What Kind of School is This?

A Self-Directed Learning School

Chagrin Valley School follows the self-directed education model. At Chagrin Valley School there are no traditional classes, instead students may work on projects or explore their interests in a variety of ways. They may also spend a good part of their day learning through free play. Or they might participate in student committees that plan activities & determine certain policies.

Learning through play is a term used in education and psychology to describe how a child can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments all through free play. Key ways that children learn include playing, being with other people (especially children of different ages), being active, exploring & new experiences, communication with others, meeting physical and mental challenges, being shown how to do new things, practicing and repeating skills and having fun.

Just as everyone learns to walk & talk on their own, schools following this model have proven that in the right, supportive environment, one also learns reading, writing & practical math by participating in everyday self-chosen activities such as board games, cooking, party planning & construction projects.

To learn more about putting children in charge of their own learning, check out the book Free to Learn by developmental psychologist Peter Gray, or his blog Freedom to Learn. 

A Democratic School

Students and staff in our democratic school have an equal voice in deciding how the school will be run, from creating, modifying and enforcing the rules, to managing school spaces, to allocating money in the budget. All students and staff are members of the school meeting, which meets on a regular basis to create policies and make significant decisions.

Day to day operations and activities are managed by committees led by elected or volunteer clerks (student and/or staff) and made up of school meeting members. For example the kitchen committee would be in charge of managing use of the kitchen including the kitchen budget, and certifying members of the school meeting to use the space. If any person does not follow the correct procedures for use of the kitchen they may lose their certification or face consequences as determined by the judiciary committee. The judiciary committee (JC) is the disciplinary system of the school, and is made up of a student clerk and student members of the school meeting who serve on a rotating basis as a jury. The JC hears complaints and decides on consequences for infractions of school rules. Other committees include arts & crafts committee, budget committee, outdoor committee, building committee, etc.

See Sudbury Valley School, the oldest self-directed democratic school in the US, or other “self-directed” or “democratic” schools for other examples.

See our School Handbook for an introduction to self-directed education & to learn more about how our school runs:

A wonderful inside look at life at a school like ours!

Another great video from Hudson Valley Sudbury School

A TedX talk by the founder of a democratic school in France

Free to Learn author Peter Gray gives a talk on the nature of learning from an evolutionary and psychological perspective, and the advantages of democratic and Sudbury type schools

A TedX talk by Jerry Mintz, a  leading voice in the alternative school movement for over 30 years

Why a democratic school? Why now? Here is a great video by Sir Ken Robinson explaining why the current education system is broken


What kind of school is this?

Chagrin Valley School is a self-directed learning school that balances freedom and responsibility in a self-directed, democratic community in a farm setting. Students are always free to choose their own activities, but also share with staff the responsibility for the day-to-day management of all aspects of the school, from creating and enforcing democratically adopted rules to overseeing an annual budget. Staff serve as mentors and models of contributing community members. See Sudbury Valley School or other “democratic” schools  for examples. Here is a great introduction to self-directed education from The Alliance of Self-Directed Education, a great organization for more resources & info on this model.


What ages are the students?

The school is for kids from age 5 to 18, we also have an outdoor based preschool for ages 3-5.


What is a typical day like for a student at the school?

Because students have such different interests and are able to decide how to spend their own time, there is no single “typical day”. Students work on projects of their own choosing, such as art, cooking, or fort building. They participate in committees that plan activities and determine certain policies. For example members of the kitchen committee design and administer the certification process for use of the kitchen, are in charge of the kitchen budget and plan cooking projects. Many spend a good part of their day in free play, which we believe is really the most effective and efficient mode of learning for kids of all ages!


What about reading and math?

Just as everyone learns to walk & talk on their own, schools following this model and proven that in the right, supportive environment, one also learns reading, writing & practical math by participating in everyday self chosen activities such as board games & cooking, as well as party planning & construction projects. There are hundreds of schools around the world following this model, it is based on the way human children have learned and developed in society for hundreds of thousands of years, growing up in a supportive community and learning through living.

Please see this article, “But What About Academics?” by Hudson Valley Sudbury School staff member, Matthew Goia, or “Kids Learn Academic Subjects Without Being Taught” by Open School staff member Cassi Clausen for more addressing this frequently asked question.


How will students get into college?

Sudbury Valley School and The Circle School, two of the largest & oldest self-directed democratic schools in the US that our school models, do not encourage or discourage college education and have a 85% college placement rate, from elite to community colleges. Many colleges are eager to enroll self-motivated learners who know why they want to go to college. Students from schools like this tend to be very impressive in an interview situation because they have had so much practice socializing and talking with people of all ages.

Students graduating from Chagrin Valley School will not have grades or a transcript; however there are many ways to demonstrate their readiness for the college of their choice. They can decide to study for and take the SAT or ACT, construct a portfolio, and write a convincing personal essay. Most graduates of Sudbury schools go on to college, and have pursued higher education at a variety of institutions including: state universities, liberal arts colleges, art schools, cooking schools, Ivy League schools, and community colleges.


How does this school compare to conventional schools or homeschooling?

Instead of being told what to do all day long, students are free to make all their own decisions, helping turn them into responsible, independent, lifelong learners more adapted to today’s dynamic world.

Students are part of a larger community where they interact with diverse students of all different ages and backgrounds, parents, staff, guests etc. In studies, age mixing has been shown to be extremely beneficial for building social skills, a key indicator of success.


Is there any kind of curriculum?

In our self-directed school model, there are no traditional classes but students may request tutoring arrangements for any subject they are interested in. Students may decide that they want to take a class in a particular subject be it a typical academic one like chemistry, Spanish, or English Literature, or less conventional, such as learning about traditional healing herbs, or woodworking. In such cases they may arrange for a staff member to teach the subject, find online classes or other learning materials, or the staff may help them find a teacher/mentor/tutor from the broader community. There are also many online resources that may be used to learn a wide variety of specialized subjects. 

Students may also offer to teach classes to other students and staff. And teaching is often the best way to learn a subject very well!


How can I learn more?

Look through our About Our School and Enrollment pages for more information. Contact us to plan a visit during school hours or get some friends together to schedule your own informational session.


How is the school financed?

Tuition for the first child in the family is $6,500, second child is $5,000, and third & more are $4,000 each. Tuition will be pro-rated for families that opt for part-time attendance, though we are trying to move away from part-time to full-time for better consistency with meetings, committees, etc. Financial aid is available, which operates as a Co-op work-trade allowing parents/guardians to off-set tuition by contributing work to the school/farm/store operation at rate of $25/hour.