What is your position on language?
Sudbury School Paris is a primarily bilingual environment. All school meetings are conducted through English. Prospective students need to either have a sufficient level of English to engage in the life of the community or be committed to reaching this level.
What do students do all day?
It depends on the individual student. Open discussion, sports, reading, gaming, building, and dancing are some common activities we've observed at Sudbury schools.
Sudbury School Paris is more of a community than an institution. If I asked you what people in your town do all day it would be hard for you to answer since people engage in so many varying activities. It is the same in a Sudbury school. We trust children to determine what is best for their own education.
Do the children just play all day if they don't have to go to class?
Traditional schooling has given all of us a misunderstanding of the value of play in childhood and adolescence by relegating it to a place of non-importance in the child's school day. Nothing could be further from the truth or more harmful to child development.
Physically, children need to move, and current research indicates that they learn more when they are moving. Play almost always involves movement. It also involves an intensity and focus that are precursors to the same level of performance that children will show when they find passions and their career interests.
Further, creativity demands play. We play with ideas; managers play with new processes; scientists play with hypotheses and experiments; inventors play with new toys, vehicles and products; marketing professionals play with new slogans; and pioneers in all fields play with finding new ways to achieve their goals.
Children learn all sorts of things from each other during play. While playing/working/interacting together children learn that there is more than one way to do something; they discuss politics from their family's perspective and hear how other families think; they dream about the future and share their dreams; they take charge one day and follow the next; they are honest with each other about their feelings; they examine the workings of machines; they hear about a friend witnessing her baby sister being born; they help younger children with a project; they find a way no matter how long it takes... the list and the learning is endless.
Children also learn about society through their interaction with others in play. They learn the importance of rules and boundaries, the importance of working it out, the value of all members of the group. They develop skills in leadership, initiative, cooperation, responsibility, collaboration, fair play, compassion and justice.
Most importantly, they learn all of these things in the process of their day to day lives. In Sudbury schools students learn all of the aforementioned skills (and more) in an experiential way through thousands of actions they have in their daily lives at school. This is a very different to traditional schooling which is based on assumption that children are passive vessels who are not able to develop these skills without instruction. Children 'own' what they learn on their own and most children discard the majority of what is taught to them when they did not ask to be taught it. Teenagers, probably even more so. Any state curriculum will naturally contain thousands of pieces of information which are irrelevant to the daily lives of most adults and yet children are still expected to learn about them - this is simply madness. We need to trust children to judge for themselves what they believe to be valuable to learn.
But what if my child is not self-motivated?
All kids are motivated. All children have a passion for learning and discovery. If your child does not exhibit motivation for learning, why might this be the case? What has his or her experience in "learning environments" been like? Has your child become accustomed to being led, directed, and dominated by adults? Unfortunately, most modern "learning environments" designed for kids are really just structured, adult-led activities during which the kids are expected to be more-or-less passive and obedient subjects. They are not allowed the freedom and trust required to truly develop their own passions and pursue their own curiosity. Sometimes it can take quite some time for children to 'unlearn' dependency and develop their own sense of autonomy and self-regulation.
In a Sudbury school, kids have the freedom to pursue their own learning in whatever form appeals to them. For some kids, this freedom is an immediate call to action. For others, it takes more time. Boredom (in the absence of coercion) is the best way to cultivate self-reflection, followed by self-motivation.
We challenge all parents who hold this belief about their child(ren) to reconsider. Reflecting inward about your own experience as a child will help. As always, communicating openly with your child and asking about his or her experience may yield the best results.
Do you have teachers?
No teachers work at Sudbury School Paris. In our community each child is responsible for what their own learning, their own life and so school life does not involve a formalised curriculum, pedagogy or curriculum processes. While most of our staff have backgrounds in education there are no timetabled classes at our school. Adults who work at Sudbury School Paris are known as staff members. For more on the role of Sudbury staff check out the Our Team page. All staff members have passed criminal background checks and are First-Aid certified.
At the request of the students, staff members may teach lessons or workshops and provide tutoring services. The teaching style and attitude of the instruction will be catered to the students' needs. A staff member's main job is to be a resource for the students and to make sure the school is running properly and legally. Staff members are required to take on a considerable amount of other responsibilities, such as specialising in certain types of knowledge the students are interested in, generally studying to be better role models and working independently to improve the school.
