FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What type of school this is?

Bergen Free will offer two educational tracks as well as customized versions altered to the student:

  • Sudbury/unschooling: Students have the greatest flexibility in choosing their own educational paths. Students can take as few or as many classes as they so choose, pursuing their interests throughout each school day.
  • Flexible Path: Flexible path school week is divided in “windows”, each for assigned activities, s.a. former education windows,  sport windows, craft windows, free play windows, etc. Students have a flexibility of taking any class or activity within the “window”. Flexibility pass puts some educational structure into the world of democratic school s.

Is there evidence that this approach to education works?
Studies in homes, schools, and workplaces repeatedly show similar results: the empowerment of people to make their own decisions about their activities and performance leads to higher satisfaction and better quality results.

The Bergen Free School is based on the principles of Summerhill School in England, the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, and The Albany Free School in Albany, NY. The Sudbury Valley School has done extensive research of its former students and the results have indicated that students who have undergone this type of education have become “successful” in later life. Successful is in quotes because it’s an inherently subjective term. Our program will be successful if the students grow naturally-socially and emotionally, as well as academically; each at their own pace and in their own way; are happy with themselves and what they are doing, and when they have decided that they no longer want to stay at the school, or need to change schools for some reason-are confident that they are ready to assume whatever challenges await them. Again, the research done by Sudbury Valley demonstrates overwhelmingly positive evidence of personal growth of former students, as documented in numerous, lengthy testimonials (Legacy of Trust, Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience, 1992). Students who have experienced democratic free education for any significant period of time clearly articulate how invaluable this educational experience has been to them in the pursuit of an occupation, higher education, or other life choices, providing strong evidence that this approach works (Pursuit of Happiness, Sudbury Valley Press 2005).
How does the school ensure that students learn the “basics?”
What is meant by the “basics?” A certain segment of society has sought, and succeeded, in imposing their view of what is important for all students in America, and indeed in much of the world, to learn in school. We don’t presume to know what is best for each individual student to learn now and certainly not what will be best in the next five or ten years. The world is a fluid, fast-changing, and increasingly open society where individuals need to be first and foremost confident, flexible and independent thinkers and learners. Nurturing these qualities is what a free school does best. What a student learns is determined by each individual’s own unique set of talents, skills, and interests which they pursue in their own good time. Students learn how to read, write, and do mathematics (these skills constituting the common perception of the “basics”) in a natural and organic fashion; as necessary to support and better understand their passions and interests. There is no more effective way to learn than as a natural means to accomplish a self-motivated end.
If the students aren’t “exposed” to knowledge, how will they find out what they like?
Children are innately curious and are exposed to a tremendous variety of information on a daily basis from their family, friends, schoolmates (younger and older), staff members, media, and the world around them. In a free school environment, students do significantly more exploration of a greater variety of topics and subjects than they would ever be exposed to at a traditional school. Furthermore, once a student finds a particular area of interest they are not limited by whether or not there is a course offered on that subject, nor are they restricted in the amount of time and effort they can expend learning about that interest. Subsequently they are able to delve much more deeply into that area, thereby obtaining significantly more knowledge and understanding than would be possible in a traditional setting. In addition, all staff members at the school are free to offer any subject or topic that interests them to the students. Finally, the school has the flexibility and mission to establish numerous ties with local organizations and individuals for in-school visits and workshops and to take trips to locations around the city of interest to the students on short notice.
What happens if a student doesn’t do anything?
It is actually impossible to do nothing. What most people are concerned about is students doing what looks like nothing; for example playing video games, playing cards, reading all day, etc. The truth is that everything the students do has value, particularly to them. The evidence is that when a student appears to be doing nothing, by simply observing the activities of others, for instance, they are actually paying close attention and learning tremendously from what they are observing.
How will children be prepared for the real world?
The democratic free school model is much closer to the real world than traditional models. In the “real world” there is age mixing and there is no one to tell you what to do all the time. In the “real world” we are responsible for our own actions and our own accomplishments. So children learn about the real world every day at this school.
