Inside the Three Rivers Village School, delighted murmurs of students playing games and scurrying between classrooms fill the hallway. Standing quietly among the school’s twenty-five students is Jason White-Wiedow, one of three staff members and a parent to two TRVS students. Unlike traditional school teachers, Jason and his colleagues manage the school’s finances and administration, and work alongside the students to govern the school as a democracy. Jason never planned on working in education or business, but after leaving a career in aviation and video game IT to become a stay at home dad, he wanted the best educational experience for his two children. Somewhere in this bustling place, his kids are now playing games or making art.
Each morning, students organize their coats and lunches in their cubbies and then are free to manage the rest of their day however they want. They might read a book from the library, form teams at the computer co-op for virtual battles, paint, rest in a quiet nook, or visit Dylamato’s market down the street for snacks. At the TRVS, there is no pre-determined curriculum that students are obligated to follow; instead, they have the time and space to explore whatever they’re interested in. From the ‘Squid’ room where students plug into computers to the arts and crafts room, students’ interests naturally evolve over time and lead them down dozens of academic and artistic avenues over their years at the Three Rivers Village School. With this freedom and responsibility to self-direct their education, students also cultivate self-confidence to explore their passions, learn to how to access information when they need it, and develop a deep sense of self-awareness about their interests and character.
At each of the 100+ democratic schools across the United States, including the Three Rivers Village School, students and adults are equally obligated to contribute to the general welfare and culture of their community. Every day, students and faculty meet in the morning to review the school’s agenda, where students might propose alterations to school policies and then reconvene in the afternoon for Justice Committee. During ‘JC’, one staff member and a mixed-age panel of three students investigate any written reports of rule-breaking in the community. To process the case and decide on an appropriate course of action, each member of the committee casts one vote, and by the majority, the JC comes to a solution. In this intimate setting, students learn how to articulate and listen to different ideas for solving a dispute; understand the complex reasons for an offender’s behavior; and discover how to collaborate with people holding different perspectives – all skills our future world leaders and employees will need to be successful.
The Three Rivers Village School is primarily funded by tuition but enrolls students all year round regardless of their family’s ability to pay. As the only nonprofit organization in his peer group, Jason White-Wiedow measures his organization’s success differently than his for-profit peers, but still uses the same strategies to market the Three Rivers Village School, grow the student population, and run a successful organization.
“There’s a number of ways that I feel I’m an outlier in my eforever group, but I’m still really grateful for the conversations. I would love to get to a point where tuition numbers all go down, which is the opposite of how people generally think about business operations. But ultimately, we have the same challenges as every other business. Especially right now, we need more revenue even though my ultimate goal isn’t a huge pile of revenue. We need new customers, just like everybody needs new customers. And we’re often talking about brand and who our customers are, and that’s the same as every other business.”Jason White-Wiedow, staff member of the Three Rivers Village School.