There is no tenure and the staff members are elected one year at a time. The School Meeting can hire or fire an employee at any time. This might be our most radical departure from traditional schooling in which teachers are revered as authorities with considerable job security.
How does a student eventually move on to college?
A Sudbury student has had a lot more free time than the average student over the course of their education. Many of the questions they have explored the answers to have come from themselves and so they have learned a lot about themselves during this processes of exploration. This high degree of self-knowledge means that Sudbury students tend to know what their next step is or if they do not, have confidence in themselves that that they have the necessary skills to figure out what it will be. This may or may not involve college right away.
While we do not agree with measuring the success of education quantitatively, we do appreciate that the Sudbury model of education is a very different form of education to conventional schooling and so many parents will, understandably, have associated fears: Will this hurt my child's future? Will my child thrive in the world after going to this school? These underlying parental fears might be alleviated somewhat by the findings of studies on Sudbury graduates. In short, Sudbury graduates have historically done very well when applying for college and at further education in general. The Sudbury Valley School has done an extensive study of their former students. The results of their study show that a large majority (87%) of the graduates continue on to some form of further education; 4-year college, community college, performing arts school, culinary institute, etc. The Circle School too has also conducted a study of 78 of its graduates which found that graduates go to college at high rates: 84% of those who were there for 4 years of high school, and 91% of “lifers.” With graduates also earning more Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees than their peers. However, it must be noted that these statistics only show that a Sudbury education does not block success as defined in conventional terms. The raison d'être of Sudbury School Paris is to provide an alternative to measuring educational outcomes in conventional terms and so we provide these statistics with the hope that they will help parents get past their fears and free them up to focus on whatever features of our school which attracted them in the first place.
At times, students in a Sudbury school will decide that they want to learn a subject or they will decide that they want to pursue an educational or career path. When they decide this, the staff is there to support their choice and to help them achieve their goals. This can be done by actively teaching a subject, recommending a book or other reference material, identifying an outside resource or setting up an internship. The following is an example from the Highland school:
[One of our students] is very clear that she wants to become a veterinarian. She approached the staff and asked what she would need to do in order to get into a good college as a pre-veterinarian major. The staff helped identify the subjects she would have to know. The staff also helped her set up a short program with a local veterinarian. During this program, the student visited the veterinarian's office during school hours. When the program was finished, the veterinarian was very positive about the experience and indicated that the student would be welcome to come back for an internship once she reached the legal age of employment. The key to all of this is that the student knows what she wants. The staff is there to support and to encourage her along her path, but not to determine her path.
Click here to read an academic study of Sudbury alumni and here to read a testimonial from a co-founder of Sudbury Valley School. We also invite you to watch the Lives of Alumni series of videos on Sudbury Valley alumni.
What and how does one learn at a Sudbury school?
It would be impossible to come up with a general list for all students. It is based on them, their interest/passion, and their choices. They will learn many different things, often without even realising it. Lessons can be specific fields of knowledge or about life in general, for example communication skills, respect for human rights and the opinions of others, practice with empathy and conflict resolution because of the School Meeting/JC process, and their own agency and ability to affect the world around them. Students learn at their own pace the kinds of things that they want to learn. Now that the internet is so all-encompassing all children have access to the knowledge of the world at their fingertips.
In terms of a more concrete example, let us look at the fictional example of Sandra (9) who wants to learn about planes. In terms of traditional school there are three main components of education:
- the curriculum (what is taught),
- pedagogy (how it is taught) and
- assessment (how what was learnt is evaluated).
In a traditional context, the curriculum has already been decided upon in a traditional context and so there is very limited opportunity for most children to spend significant amounts of time on what they decide, on their own interests. Planes might be mentioned at some point on the curriculum but it certainly would not be allotted weeks or even days to explore this one topic in depth. In addition, not every child will be interested in planes and so the teacher will need to move on to the next topic on the curriculum. The pedagogy is decided by the teacher - will they bring in a model aeroplanes, will they sing a song about aeroplanes, will they focus on the math of aeroplanes or the narrative possibilities of the subject. Finally, how much the children learned will also be assessed. Usually this relates to the subject matter itself and does not include reflections on any other skills which might have been practiced during the process.
