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For years we’ve been adjusting the “pitch” for Alder Commons… You’d think after having dozens of meetings with friends, family, and strangers, we would have a sea of people with a solid grasp of exactly what we’re offering. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

When we describe Alder Commons, often the next question that follows is either “Oh, so is it like a __?” or “How similar is it to a __?” Fill in the blank with Community College, Montessori School, Maker Space, and Coworking Space. For people interested in Self-Directed Education (SDE), they might say, “Oh so is it like an Agile Learning Center?” or “How similar is it to a Sudbury School?”

Instead of describing what it’s similar to, or what it isn’t, let’s hash out what it is.

Link to this section The Space

The space itself will feel a lot like a community center. You’ll either take the bus, ride your bike, or drive to the corner of a busy-ish intersection and land at what looks like a school. When you walk in the front door, you’ll see a bulletin board with a list of offered classes, workshops, and clubs, and the times and rooms where they’ll be meeting. You’ll also see postings of what else is happening in the community, including a flyer for the music lessons being taught across the street, and another for the co-working space that’s a mile West of us.

One thing that you’ll notice is that each room and space will have a purpose, and a set of expectations, instead of being divided by age. One room will be the art and maker space, where there might be an 11-year-old painting with watercolors, and on the other side of the room a retired 68-year-old finishing a woodworking project. The activity in this room is making stuff, and everyone tries their best to follow the community norms of that space — cleaning up paint brushes, putting things back where you found them, being careful in the presence of potentially dangerous tools.

Another room will feel like a lounge, where couches and tables and chairs abound. Someone is working on a laptop with their headphones in, a group of teens is chatting on the couches, and younger people pass through on their way from the playroom to the climbing structure out back.

The room down the hall, where coworkers rent desks, has rugs and lamps and a few people cranking away on their work. They occasionally take breaks to chat with fellow co-workers, to make a cup of tea, or to peek outside to see their kids playing a game in the backyard. The coworking space might have a 17-year-old studying for the GED, and a 45-year-old graphic designer working on their latest contract.

In the quiet reading room you might have a retired nurse rereading an Octavia Butler novel, and a young teenager reading the third Harry Potter book for the first time. In the kitchen someone is preparing a simple quesadilla, and someone else baking sourdough bread for their pop-up bakery hosted at the space that Saturday.

Each room has a whiteboard on the wall with the current community agreements posted. Sometimes these agreements change, according to the needs of those in the space.

Link to this section The People

Though we’re not trying to be everything to everyone, we are trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people.

Alder Commons will have some people who are Members and visit the space very regularly. A family might be there a few days a week, and some weeks they’re there almost every day. Other Members will stop by only a few times a month for specific events and offered workshops.

Other Members will be there every day either renting a desk in the coworking space, or renting part of a room for their artist studio. They might attend or teach workshops. They might have kids that spend time at the space with them, or not have kids at all.

Visitors (who are not Members) might take an open-to-the-public workshop that they heard about, or teach a workshop that they’re excited to offer.

Facilitators who are paid employees of Alder Commons will be present to offer classes and workshops, mediate conflict, and support young people in the pursuit of their passions.

Eventually, young people will spend time in the space without their parents around, either during the day or after school.

What all the people in the space have in common is that they’re there voluntarily, and they’re engaged in the community.

Link to this section The Philosophy

Our core values are explicit, and communicated clearly to anyone spending time in the space. In keeping with a culture of consent, Alder Commons Staff will not force adults or young people to take any particular classes or workshops, or participate in any clubs. This is the essence of self-directed education.

With freedom, however, comes responsibility; personal freedoms should not encroach on the freedom of others, so iterative community agreements are created together.

Fundamentally, education is about finding your place in the world, and developing the tools you need to lead a satisfying and purposeful life. Accordingly, our program is built to address this fuller picture of what education is.

Link to this section The Pitch

Hopefully with this greater context, you won’t have to rely on comparisons to figure out what we’re about…

Alder Commons is like a community center meets community college meets library meets self-directed education center meets coworking studio meets maker space.

Alder Commons is similar to an Agile Learning Center and Liberated Learning Center and Democratic Free School and Homeschool Resource Center and Sudbury School and Adventure Playground.

Alder Commons is a hub for self-directed work and play. It’s a place where people of all ages can spend time freely, take offered classes & workshops, and build community together.

Published November 15, 2019 by Rachel Munzig (she/her/hers)

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