Thank You, Red Oak, For a Safe Place to Land

I enjoy editing this blog because I get to connect deeply with the teachers and parents at Red Oak Community School about their experiences. Working with contributors to share their stories, I get to know them better. This piece is a perfect example. My daughter is a 3-day student (attends Wednesday-Friday) while Shelly Robinson’s son attends the 2 day program (Mondays and Tuesdays). As a result, our paths don’t cross that often. But so much of the story she tells here resonates with my family’s ROCS story. - Jodi Kushins, Blog Editor

Thank You, Red Oak, For a Safe Place to Land

With only a handful of weeks remaining this school year, I’ve been in a reflective - and particularly grateful - mood as I look back on our family’s first year outside of the public school system.

About halfway through my son’s first-grade year, I knew in my gut that public school wasn’t going to be our jam. Although we were situated within a highly-ranked school district - one we’d specifically sought out when choosing our home - I was finding that there were just too many aspects of the public school framework that completely collided with my values. Values I didn’t even realize I had until having children and enrolling them in school.

Continuing to send my son to an environment where learning felt ho-hum to him every day was akin to being in a relationship that I knew was already over.

I could tell he was just going through the motions. And (implicitly) teaching him to tolerate that or “suck it up” would simply result in yet another adult in our world who would grow up thinking that they weren’t worthy of a life they truly loved and enjoyed.

Many of us inherited this toxic mindset, which is precisely the reason so many adults struggle to leave unfulfilling jobs, bad relationships, and draining experiences that cause us to collectively wonder: Is this all there really is?  

Besides not wanting to instill that sort of misguided worldview in my own children, at the end of the day I truly just missed seeing my little guy. Having him gone all day only to come home tired and angsty just didn’t seem like a recipe for creating the harmonious and connected family life I aspired to have.  

He regularly told me that he was bored, that there were too many kids in the classroom, that he was sitting too much during the day, that he wasn’t being challenged, and that they weren’t allowed to play and “just be.” I hated that for him.

I spent an entire school year listening to him share his grievances without judgment.

Don’t get me wrong. There were days it sounded like whining and I wanted to shut it down. But I knew his complaints held kernels of truth I need to hear in order to advocate for him in the best way I could.

What I gleaned from those chats was that he simply wasn’t thriving in his current environment. But even that conclusion was a tricky one at which to arrive. On paper, it appeared he was doing fine. Great grades. A close-knit group of buddies. Positive feedback from the teacher. But still...something was just not sitting well with me.

I thought of Alexander Den Heijer’s inspirational aphorism:

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

Knowing that made it easy (albeit scary) to take action and start pursuing alternatives.

There was one school I had been flirting with for the last year, so I decided to start there. After meeting with the school manager, connecting with some of the teachers, and getting a firm grasp on the values of the school, it was a no-brainer.

We would partner with Red Oak to supplement Chase’s second-grade education and decided to enroll him in the two-day program and homeschool three days a week.

Was I mildly terrified of being responsible for son’s education for more than half the week?


Am I old enough to know by now that some of the best decisions you make also the scariest?

Also, yes.

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I set off on this chapter of my life expecting to teach my son *so* much. But much to my ego’s dismay, the most humbling aspect of this homeschool journey has been his ability to teach me more in one year than any book or expert ever could have.

If we are humble enough to allow them, our children have the power to transform us from the inside out simply by being who they are.

And I was incredibly grateful to partner with Red Oak along the way.

As the school year comes to a close, I look back on it with a deep appreciation for the educators and staff at Red Oak. I am grateful for and inspired by the tireless work they do to provide an environment for children that affirms their value, brings learning to life in innovative and child-led ways and offers parents like me an incomparable supplement to our home education.

Red Oak gave our family a safe place to land after exiting the public school system and embarking upon a journey that has taught me more about life in a year than I ever expected.

And for that, I am thankful to Red Oak in many ways.

Red Oak, thank you for:

  • treating our children as equals, ensuring they know their value and worth is the same as the adult teaching them;

  • listening to the research and providing children with an abundance of outdoor recess every day;

  • placing a high priority on teaching our children about the social and emotional skills they need to resolve conflict, manage big feelings, and express their emotions in a safe and supportive environment;

  • allowing the parents to offer input and be involved in creating a thriving school culture;

  • creating small class sizes so that you intimately know the progress my child is making and can customize his learning accordingly;

  • teaching our children about being stewards of the Earth;

  • teaching our children that their uniqueness and differences are to be cherished;

  • instilling in our children the value of being a champion of social justice;

  • not using clip charts and reward systems (aka: shame machines) in a classroom;

  • not giving out tests or grades so my child will not grow up equating his worth with standardized performance tasks and measures;

  • making learning immersive, hands-on, and fun again;

  • for providing a safe place for children to find their own voices and to use them in a way that makes a positive impact on the world.

Gratefully yours,

The Robinson family