It Depends

Joel HammonUncategorized

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“It Depends.” I say this alot. 

I’m the staff member at Princeton Learning Cooperative who initially meets with interested families. They come with lots of questions about PLC and I almost always respond with some variation of, “it depends.” The reactions families have to hearing this over and over again range from mild amusement as they start to understand how PLC works to slight annoyance that I’m not being more specific. I find that the answer, “it depends” gets to the heart of the truly personalized learning community that is PLC. It’s the answer that is based on respecting young people, where they are in their life and their unique abilities and talents. If it DIDN’T depend, that would mean we’re the ones directing the way young people are spending their time and energy, and that is not what we’re aiming for at PLC. We want flexibility, not rigidity.

“What does a typical day look like at PLC?” It depends. There is a weekly calendar of offerings at PLC, but inside that structure young people make decisions about what they want to participate in. We have some young people who join PLC and dive into almost everything that’s offered on the calendar, filling themselves up with classes, tutorials, trips, and mentoring meetings. We have other teens who look at a schedule like that and are horrified. If they are totally booked up with classes, they wonder when they will be able to work on their drawings or read their books or make friends by hanging out with the community. They choose to participate in less offerings so they have time to pursue these other priorities.

“When do teens have to be at PLC?” It depends. PLC doesn’t have an attendance policy. Families and young people get to make those decisions about their life and time depending on their circumstances. Some young people choose to be at PLC every second that we’re open. Some older teens take classes at community college. They might have a college class Tuesday and Thursday morning, and then they come over to PLC in the afternoon. Some teens work or have internships that happen during hours when PLC is open. Sometimes families take extended trips while PLC is open, and they don’t have to justify the “educational value” of the trip or come back to a mountain of missed work. Some teens struggle with social anxiety, and the idea of spending the whole day at PLC is overwhelming, so they may come for half a day or just for an hour or two until they are more comfortable in the community.

“What classes are available?” It depends. Everything on the PLC calendar is there because one of the teens requested it or we have a staff member or volunteer who offered the class and young people signed up for it. When someone joins PLC, our first question is often, “What are you interested to learn or be involved in?” Sometimes they are interested in stuff already happening at PLC, but if it isn’t already on the calendar, we’ll work to recruit a new volunteer who can offer that. If we can’t find a volunteer, perhaps there are other ways to address that interest like a one-time workshop, trips to interesting places, or an independent study project. There are no unavailable topics, sometimes you just have to get creative about how you go about learning it.

The list of questions about PLC to which I respond “it depends” is long and varied. The power and value of this answer comes from the fact that young people are always changing, and the answers that made sense for them at one point in their lives may not make sense at another. The inherent flexibility in the model accommodates the changes and life circumstances teens experience and is the main reason that PLC and self-directed education work for many kids when conventional schools did not.

[Photo Credit: Anna Tarazevich, Pexels free to use]