Community Updates on COVID-19
Ten members of SDE communities discuss their reactions to COVID-19 and quarantine.

The Open School

Santa Ana, California, USA

I wanted to share how our Sudbury-model school is handling our school closure. We are doing our best to take this as an opportunity to think creatively about our community. Our school already had a Discord server for students and staff, but now it is becoming a very organized and active place. We used to have two channels: announcements and random. Now we have 9 channels and growing, including “dungeons-dragons” for people to organize virtual D&D campaigns, “quilt” for the group of kids who are making quilt squares which will be stitched together after the school reopens, “projects” for people to discuss projects we can do individually and then share online, and “roblox” for people to organize playing on Roblox games together. We also have a “mental-emotional-health” channel to support each other if there’s anxiety or stress about the situation. We will also have Zoom meetings for our committees and School Meetings during this time.

In addition, we are doing some limited get togethers in outdoor spaces for families who need some child care during this time. We want to be responsible and maintain social distancing, so we are very careful with these events – we do not hold them inside and we do not drive people in the same vehicle from different families.

Our parent community is also very active and our GroupMe groups, which we have had for years. But now people are banding together to offer support and ideas. One of our moms is offering online yoga for kids, another is offering to watch kids for a couple of hours at a local park, and plenty of them are sharing hilarious memes.

Thank you for supporting the SDE community during this time. It’s strange to figure out how our community-based school can still operate without a location. But I think in the end it will strengthen us and will become school lore.

–Cassi Clausen
The Open School

Gastonia Freedom School

Gastonia, North Carolina, USA

Gastonia Freedom School serves students with disabilities who are also majority black and/or low income. When it came to the coronavirus, we decided to stay open and accept a limited number of drop in students. By staying open, we are able to provide a safe space for children whose parents may have to work or have other responsibilities. Caring for disabled children can be exhausting in normal times, so we understand the value of a few hours to rest and get chores done.

On the other hand, many of our caretakers are in the high-risk category for the virus because of age or underlying conditions. We have encouraged our families to stay home if anyone in the home has symptoms of Covid-19. Some of our children are sensory seekers and touch multiple surfaces with their mouths or hands. The less people coming into our space, the less chance of the virus spreading to our vulnerable community members.

We are not requiring students who stay home to participate in online offerings or to do work at home. We know that not all of our families have access to the Internet or have multiple devices for their children to use. We are still offering devices and academic work to our students who choose to attend, but, like many SDE spaces, we are not holding on to ideas of students being “ahead” or “behind” due to the lack of access. Kids can be stressed in this time too, and the last thing they need is a reminder that they are not progressing like a typical student.

Over the weekend I investigated the free learning opportunities advertised for school closings. I don’t believe they provide the flexibility and support that our students need to be successful. Right now I’m working with two students on math. Sitting beside them while they work in paper workbooks allows me to adjust my teaching style and the amount of work I give based on their ability in that moment. When I assign a problem set in an online program, I have no way to see if they are bored, struggling, or not feeling good about solving a problem.

I have a lot of sympathy for the public school students who will be transitioning to online classes over the next few weeks. I worked in the public schools as a teacher assistant, often helping students who had IEPs. Our local school system uses a program called iReady that delivers differentiated instruction for reading and math. The technology is revolutionary, but there is only so much multiple choice tests can teach. In the next few weeks, parents across the country will see their children struggling. Instead of condemning the entire world of education, I hope they will turn to the SDE community for real insight into better ways to educate their children.

–Crystal Farmer
Gastonia Freedom School

The Circle School

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Self-directed Education centers and schools should keep in mind that “the living is the learning,” and that this global crisis is history unfolding in real time. It is not our primary purpose to try to maintain the status quo, but to live and learn in the crisis rather than in spite of it. Not every generation gets a “Pearl Harbor-scale” event like this.

–JD Stillwater
The Circle School

Lifelong Unschooler

Portland, Oregon, USA

When I was younger I attended a district-funded homeschool resource center. They provided classes, resources, funding, and a place for young people to be with one another.

Several times a year, during breaks between “semesters”, we would have a week devoted to one-off workshops and classes, fun projects, and trying out new things. People would list their workshops on a giant center-wide offering sheet. Offerings like gingerbread house making, intro to Japanese, paper-making, capture the flag, metalworking, and more. Kids could join any class or workshop for a one off experience, and it was a chance for us to try all sorts of new things and perhaps pick a teacher or activity that we really liked and wanted to continue. It was a chance for people to share parts of themselves and their interests. For me, it felt like a kid in a free candy shop.

Interestingly enough, this excitement continued with me into my college experience — when it came time to sign up for classes it felt like the whole world was open to me. I would spend hours looking through the options and ordering them in terms of priority so that I could be sure to snag the ones I was really interested in early on (unfortunately college classes fill up quickly, and people often miss out on those they are interested in the most).

