Where is the school? What are the school hours and calendar?
The school is located at 372 Clinton Avenue in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. The school opens at 8:30 AM and closes at 3:30PM. The school basically follows the conventional public school calendar.
Is there evidence that this approach to education works?
Studies in homes, schools, and workplaces repeatedly show similar results: the empowerment of people to make their own decisions about their activities and performance leads to higher satisfaction and better quality results.
The Brooklyn Free School is based on the principles of Summerhill School in England, the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, and The Albany Free School in Albany, NY. The Sudbury Valley School has done extensive research of its former students and the results have indicated that students who have undergone this type of education have become "successful" in later life. Successful is in quotes because it's an inherently subjective term. Our program will be successful if the students grow naturally-socially and emotionally, as well as academically; each at their own pace and in their own way; are happy with themselves and what they are doing, and when they have decided that they no longer want to stay at the school, or need to change schools for some reason-are confident that they are ready to assume whatever challenges await them. Again, the research done by Sudbury Valley demonstrates overwhelmingly positive evidence of personal growth of former students, as documented in numerous, lengthy testimonials (Legacy of Trust, Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience, 1992). Students who have experienced democratic free education for any significant period of time clearly articulate how invaluable this educational experience has been to them in the pursuit of an occupation, higher education, or other life choices, providing strong evidence that this approach works (Pursuit of Happiness, Sudbury Valley Press 2005).
How does the school ensure that students learn the "basics?"
What is meant by the "basics?" This question in and of itself represents a core principle of the Brooklyn Free School. A certain segment of society has sought, and succeeded, in imposing their view of what is important for all students in America, and indeed in much of the world, to learn in school. We don't presume to know what is best for each individual student to learn now and certainly not what will be best in the next five or ten years. The world is a fluid, fast-changing, and increasingly open society where individuals need to be first and foremost confident, flexible and independent thinkers and learners. Nurturing these qualities is what a free school does best. What a student learns is determined by each individual's own unique set of talents, skills, and interests which they pursue in their own good time. Students learn how to read, write, and do mathematics (these skills constituting the common perception of the "basics") in a natural and organic fashion; as necessary to support and better understand their passions and interests. There is no more effective way to learn than as a natural means to accomplish a self-motivated end.
If the students aren't "exposed" to knowledge, how will they find out what they like?
Children are innately curious and are exposed to a tremendous variety of information on a daily basis from their family, friends, schoolmates (younger and older), staff members, media, and the world around them. In a free school environment, students do significantly more exploration of a greater variety of topics and subjects than they would ever be exposed to at a traditional school. Furthermore, once a student finds a particular area of interest they are not limited by whether or not there is a course offered on that subject, nor are they restricted in the amount of time and effort they can expend learning about that interest. Subsequently they are able to delve much more deeply into that area, thereby obtaining significantly more knowledge and understanding than would be possible in a traditional setting. In addition, all staff members at the school are free to offer any subject or topic that interests them to the students. Finally, the school has the flexibility and mission to establish numerous ties with local organizations and individuals for in-school visits and workshops and to take trips to locations around the city of interest to the students on short notice.
How will children be prepared for the real world?
The democratic free school model is much closer to the real world than traditional models. In the "real world" there is age mixing and there is no one to tell you what to do all the time. In the "real world" we are responsible for our own actions and our own accomplishments. So children learn about the real world every day at this school.
What is the tuition? Are there scholarships available?
The tuition for the 2011-2012 year is $18,000 for the lower school and $19,000 for the upper school. For families that can't afford full tuition, tuition will be determined by a sliding scale based on family's ability to pay. For more information contact the school.
How do students get into college?
Students who choose to, can take Regents Competency Exams and qualify for a NYS High School Diploma. Some City and State colleges and universities prefer their applicants to have that. There are, however, many many colleges that admit students largely through the interview process and on the basis of essays that students write. The students demonstrate their maturity, their ability to express themselves, their persistence and their passion. They are exceptionally clear about their desires. Most colleges are looking for those students who stand out and democratic free students are definitely unique. Some students choose to study for and take the SATs and ACTs. Some of the SAT scores can count toward a NYS Diploma as well. Students also develop portfolios representing some of what they learned at the school. This can be shared with colleges and employers as well.
How do the different age groups mix?
Democratic free school models believe age mixing to be integral to their success. They find that young children ask older children to read to them. Older children explain things to younger children and take pride in being able to work with young children. It is not unlike a very large family.
How does the school evaluate student progress?
We do not use report cards, grades, rankings, or any comparative or competitive evaluations, nor value-based evaluations. We utilize Prospect Descriptive Processes, a method using purely descriptive, non-judgmental observations of all aspects of a student's life and work at the school. These observations by the student's teacher, and those of the rest of the staff, are combined into a descriptive review of a child wherein we seek to more fully understand and get to know that child and discuss ways to foster their growth and development at the school.
What is the role of parents and guardians?
Parents and guardians are very important to the school. The school will have the greatest amount of success if the parents and guardians of the students share in the philosophy that the school is based on. Parents and guardians are encouraged to take an active role in the school, and can visit at any time and take part in daily activities. There is an ongoing Parent's Support and Education group that has begun to meet regularly. We like to think of parents and guardians as valuable resources to be shared with the school community to bring new and exciting learning opportunities to the students and staff.
Are there stuctured rules at BFS?
Yes. The rules are determined and enforced by the democratic meeting, which is composed of the staff and the students. Generally rules are put in place to ensure the smooth operation of the school and to allow students to be able to pursue their educational goals without disturbance.
What is the graduation process?
Students who feel they are ready to move on to the next phase of their lives declare their intention to graduate. They select a graduation committee from among staff and other mentors. A graduation essay is written in consultation with the committee and eventually presented to a graduation meeting of the general community. Questions are fielded about one's plans and readiness. A three quarters majority vote in favor of graduation is needed.
Do you get a diploma upon graduation?
All graduating students receive a Brooklyn Free School certificate upon graduation. In 2008 we were certified by New York State to grant New York State High School diplomas to students who choose to take and pass six Regents Competency Tests. The requirement for some of the RCT's can be eliminated by obtaining a certain level on SAT exams.