What age students can attend the school?
We accept students ages 4 through 18.
Where is the funding coming from?
Most of our funding comes from tuiton, and small percent from grants and donors.
What is the tuition? Are there scholarships available?
The base rate would be in the range of $8000-10000 for the 10 months of the school year. We do have scholarships available and will work with each family on an individual bases. We will take into account the family’s income, and our avaible space.
How many students will attend the school?
We are expecting around 30 students initially.
How do students get into college?
Many colleges admit students largely through the interview process and on the basis of essays that students write. The students demonstrate their maturity, their ability to express themselves, their persistence and their passion. They are exceptionally clear about their desires. Most colleges are looking for those students who stand out and democratic free students are definitely unique. Some students choose to study for and take the SATs and ACTs. Students can also develop portfolios representing some of what they learned at the school. This can be shared with colleges and employers as well.
How do the different age groups mix?
Democratic free school models believe age mixing to be integral to their success. They find that young children ask older children to read to them. Older children explain things to younger children and take pride in being able to work with young children. It is not unlike a very large family.
Do you have any real teachers?
We have certified teachers, uncertified teachers, and volunteers. The staff members must get along well with students of all ages and be willing to share their personal skills and experiences.
How do the students evaluate their progress?
When what a child is doing is important to them, children have a high standard of achievement when they evaluate their own progress. They know very well when they understand a task or a subject.
Does the school do any student evaluations?
No, unless the student requests one.
What is the role of parents and guardians?
Parents and guardians are very important to the school. The school will have the greatest amount of success if the parents and guardians of the students share in the philosophy that the school is based on. They are welcome to visit the school, and take part in special trips and activities.
What kind of students should and should not attend the school?
Any child who is able to be responsible for their own behavior and well being is welcome at the school.
My child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD; what about him or her?
Experience at other democratic free model schools indicates that this is not a problem. They find that when children are allowed to expend their excess energy through play, they can then focus. According to John Holt in “Learning All the Time”, there has been research done by specialists in the area of learning disabilities that links so-called perceptual handicaps with stress. The research showed that when students with supposedly severe learning disabilities were put in a relatively stress free situation, their disabilities soon vanished.
What about my child’s past school history?
We do not take into account any of a child’s past educational experience — good or bad. When a child enters a democratic free school, the slate is wiped clean.
Are there any rules?
Yes. The rules are determined and enforced by the democratic meeting, which is composed of the staff and the students. Generally rules are put in place to ensure the smooth operation of the school and to allow students to be able to pursue their educational goals without disturbance.
Does this kind of school attract problem kids?
This kind of school attracts children whose parents want them to grow and develop in ways that traditional schooling does not foster or permit. Other families recognize that the traditional school system is not working for their children. So yes, parents of children who have had problems in traditional schools are often interested in this kind of school. However, almost 40 years of experience at democratic free schools around the country has shown that “problem” children actually solve their problems through this system because they recover their lost self-esteem which is usually the root cause of these problems in the first place. The school evaluates each applicant’s “fit” with the community on a case by case basis.
How do you know this approach works?
Through over 80 years of experience at Summerhill School and almost 40 years at the Sudbury Valley School and the Albany Free School as well as dozens other democratic schools throughout the world.
What is the graduation process?
Students who feel they are ready to move on to the next phase of their lives declare their intention to graduate, and then they do so. Students spend last two years in the school working closely with a counselor preparing for future education and career.
Is there a specific “type” of child that would benefit from Bergen Free?

  • Bright, highly motivated kids who want to surge ahead and challenge themselves.
  • Kids with unique learning styles who want to move at their own pace.
  • Kids who are ‘different’ in some way and want an atmosphere of tolerance and friendliness.
  • Social kids who want to be part of a democratic community — one person, one vote.
  • Little kids who are passionately engaged in exploring and creating.
  • High-energy, restless kids who want to be active.
  • Frustrated kids who are sick of schooling.
  • Shy, sensitive kids who want to pursue their own interests.
  • Self-directed kids who are ready for responsibility.
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