The flexibility of the Workspace model allows families to tailor their children’s educations to specific needs and interests. This blog post will follow the experience of three Workspace moms — Ande Ragsdale, Jamie Falvo, and Margaret Genden — as they co-create an original class called A Space Odyssey in the spirit of Workspace’s 21CI (21st-century integrated) tailored to their elementary-aged children’s passion for outer space.
Despite their different educational backgrounds, these three mothers joined Workspace for the same reasons: the community and the resources.
Ande has been homeschooling her three children for seven years. When the family moved here from Los Angeles two years ago, Ande found it difficult to find a community of homeschoolers because in Connecticut, unlike in California, people are very spread out.
But to Ande, the community at Workspace is unique.
“Every parent [at Workspace] is incredibly engaged and dedicated,” she said. “In the past, when I’ve tried to put together classes, people are often half-in and half-out. But at Workspace, people want to do this kind of thing, which makes a huge difference.”
Jamie and Margaret on the other hand only recently started homeschooling after finding that their children were not thriving in the traditional school system. Despite Margaret’s active involvement in school, a firewall remained between her and everything happening within it.
“The thing is that you walk through the door [of the school] and there is a firewall, which is the school secretary,” Margaret said. “If there was a problem in the classroom, you get this parent-teacher meeting and they sit there and tell you what’s wrong with your kid, but there’s no back-and-forth. I’m not allowed in your classroom. I’m not allowed to see how you teach. I’m not allowed to call out anything that might be an issue with the way that you’re presenting materials, but you can tell me what’s wrong with my kid all day long, which doesn’t work.”
For these families, neither traditional schooling nor traditional homeschooling was the best option. What Workspace offers is different from both of them.
Not only does it have the vibrant and supportive community that many are worried homeschooling lacks, but it has resources equal to any traditional school – arguably more.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Margaret said.
Ande, Jamie, and Margaret were introduced to each other almost immediately upon joining, after the Dream Director said that “there is another family here that you just have to meet.” Their children’s shared interest in space was what sparked the idea for the year-long discussion-based seminar that would ultimately become A Space Odyssey.
The concept of co-creating classes is a tenant of Workspace’s 21CI curriculum. 21CI stands for 21st-century Integrated, and represents an educational program at Workspace with a goal of preparing middle and high school students for the 21st-century workplace.
21CI is based on a curriculum in which academics, skill building, and social/emotional learning are woven into collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication, which are the touchstones of 21st century learning. Learners have the opportunity to deep-dive into their passions and present their classes’ combined work on a such in exhibitions to the community.
In the words of Catherine Fraise, the founder and Executive Director of Workspace: “21CI is just one of the ways that Workspace children explore and find their passions.”
A Space Odyssey exemplifies the mission of 21CI because not only does it combine many different academic subjects, but it connects what students are learning inside of the classroom to the real world. It fosters within them, even at elementary-age, skills they will carry forth into the workforce.
Co-created classes can also rewire the way that learners approach their own education. Not only does it cover subject matter that the learners are actually interested in, but because they are excited about what they’re learning they are empowered to use the skills they are acquiring and apply it to other areas outside the classroom.
The learners in A Space Odyssey have teamed together to create a battlebot.
They call each other on their own time to have conversations about the ethics of allowing acid in their arena. “They’re researching and consolidating information in a way on something that isn’t even one of their classes because they’ve started to learn to do those things,” Margaret said. “It’s amazing how when you let them learn, how much they actually learn.”
Because they enjoy their classes, some learners don’t even realize that the classes they’re taking are academic until they are told. Jamie recounted an anecdote about her youngest son, Wesley, and something he told a tour group a few days before.
The pair had just done an experiment where they mummified apples as a part of a class on Ancient Egypt. “Wesley was telling the tour that this one lost this percentage of its body weight in water, and this one lost this much, and they were like ‘Oh, so you did math?’ And he was like, ‘I didn’t do math. I did Ancient Egypt.’”
The act of co-creating classes adds a new dimension to parent/child relationships because it destroys the firewall that Margaret previously described. If a child were taking a class such as A Space Odyssey at a school, even if they were excited about it and came home talking about it, a parent might not understand or be able to really talk to their children about it. But if the parents are in the classroom and learning the material alongside the children, they are a part of the experience instead of shut out from it.