Lots of people are thinking about school this time of year. Is my kid happy where she is? Could he thrive someplace else? Should we re-enroll where we are? Is there a school out there that would be a better fit with my worldview and philosophy of education? With that in mind, we present this testimony from ROCS mom Anna Shadley about her family's school choice. 

A few years ago, we sent our son off to kindergarten at a well-rated public school. I was excited—I’d always loved school and excelled in the traditional setting, and I was sure my kind, sensitive child would, too.  We packed his little lunchbox with a peanut butter sandwich (ah, freedom from the preschool ban!) and some veggies and other snacks, and sent him on his way. He was a little anxious, but mostly interested in seeing what this big kid school was all about.

It didn’t take long, though, for his stomachaches to kick in. Every morning when it was time to get ready for school, he’d tell me his stomach hurt.  It was more than butterflies from nervousness. Although he wasn’t physically sick with anything, he wasn’t faking. His stomach really did hurt. Whether the anxiety came from his struggles with reading, the large institutional setting, or the fact that they only had two fifteen minute recesses all day (and if the weather was “bad,” not even that), I didn’t know. I didn’t care about the cause. All I knew was that a kindergartener should not be feeling such extreme anxiety, on a daily basis, at the thought of going to school. There had to be a better way.

I don’t remember how I first heard about Red Oak, but it came at a time when we had no idea what we were going to do. Parent-teacher conferences at his school were increasingly uncomfortable (a hard thing for an authority-pleasing person like me) as I tried to advocate for my child, his sick days were mounting, and we didn’t have family time in the evenings because he had homework. But then… Red Oak.

Red Oak. The answer. The school hadn’t started yet, but the plans were well underway. A nature immersion school, a place where children were respected as  people, as individuals, a place that pledged to meet each student where he or she was. No homework. Plentiful time outside.  A strong desire to build a community of teachers, administrators, parents, students. No tests, no grades. A safe place to learn and grow.

We had just made the scary decision to pull our son out of school and homeschool him for the remainder of the year. We signed up for Red Oak before it even had a home, but we knew everything would work out. We trusted that ROCS would happily care for our son and help him thrive.

We haven’t looked back once.  The stomachaches vanished, and when it isn't a school day, our son is disappointed. He comes home from school muddy, tired, full of details about his day, and happy. At ROCS I've found a community of wonderful and amazing people committed to the school and to each other. I can’t begin to express adequately how much we feel that Red Oak saved us; how much we feel that Red Oak continues to save us.

As my son was getting ready for school one morning recently, he paused and asked, “Mom, what’s that feeling in your stomach when you’re happy about going to school?”

I hesitated, thinking back to his kindergarten stomachaches. Then I responded, “Oh. Those are butterflies. The good kind.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “The good kind.”

        A moth raised and released by ROCS students, Spring 2017.

        A moth raised and released by ROCS students, Spring 2017.