A week ago when SDE centers, schools, libraries, and businesses started closing across the globe, a network of SDE centers started coming together to think of alternative offerings together. How could we shape our offerings to continue to support the young people in our centers? How can we also come together globally to feel connected and collaborative in a time of social distancing?

The online offerings started pouring in, and as I look at the sheet I once again felt like a kid in a free candy shop, looking at everything that was available, all the topics and experiences people were offering that I never would have thought of, seeing people’s ideas and experiences and minds come together as people offered to share things, moments, discussions, experiences. In some ways, there is even more open to us as we share things globally that we previously did only within our own centers. In some ways this is a wonderful chance to learn from one another, expand our communities, and collaborate with those we don’t generally get to see.

Every person is different. And my candy shop may be overwhelming to another person, or even, their nightmare. Perhaps that person doesn’t like candy at all. Maybe they prefer chips when they are considering comfort food? Not everyone likes looking at a list of opportunities and picking out what sounds best to them. They may feel overwhelmed. Unsure. Perhaps group classes are not really their thing. Perhaps meeting a new group of people is hard for them. Perhaps they would rather read books and listen to podcasts on their own, or game with their closest friends, or do art in their room by themselves.

Just as the same supports and offerings don’t work for every person when we come together physically, the same is true when we are coming together virtually, when we are striving to design new systems of support, collaboration, and community in a time when we are not supposed to be within six feet of one another.

I am deeply comforted and inspired by what is coming together in this challenging time, and particularly by the efforts, ideas, passion, and excitement of everyone involved. And I need to remember that there are also people for which this model we have shifted into might not get at what they need during this, and those people need support and resources as well. Let’s keep talking, keep collaborating, keep sharing moments and ideas and even fear in this time of uncertainty. And let’s not ever pretend that we have it all figured out for everyone. SDE is always a journey, and right now that journey looks different.

How does it look for you?

–Bria Bloom

Riverstone Village

Johannesburg, South Africa

Riverstone Village is conducting a survey of our families to find out who needs actual childcare, and which families have what computer, smartphone and internet resources at home. The plan is to pull together and find ways to meet all important needs in creative ways. We are brainstorming safe, responsible, fun and meaningful ways to keep connected during this time.

We are planning to set up an online virtual community using Discord so that our kids and staff can connect for conversation and online activities ranging from minecraft and poker games, to interactive Shakespeare readings, and other current favorite activities that can be translated into the virtual. This will probably involve temporarily distributing our computers among homes without, and clubbing together for internet data dongles where lacking.

We will also participate in international virtual platforms and events.

It’s just too soon to say what our entire plan will be as it is still under construction.

–Je’anna L Clements
Riverstone Village

Tallgrass Sudbury School

Riverside, Illinois, USA

Tallgrass Sudbury School closed on Tuesday by order of the Illinois governor. We will be closed until at least March 31, but of course no one knows how long this closure will last. We are lucky in that the biggest concern for our community so far is maintaining social connections when we can’t be together in person. We’ve started a school Discord and the students are communicating over that as well as in the many other ways that they already communicate. Our students were devastated to leave and will be happy when they’re able to return, and in that we are in a different position than most schools worldwide.

–Elizabeth Lund
Tallgrass Sudbury School


Austin, Texas, USA

Abrome uses a sliding scale tuition model to make Self-Directed Education accessible to as many families across the socio-economic spectrum as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to directly harm some of our families at the lower end of the spectrum as their working hours are cut or jobs are lost. Further, there are members of our community (Learners and family) who have risk factors that increase the severity of potential infection and therefore need to increase social distancing or even self-isolate.

The Facilitators at Abrome believe in direct action tactics as a way to shape the world we want to help create–hence why we are Facilitators at Abrome. As the pandemic continued to spread we felt that it was important to help facilitate a mutual aid network within the community so that everyone recognized their potential to directly support one another in this time of uncertainty (and in the future when the pandemic ends). We started by looking at what other groups were doing (specifically Philly ALC and Mutual Aid Metro Vancouver) and adapted it to our needs.

It is too early to tell if our mutual aid group will be able to meet the needs of all the members of our community, but this moment in time is allowing us the opportunity to practice community in its truest form–allowing us to validate the inherent worth of every member of our community and recognizing that each of us can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole.

–Antonio Buehler

Macomber Center

Framingham, Massachusetts, USA

Our wonderful Center is closed for the time being – I miss the amazing mix of kids, the staff, our sun-filled space, our outside land just starting to hint at being green once more. And along with that missing, I and the rest of the Macomber staff are figuring out how to keep our community alive and healthy – how to continue to grow our knowledge and caring and learning from and with each other through means other than actual daily contact.

For me this is a challenge because a lot of what I love best about my work at Macomber involves documenting our daily lives together using photos – I am never far from my camera, and for the past two years have been publishing a daily blog for our families, to give parents a glimpse of how each day plays out at the Center. That part of my work came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday last, when we made the decision to begin practicing social distancing, an idea totally foreign to our members!

