Peace & Justice Academy and the Fusion Academy are transformative alternative schools at their best
By Ellen Snortland 02/23/2012
High school saved my life. This is not a common thing to hear, especially from my generation. In my case, I was in severe trouble at home. Fearful for my own future, I went to Dad and told him if I didn’t go away, I’d end up in prison. Seriously. I was becoming violent and numbing my reality with drugs, booze and anything else I could find. Such is the impact of profound boredom on a kid (me) with lots of ideas and imagination, but with limited outlets. I needed a place where my creativity could be celebrated, not squelched.
Public schools had been great for me in elementary and middle school; however, in junior high, I was like a peacock in a pigeon coop — way too colorful, exotic and easy to shoot at. I found an alternative high school that helped me transform a dim future into a shiny one and remain appreciative to this day.
As I visited two schools in our area in the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but think that the newly opened Peace & Justice Academy in Altadena and the more established, multi-campus Fusion Academy at this very moment are also saving kids’ lives. I fully intend to volunteer my services to both of them. They have many things in common with the school that heard and saw who I really was, such as: later start times, low student-faculty ratios, homework done at school rather than home and the customizing of interests.
Ironically, my mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairies of North Dakota, and her classroom incorporated all of those elements, because farm kids needed flexibility. Urban kids need the same things. The Peace & Justice and Fusion academies have listened and acted upon the ideas that really smart people have noticed about teenaged people: They learn better if they are not up at the crack of dawn! Hey, people, you know why teens are so “good” at sleeping? They need more of it than you do!
Reflect on all the things happening outside and inside a person who is dealing with Olympic-level growth spurts, hormone hurricanes and the realization that sexuality is not just for magazine ads! We even smell differently than we did when we were younger. Adolescence is enough to send the sanest person, regardless of age, around some type of bend; frankly, I think a lot of us never made it past those curves. Then add to that the current information tsunami coming at us from literally our fingertips. With smart phones and tablets, we have hand-held access to all the information available from the dawn of writing and are managing knowledge on a global scale.
By my reckoning, the need for one-on-one socializing, real-time interaction and customization of interests has always been important, but is even more so now.
And don’t hear this as fuddy-duddy complaining about new technologies de-humanizing people. Balderdash. The new technologies are fantastic! But the new must be balanced with old technology, which these schools also understand. Faculty and students mingle with their laptops, a combination of the oldest, deepest technology we have — our own brains — with the best and brightest of our computer and web designs.
And then there’s my friend Jillian Braley, who is getting a fabulous high school education via an online home school Web site, K12.com. We met when she attended a panel discussion I was a part of at the Altadena Public library. I had trumpeted the idea that it’s usually productive to contact authors, because most of us love hearing from readers. She followed up. Recently, Jill asked me if I had any ideas for a term paper about a woman very few people know about but should know about. Of course I do! I suggested that she do a paper on the first American woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872. Jill is a perfect example of homeschooling at its best: She uses community resources in real time and fills in with online courses as well as Internet research.
Of course, the price of private education can be prohibitive. If I use a vehicle metaphor for the price of education, the Peace & Justice Academy is a mid-size compact, the Fusion Academy a luxury SUV and home school a vintage VW bug. Sadly, many of our brick and mortars are often bicycles, which is to say they will get you where you need to go but are hampered by economics and politics that the online, home and private schools often avoid with motors and bigger wheels on their “vehicles.”
I deeply regret the curmudgeons who grouse that, since they don’t have kids, they shouldn’t have to pay taxes or vote for school bond measures. Yikes! The kid that just broke into your house? Would you rather pay for a school or a prison for him? You think that’s hyperbole? Not for me: I got caught breaking and entering, and it became clear I needed to get into a school that worked … one that really could save my life.
Find out more about the Peace & Justice Academy at thepeaceacademy.org. Find out more about Fusion at FusionLearningCenter.com.
Ellen Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com.