When new students arrive on our campus and I volunteer to show them around, there are some SVS basics I always hit on.
I tell them no staff can give them a detention here like they can at their traditional school. I tell them no one will force them to do homework. I tell them no one will harass them in their time at SVS, and if someone were to do so, the community would see to it that whoever did it would be fairly charged and sentenced.
We tend to talk about Sudbury schools in terms of what they aren't. When the norm is traditional schooling, with rigid curricula, strict scheduling and horror stories of teacher behavior, it makes sense to separate us on the ground floor. It's truer than true, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss, that we are very different.
It’s easy to explain our model in terms someone who has only experienced traditional schooling can understand, but what is important about Sudbury Valley is not what it isn't, but what it is and what it offers.
Our model doesn't allow for the abuses of power by adults that haunt other schools. What we do have is a judicial system that gives the power to its people and strengthens students’ sense of fairness through their own involvement in the process and a culture that encourages honesty.
We don't have a set curriculum. What we do have are classes organized when students are passionate and genuinely interested in a topic. We have conversations, their only commonality being the respect extended to participants with all levels of knowledge and experience. We have resources: paper and pens, guitars, a stove.
The bullying problem that plagues most schools is absent here. What we have is a community of young kids (and teenagers!) who play together and staff who support them.
When I give a tour, I hope I can answer the questions visiting students may have about our model, but I also hope they notice how comfortable I am with everyone we say hello to on the way. I hope they notice the way staff members past seventy and kids under ten tease me as I introduce them.
A Sudbury school is personal, since it’s constantly being redesigned by every School Meeting member's choices and actions, and for this reason my tour will never be enough for new students to understand what their Sudbury experience will be like. I can relate my experiences of growing within the community, memories of making movies and climbing trees, but for someone else, the Sudbury Valley School may come to mean something completely different.