I am hopeful we will be able to move forward with virtual connections, maintaining our contacts with each other in that way until such time as we are able to joyfully gather in our shared space once more and celebrate our unique and precious days together.

–Denise Geddes
Macomber Center

Hudson Valley Sudbury School

Kingston, New York, USA

Well now. Does not uncertainty make for a vivid life? During these first days, have you felt anxiety? Euphoria? Dread? Giddiness? Serenity?

We’re really living now.

This week we did not go back to our beautiful school. We don’t know when we will go back. We miss it already.

We suggest that we approach what is poetically called “social distancing” as a game; one we all play together. Everyone on earth.

At our school, we are very good at games, because we indulge in them. Shamelessly. Because they’re so fun. We save the world in games every day.

In this game, you exercise caution without indulging fear. You stay six feet away from each other, except for people in your household. You refrain from gathering in numbers of more than ten. You do not dine out – you do not go needlessly into any place of business. You wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

In this game, you only score points by helping your teammates. Everyone alive is on your team. You look out for them. You notice them, take them seriously, and protect them. You treat them – especially the ones you are with – as lovingly as you can each moment.

In this game, you do not take more than you need. And in this game, you have to pause. It’s one we all play together, against ourselves – not a virus. The virus is the referee.

Games are fun. Let’s have fun together playing this game. Saving the world. And Living. And let’s start doing it three days ago, so we can get back to that beautiful school.

Our school is very much a *place* – it is *somewhere*. And The Sudbury Model is a way of organizing a community of humans minds, spirits, and bodies – it cannot be done virtually. Our students are already well connected to each other and the world on the internet, but we have launched a school-wide discord server as a centralized location for our community to stay connected. Another discord server for the wider Sudbury community has also been launched, and we are excited for the opportunities for new connections that offers us. Our staff is still working, mostly from home, to maintain and continue improving our program; the school will be here when the virus is gone. We are available to any of our students who want to engage with us. We are grateful to believe in and understand the power of Self-Directed Education; we believe in people, and we believe our students will thrive during this surreal interlude.

–Matthew Gioia
Hudson Valley Sudbury School

Brooklyn Apple Academy

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Today I returned to NYC, with my partner, dog, and our 5 year old child, after a weekend visit turned extended visit to friends who are family in neighboring New Jersey. Being back in my cluttered, poorly lit Brooklyn apt at once brought on a rafter of contradicting emotions: immediately comfort at being in our own space, unconcerned about imposing on friends, but very quickly a sense of mourning set in, perhaps highly by the experience of being home without our extended community, but also for the first time realizing that the world will not be the same. These communities we have built will shift. The young children I have grown to love and look forward to seeing will not be tugging on my sleeves, holding my hands, snuggling, leaning in when they feel scared. I have my own sweet child to do that, but a feeling of loss for her swept over me as well. A loss at having had 2 miscarriages comes to mind as I see siblings who I think, thankfully, have each other at this time. I am desperately grateful that we are not all fearing for the lives of our children right now, but painfully sad to realize I may not see my parents and sister, who live at opposite ends of the nation, in the flesh for years to come. I fear for my septegenarian parents, one of whom is isolated. If we could get tested, we could see her. She is only 2 hours away. But without that safety, we cannot risk infecting her. I mourn for my daughter, for her classmates who will likely not see one another again this year. NYC made a swift choice to shutter schools for 5 weeks, (while the rest of the nations responds with 2), but we know, as they have warned us, that school may not reopen this year. I reassess why I live in cramped quarters; (Culture, community, a job I feel passionately about, long-standing friendships and creative endeavors), but I see, now, and knew before, that what I long most for is immediate community...and a space to have that in. Communal living, or at least community living, is something I have had for my entire adult life, out of necessity, and out of love for it. It’s not always the easy way, but it is worth the challenges, and sacrifice of total privacy, to have camaraderie, a shared experience, a shared life.

I have been inspired in these past days, at how quickly, and with such grace, my small community at Brooklyn Apple Academy, a self directed homeschool resource center, has come together to keep pace at this time of great transition. We have built, so swiftly, thanks to great minds, total commitment, and technological prowess (on the part of Alex Khost), a space for our community to gather together and continue to learn in new ways. Many people are gathering online in many spaces, certainly. What I am experiencing is a beautiful place of offering and sharing. For sure it’s been a paradigm shift, probably more so for the leaders than the kids participating, as they are part of a technological generation horn around and versed in the language of tech. For me, seeing myself on screen was at first a bit embarrassing, then mesmerizing, but quickly, I have adapted to a New Yorkers abandon of self consciousness online and have resigned myself to showing up unshowered, in sweatpants, with no shame. Smellovision, the wave(y stinkline) of the future.

In this time, I am enormously grateful for technology and more so for the small nuclear family I have at home, messy as it can be, you can’t recreate a hug in virtual reality.

Goodnight to us all.

–Amy Grace Carrigan
Brooklyn Apple Academy

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