News and Tribune

Clark County

July 10, 2013

Putting students in control: Group initiates school model conversations based on Massachusetts concept

JEFFERSONVILLE —

She said continuous, state-mandated testing, confining curriculum standards and grading systems in schools frustrated her and some of her friends.

So on Thursday, Melanie Hughes is beginning the talks of an education revolution.

Hughes, and her friend Debbie Harbeson, want to initiate a conversation about bringing a school modeled after the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass., to Southern Indiana. The model allows students to dictate what they want to learn and leaves the rules of the school largely in their hands.

To spark a dialogue, they’re inviting the public to come to the first of three scheduled meetings of the Sudbury School Startup of Southern Indiana at 6:30 p.m. on July 11 at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library’s south meeting room.

She said there’s no set timeline on establishing a school in the area, if they’re able to, but the goal is to use the conversations as a barometer to gauge how the community feels about the idea. 

“It’s very challenging to start a private school with this philosophy that is so foreign to what we’ve experienced in the traditional public school system,” Hughes said. “It’s hard for people to wrap their brains about putting the responsibility of the education of the child in the hands of the children instead of the system.”

If they’re successful, it would be the first Sudbury model in Indiana.

Neither Hughes nor Harbeson have school-age children. 

Hughes said after her work in elementary school libraries, the library at Indiana University Southeast and serving on the Community Montessori school board, she had taken issue with top-down curriculum requirements and how it affected children’s learning.

“It’s not about the children directing their own learning, it’s about what the legislators are dictating to them,” she said. “When I read about this, it just resonated so well because this is freedom, this is trusting children to make decisions that will impact their entire lives.”

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