Who We Are
Communitas ALC (Agile Learning Center) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is in early stages of coming into being. We moved to Ithaca in 2020 and received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status around that time. We have spent the last year forming connections with local individuals and organizations working towards common goals. We are now opening registration for programs to start summer of 2022. See our Program page for more details.
We also host an SDE Book Club that occurs the first and third Thursday of every month at 7:00pm. More details for the book club can be found at the bottom of this page.
Our Approach to Education
We’re part of the Agile Learning Center (ALC) network (https://agilelearningcenters.org) and our central focus is self-directed education (SDE). Instead of forcing youth to learn particular things at particular times in particular ways, SDE provides a supportive mixed-age environment for them to discover and pursue their interests. Kids still learn the essentials (e.g., reading, writing, etc.), but when the time is right for them. Given that it’s intrinsically motivated, the learning is deeper and more lasting, but without the stress that accompanies forced learning. In the process, kids get to explore their interests, learn about themselves, connect with a supportive mixed-age community, and connect with the natural world. We know this works because SDE centers are doing it around the world. And although youth learn a ton through SDE, learning isn’t the objective. The objective is becoming. We want youth to become the fullest version of themselves, not who society says they should be. We want youth to feel comfortable and supported to show up everyday as themselves in our space, without feeling the pressure of harmful societal expectations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
When was the last time your child(ren) felt like they were a part of a mixed age community in which they were free to show up as themselves, to pursue their interests alongside other youth and adult mentors, and to just have fun together? Self-directed education takes a fundamentally different approach than conventional or other curriculum-based approaches. As Akilah S. Richards eloquently puts it in her book Raising Free People, self-directed education is “a child-trusting, anti-oppressive, liberatory, love-centered approach to [education]. It is a way of life that is based on freedom, respect, and autonomy.”
For more about our views on self-directed education, take a look at our Resources page.
Social Justice Focus
Communitas sees SDE as social justice work. Social justice isn’t just a value we give a nod to – it is at the heart of all that we do in our programs. SDE is intentionally anti-oppressive and respectful of youth’s rights to autonomy and happiness. Despite the good intentions of educators in conventional school, it’s an inherently oppressive and coercive institution that forces youth to do things against their will. Again, we believe that most educators have youth’s best interests at heart, but that doesn’t change the fact that the conventional education system is designed to force youth to do certain things, at certain times, in certain ways, regardless of whether the youth want to or feel ready for it. We bring anti-oppression to life by intentionally not forcing kids to do or learn things against their will and by empowering them to direct their own learning journey and self-discovery processes. Youth will still learn the core knowledge and skills they need to thrive, but they’ll be in control of the process. We believe such an anti-oppressive approach is a critical step for enabling youth to grow up with an anti-oppressive mindset from which anti-oppressive action and social change are more likely to emerge. “If we can accept any form of oppression, we are susceptible to all forms of oppression” (Akilah S. Richards).
We also strive to make this liberatory educational approach accessible to all who are seeking it out, particularly those affected by systemic inequity in our society. The social and political forces that shape our lives concentrate resources, wealth, and opportunities into the hands of a few, to the detriment of the many. This is one reason that alternative education options have historically been inaccessible to underprivileged families. To address this, we commit to doing all we can to make our SDE program both financially accessible (tuition on a sliding scale with scholarships available) and logistically accessible (e.g., working with families to make transportation arrangements, if needed).
“If we can accept any form of oppression, we are susceptible to all forms of oppression” (Akilah S. Richards)
Intergenerational Community-Building & Nature Connection
We also differ from some other self-directed learning centers in our focus on intergenerational community-building and nature connection. We believe that people thrive when in intergenerational spaces, where kids, adults, and elders are playing/working alongside one another, learning with and from each other. Nature connection is also a common thread across our community. As a community, we pay attention to the seasons and strive to act in harmony with the natural world. Community members are never forced to engage with nature more than they wish to, but they’ll be surrounded by people of different ages who are striving to kindle their own connection with nature. For more on our views of intergenerational community-building and nature connection, take a look at our Vision page.
Agile Tools for SDE
How do we actually do self-directed education? We use the tools and general framework developed by the Agile Learning Centers (ALC) network. If you’re asking yourself “What will my kids actually be doing? How will they learn?” you can start with the description of “What a day looks like” on our fall program page. You can also see our Resources page or the great explanation given here at the ALC network website.