In a Sudbury context it is quite a different story and there are infinitely more possibilities in terms of what is learning. In the case of Sandra, she became interested in planes because she saw one in the sky one day. She wondered how it stayed up and didn't fall. She spends a few hours learning about how planes stay up. Not too long so that she gets bored and not too little, just the right amount of time that allows her to enjoy learning about planes. Sandra decided that how she would learn about planes is by asking some older students and staff and by watching. She has some conversations and then searches for some youtube videos. Sandra received some good recommendations from her peers and so she found one particular youtube channel which was just the right balance of being both entertaining and informative. She then decides she wants to make a paper aeroplane as it was mentioned in one of the videos. She gets some paper and begins to make aeroplanes. She is very particular about making the exact right type of aeroplane. Sandra engages in a quite rigorous assessment of her work as she is really invested in it. She gets a little frustrated and is not happy with her attempts and so she calls on a staff member to help her. With the help of the staff members she succeeds in creating an aeroplane which meets her high standards. While this is a fictional account, we hope that it is helpful.
As students are responsible for their own learning they are not hampered by someone else's interpretation of how that student would learn best. This means that they can achieve a state that psychologists term "flow". Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterised by complete absorption in what one does. The concept was first researched and named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as being in the zone. Flow is one of the best mental states to experiences imply a growth principle. When one is in a flow state, he or she is working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one's skills. One emerges from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great "feelings of competence and efficacy". By increasing time spent in flow, intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning also increases.
How does a student learn the basics?
If a certain bit of knowledge is considered a necessity to being an effective human it can be picked up in almost any aspect of life. For instance, if a child seriously wants to repair a bicycle, cook a meal, program a computer, or even go fishing, they will have to read to learn about the process, they must use math to work out measurements and participate with others in groups to learn and teach the process. It is this kind of motivation to accomplish something that is natural in humans, is not in short supply with children, and requires a supportive environment that an authoritative model of education does not provide.
As staff and as a school, we do not put a value on any specific type of knowledge. We believe anything considered basic is picked up by everyone at their own pace and in their own way when placed in a social environment with various ages and experience levels.
What about discipline - can the children just run wild all day?
Of course there are rules and boundaries. It would be very difficult to create a safe, friendly environment conducive to learning with clear rules and boundaries. These rules are created by the School Meeting and broadly fall into two categories - respect for others and respect for the school, its reputation and the building. These rules are implemented through the Judiciary Committee (J.C. for short), which is made up of a rotating group of students and staff members. Our school’s democratic approach ensures that issues which arise are handled by peers (students and staff members alike) in an open transparent and fair way. The J.C. has the sole discretion to determine disciplinary action witch sanctions focused on individual growth and compassion rather than behaviourist ideas of negative reinforcement. Cooperation and understanding are reached when all members of the community work together to create an environment of trust and support.
Alternately, students can be trained in mediation and opt for an "Ombudsman" in lieu of the Judiciary Committee. In this case, the students having a dispute can choose an Ombudsman who is usually a neutral third-party (usually an older student) to mediate in a mutually compassionate way.
To be clear, our school code prioritizes (in descending order):
Student safety is the number one priority of the school.
2) Respect for Human Rights
Our school models respect for oneself and one's peers. Personal boundaries and property rights are strictly enforced.
Do you have exams?
There are no exams at Sudbury School Paris. Any form of assessment comes from students themselves. A student engaged in undisturbed “serious” play is often their own fiercest critic. Children want to emulate role models in the adult world and often hold themselves to a high standard. Sudbury School Paris believes in cultivating this natural drive by providing a peaceful, friendly and safe environment to engage in such serious play.
To become a responsible person one must feel respected and be aware of the consequences of one's action. At our school, nobody plans students’ days or thinks for the student. That is the individual student's responsibility. If a student chooses to study for exams they are free to do so.
What are your opening hours?
Our calendar will be based on the French school calendar. We have school Monday through Friday, Wednesday included. The day at Sudbury School Paris starts at 08:30 and students can arrive until 10h30. Students need to stay a minimum of 5 hours minimum in the school. The school closes at 17:30. The opening and closing are negotiable depending on parental needs. Part-time attendance s not an option. 3-5 year olds can attend school as much as they want, but there's not reduced fee if they attend less than full time.
Do you provide lunch?
No. Students can bring their own lunch, purchase lunch nearby or cook their own if they have been certified to use the kitchen equipment.
(1) Greenberg, D., & and Sadofsky, M. Legacy of Trust: Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience (1992) (Sudbury Valley School Press; Framingham, MA) pp. 249.