Monday, 22 April 2013

A Visit To Windsor House


   Recently, we had the pleasure of visiting Windsor House, a democratic free school in North Vancouver. We researched democratic schools and had some idea of what we would see but the reality was more eye opening and exciting than we expected. On the surface it seemed like a typical public school, a field outside, a playground, a portable building, a reception office. Hallways and classrooms were arranged like a typical school but the energy and feeling was anything but typical. Small groups gathered in the hallways, children played on the playground, some were at computers, some making art. In the kitchen children were eating and making themselves simple snacks. It was evident immediately that students did what they wanted and were interested and engaged in whatever they were doing. 
   We were fortunate enough to meet and be toured around by Helen, the founder, who began the school in 1971. Although the school has changed locations over the years, the core principles have stuck. Their website states that "the goal of Windsor House is to create a learning environment where young people develop the skills to be self-motivated and self-directed in their learning and in their lives, and where they have the opportunity to deeply engage with what they are passionate about". 
   Although the basic philosophy of Windsor House has continued, Helen made it very clear that the school often looks quite different from year to year and even month to month. With every new influx of students the ideas, plans, and interests evolve and change. Since decisions are made through a democratic process, anyone (no matter their age) may bring their ideas to the group and gain support. It is then voted on by each person present. In this way the school and the way it functions is truly a reflection of the people in it. 
   We saw classrooms with math equations on the boards, a wood shop with kids making mini skate ramps, a library with kids quietly working and a large room with kids building giant structures using blocks and foam. In most cases a teacher was present to help and facilitate the goings on but it was evident that no one was being forced to do anything. We spoke to one young adult who spent her entire education at Windsor House. It was inspiring to hear the positive impact it had on her life. 
We went away feeling encouraged, hopeful and excited to begin the journey of growing a school that enables more children, teachers and parents to experience this type of schooling.

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