In 2012, when Sherman resident Lockey Coughlin first founded Education without Walls in New Milford, it was very small and open just one day a week. Students were all part-time and all homeschoolers. It has grown exponentially since then and is now open every weekday, with 16 high school and 10 middle school students enrolled in its programs. Education without Walls is a community resource sharing center that has grown organically, based on need, into a highly unique micro-school for students ages 10 to 19. It now offers accredited classes and transcripts, always working to meet the needs of its students.
Education without Walls (aka EWoW) works with 4 specialty schools right in town to provide accredited classes and refers to 7 others so that their families have myriad options available to them. These include musical theater, herbalism, art, yoga, self-defense, improv, rowing, nature studies, hiking, pottery ... the list goes on. Some of these schools include Robotics & Beyond, the Reis Learning Center, Twin Star Herbal Education, the Village Center for the Arts, and Fineline Theatre Arts.
EWoW is often compared to a prep school campus in that most available classes and offerings are in very close proximity to one another, but in reality, it resembles a college more than a high school in that students get to pick their own classes and create their own schedule. In this way, EWoW fosters choice, buy-in, and independence. Each student has their own individual learning curriculum. EWoW offers something different for each person who chooses to join its community.
One of the reasons some students come to Education Without Walls is they have talents that require a specialized curriculum. Currently enrolled at the school are a pre-professional dancer, a junior Olympic gymnast and several equestrians. With these students’ long training schedules, they don’t have the time to go to school during traditional school hours.
Other students who choose Education Without Walls — for many reasons — do not fit into the public school system. In these cases, EWoW works to support students emotionally first and, very deliberately, to set them up for success. Students are placed in classes that are appropriate to their ability level, not by grade. Since most students are blissfully unaware of each other’s age or grade level, there is no stigma attached to their class choices, up or down. The key is to help them to see that curiosity and problem-solving is their default as human beings. They need in situations where this feels natural and fun, again.
There are between 5 to 8 students in each class. This small classroom size offers the chance for students to interact with one another in class, as well as with their teachers (as opposed to taking classes online). Most kids prefer to be in a classroom where they have interaction with other students who ask interesting and unique questions, opening up ideas that spur new modes of thinking. EWoW also offers regular social events such as a winter ball, prom, and monthly teen nights. Students travel up to an hour and 30 minutes to get to the facility.
Over the summer, Education Without Walls offers accredited classes, and writer’s and math labs to keep kids current on their work. This is also an opportunity for them to either catch-up or get ahead in their studies.
Coughlin’s favorite part of her job is watching students open up over the course of the year. “Whatever it is they are looking for when they come here, it really takes a full calendar year for that to materialize. It’s so gratifying for all of us to watch that progress over the course of a year. The transformation is slow and steady, but so complete that we all often forget how far these kids have come!”
Education without Walls, at Bridge Street in New Milford, can be reached by calling 860-350-3006 or visiting EducationWW@aol.com.