 students ages 5 to 14 and her theater class is generally full.
Jackson. She’s taught English through performance with an international children’s theater company, she’s produced plays based on historical figures, and she’s currently working with students on an environmental musical for the school’s upcoming Pollinator Festival.
“Theater can be applied to math, to reading, to history. Those same creatures they’re learning about in science, students are going to then become, so it really puts it into their body.” Jackson points out that while many schools incorporate the arts throughout the curriculum, “they’re just tied down to these statistics and to the testing, and because we don’t have that, we have a lot more freedom.”
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