May 8, 2023
Growing up in rural Vermont, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many different and unique education systems ranging from Waldorf and outdoor programs to public and private institutions. From my experience, I realize that a common misconception regarding education is the form it must take. Often, education is defined narrowly due to the norm of graduating to attend college and accomplishing the requirements necessary to do so. Time spent on a course becomes a measure of learning, which many have begun to recognize as inaccurate. Learning can happen anywhere, and I would argue that I have gained equal immersion and experience from both traditional and untraditional forms of education. It is solely dependent on the individual, their strengths and weaknesses, and their passions and motivation, something that the current education system often fails to take into account.
Though conventional teaching and learning are perfectly adequate for some, for others they are not. It can often discourage originality and creativity as primary learning tools, creating an environment in which only a very small group thrives. While this scenario is prevalent, I have never encountered this dilemma in the schools I have attended. I had the ability to sample a variety of schools, which allowed me to find what works best for me to learn effectively. The schools were run by supportive and engaging educators who created an environment in which I was excited to learn.
I consider my current school, Vermont Academy, a perfect blend of traditional rigor and unique experiences. This small yet diverse community is comprised of students and educators who are closely knit. Due to the small size of the school and strong teacher-student relationships, additional help outside of the classroom is readily available and encouraged. A variety of classes are offered, and though there are some course requirements, the student can choose options that best fit their interests and skill level. In addition to the academic program, a wide array of artistic, athletic, and social activities are available. With the guidance of teachers, students have the opportunity to choose what they learn, how they learn it, and what they engage in, personalizing their high school experience to align with their future goals. We learn, not just in the classroom, but also through immersive experiences, from our peers, and from a wealth of resources.
Education can and should look vastly different for everyone. Regardless of the form it takes, one learns best in a community that views personal and collective success as goals. It is a community catering to our interests and passions and a community we want to be a part of. I believe that, in theory, increased incorporation of alternative forms of education is a perfect solution to getting students engaged and ready to learn, but this solution can be difficult to achieve. The current system is one that has been in place for a while, and until a better uniform idea is proposed, it cannot be changed without significant disruption. As this transition will take time, I think that schools should currently focus on the acceptance and encouragement of individuality within their programs. Adolescence is a pivotal time in which the transition from childhood to adulthood is made; a time to figure out who one is, what one values, and what one believes their greater purpose in the world to be. Due to the importance of this transformative and often confusing stage of development, I believe that education should be considered an experience that assists this exploration by fostering a supportive community with supporting programs.
Iris Adamoli-Puchalik is finishing the 10th grade at Vermont Academy (VT)