In the video below, we try to help people understand how self-directed learning can work, and is even natural, even for “difficult” academic skills.
It takes a village...
“It takes a village to raise a child.” In many ways, this saying gets at the heart of what makes our community so important for youth and so different from their typical daily experience, either as homeschoolers or in conventional school. But we also think typical interpretations of this saying miss the point. Listen to better understand the community experience Communitas works to provide for youth (and adults), and why we instead say: it takes an intentional learning community for youth (and adults) to thrive.
How Can Self-Directed Education Possibly Work?
The video below is our attempt to answer this question.
Current Focus: A Regenerative Co-op Garden
Our vision for the future is very large in scope, but the first step for getting there is simple: Work together to tend a co-op (cooperative) garden that both gives back to the community tending it while also building healthy soil. We are drawing from permaculture and regenerative agriculture to start a regenerative co-op garden. This garden will be cooperatively tended by unschooling/homeschooling families with kids of all ages during “school hours” and traditionally-schooled kids and adults at other times. The food grown there will feed the families of those who tend it, thus tightening the loop between our daily activities, the food that sustains us, and the natural world. This garden is not an official Communitas activity – it’s a first step in providing a space for self-directed learners of all ages to come together and start building a community. In the meantime, we’ll continue exploring options for long-term location options. Despite the garden not being an official Communitas activity, we do want it to operate in line with our overall Communitas mission.
The co-op garden will serve as a focal point around which learning and other community-building activities naturally emerge. One goal of Communitas is to provide self-directed learning opportunities to people of all ages. What does this mean? Anyone who wants to learn regenerative agriculture techniques can do so through participation in the garden. These approaches are new to many of us, which means that we’ll all learn together by doing. This means that there won’t be formal “classes,” we’ll just be sharing knowledge and learning as we go.
In line with the main idea behind self-directed learning (one of our core values) is also the idea of autonomy and choice, particularly for young people. We won’t force anyone to learn or participate if they don’t intrinsically want to. Families with young kids are encouraged to join us and while the adults work in the garden, the kids can participate as much or little as they’d like. There will be plenty of room for kids to explore and play together outside when they don’t want to be experimenting in the garden.
While the garden is the central activity of our community, other activities and groups will inevitably emerge. We envision mixed-age groups of people gathering nearby to explore shared interests, whether they relate to nature (e.g., gardening, animal tracking, herbalism) or other topics (e.g., music, art). This means people will be chatting, doing crafts, making music, or doing something else together. The form these groups take will not be forced into being by us – instead, they’ll be given the space to organically emerge through our interactions with one another.
Above all, Communitas is a place for people to learn new things together. If regenerative agriculture or techniques for connecting with nature are new to you but you want to learn them, you’ve come to the right place. If self-directed learning or intergenerational community settings are new to you but you want to experience them, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re simply looking for a space in which you and/or your kids can discover and pursue your passions, you’ve definitely come to the right place.
Our Core Values & Pursuits
We want to live in a more equitable, sustainable, and compassionate world. We believe the quickest way to make this a reality is if we lead the way on a local level. Our vision for this future is driven by the core values and pursuits pictured in this image. Click below to learn more about each of these.
Interested in joining? Check out our summer and fall programs!
For program details, info sessions, etc., check out our program page using the link below.
SDE Book Club
Matt is also leading a self-directed education (SDE) book club that meets virtually the first and third Thursday of every month at 7:00pm. Our first three books were Free to Learn by Peter Gray, Raising Free People by Akilah S Richards, and Helping The Butterfly Hatch (Book Two): How Can We Support Young People in Self-Directed Education? by Je’anna Clements. Email to learn what we’re currently reading. It’s a relaxed discussion with others who are also exploring what SDE is, how/why to do it, and how to de-school ourselves as parents in the process. It’s a great group for people wanting to learn more about SDE or who simply want to be a part of a supportive group of SDE-minded people.
For more information or if you’re interested in joining, please email Matt at email@example.com.
If you’re in the Tompkins County area and interested in getting involved or learning more, please join our mailing list (at the bottom of the page) to receive updates on local Communitas developments and activities.