We are all individuals, with distinct and dynamic combinations of strengths, weaknesses, preferences and goals. Learning pathways can be customized to match. But people also crave community and feeling part of something bigger.
Independent learners (people of any age who are “hacking” their educations, who may or may not also fall into the "homeschooling" category) have access to a wealth of resources that can be leveraged to create deeply meaningful customized learning pathways, driven by who they are now and who they want to become. The missing piece, for most people, is a hub where one can follow that pathway in regular communion with others.
The plan is to fill this void by creating two hubs—one in the cloud (which started in 2020), and one in a physical space in Washington, D.C. (starting in 2021). They’ll start off small, but eventually grow to offer a modular menu of educational offerings for all ages (from children through retirees), as well as co-working and community spaces. (If you're wondering how this might look in the physical realm, take a look at the draft conceptual floorplans.) The next step will be helping others set up their own hubs—on a totally customizable, open-source basis—in their own communities.
As Peter Drucker famously said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Culture creation is of paramount importance at The Hub, and is driven by these foundational values and principles:
Learn more about the inaugural program launching in Fall 2020 here.
If you’re new to independent learning and just need support with the customization side of things for now, we can help with that too.
The Hub is partnering with top-notch facilitators—starting with Gabriel Mellan, Svetlana Zabolotnaia and Rudy Van Daele, who have organized and led the first round of camps, and Brooklyn Wetzel and Miró Siegel, who are going to be facilitating the micro-academy. We'll also continue to tap into the collective wisdom and resources of a wide network of partners, affiliates, and supporters.
I've written widely shared articles about the future of learning for the likes of TheAtlantic.com and the NPR/PBS MindShift site, and I’ve curated a site on the topic. One of my most popular education articles was called “To Advance Education, We Must First Re-Imagine Society.” The Hub—inspired by my article research; countless conversations and site visits to other learning centers; and my first-hand experience co-founding and managing pioneering, mixed-ages co-learning groups for independent learners in the Washington, DC area since 2013—is one manifestation of what I believe to be a shared vision to re-imagine both education and how people relate to themselves, to each other, and to the wider community and world.
I’m working mostly behind the scenes, arranging and overseeing all of The Hub’s facilitated offerings. But I will also be working closely with the co-facilitators of The Hub’s micro-academy, brainstorming how to best support each student; arranging professional knowledge exchanges with seasoned educators who have experience with complementary programs such as International Baccalaureate, Agile Learning Centers, and the North Star network; and leveraging my areas of subject-matter expertise and my extensive personal and professional networks on an as-needed basis. I'm also consulting with families who would like assistance in supporting their children's independent learning, individually or in groups.
My work will draw on the following:
I was a self-directed learner from a young age, and I felt empowered to make a difference early on. As a youth, I founded the first high-school chapter of Amnesty International in Montana and helped to bring the National AIDS Quilt exhibit to the community. I was also heavily influenced by being a member of a creative teen theater troupe, which encouraged me to explore my individuality while practicing team building.
I used those skills as an adult while working in the fields of music, art, education, and business, including bootstrapping my own event-photography business and working at an indigenous language-game start-up. It was while working as a facilitator at a mixed-ages school in Montana, though, that I found my true calling. Building genuine relationships and offering unconditional encouragement to youth became one of my life goals.
Since then, I’ve also completed Agile Learning Facilitator training, which solidified my commitment to creating educational experiences for kids that respect their autonomy, interests, and natural abilities. A digital native and idea person, one of my favorite things is to connect people with new resources to explore their passions. I have a deep trust in people of all ages to grow and learn to be their best selves without coercion or judgment.
I am now based in Eugene, Oregon, where I'm guiding my own children (ages 10 and 13) along their personalized learning pathways, and leading an exploration-based learning group that I founded. In addition to that and my business pursuits, you can find me using ceramic, mixed media, and assemblage to make visual art, writing creatively in my free time, and dreaming of a future theater troupe.
Brooklyn is a co-facilitator for The Hub's micro-academy.
My journey into self-directed learning (explained in more detail in this interview) began at age 10, when I left the United States with my family to travel the world. We had only intended on being gone for a year, but life got in the way. Over the next 11 years, through 40 countries and countless experiences, I developed a wide body of interests and a passion for learning. Some of these interests include philosophy, mythology, ancient history, game theory, creative writing, poetry, rock climbing and cultural anthropology.
Almost by necessity, creativity and improvisation have become second nature to me. Throughout our travels, I worked with various organizations and initiatives (often learning the necessary skills along the way), including animal sanctuaries, children’s libraries and local conservation initiatives. In addition to this, I’ve also had extensive experience with working online, ranging from website design to social-media management, freelance writing and email marketing. It was through these varied work experiences that my family and I were able to sustain our adventure.
Since 2013, when I co-founded Project World School in partnership with my mom, I have been facilitating social, experiential, and cultural learning for kids, tweens, and teens all around the world. I have hosted more than 15 month-long, in-person retreats for teens in more than 10 countries, and have helped facilitate camp activities at our last six Family Summits. I've also facilitated online classes and discussion groups on various topics for children ages 8 to 13, and spoken about self-directed learning at education conferences around the world.
It is my belief that exploring other cultures through the lens of compassion and understanding can help us lead more fulfilled lives, which in turn can help us create a more peaceful planet.
Miró is a co-facilitator for The Hub's micro-academy.
My childhood was spent between the jungle and beaches of Maui, where I learned to listen to the earth, love the ocean, and wear sunscreen. Later on, while living and working in Beijing, I found my footing as a performative educator and expanded my ability to navigate a complex city, language, and culture.
I create the space to facilitate growth in cognitive understanding, physical ability, emotional awareness, responsibility, relational sensitivity, and ultimately for kids to know themselves and the world around them.
It's important for me to create. Making something brings an authenticity to my role as an educator, using art and tinkering as a pathway to development. I create art, photograph people, make videos, build interactive sculptures, and I love to make a mess.
My work experience includes serving as a museum educator at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and as the creative director of the KID Museum in Bethesda, Maryland. (Read more about me and my work here.)
Gabriel recently facilitated a STEAM workshop for The Hub.
I am passionate about the new generation and creating spaces for people of all ages to explore who they truly are through playful learning, community sharing, and celebration. I believe that the future of learning is in more choices, self-awareness, and strong community building.
Originally from Moldova, I immigrated to New York in 2002. I studied International Economic Relations (Moldova), Educational Psychology (New York University), Waldorf Education (Sunbridge Institute), Remedial Education (Association for Healing Education), Agile Learning Facilitation (New York and Barcelona), and Non-Violent Communication (New York).
I have been working with children from ages two to 16 throughout my life. As a teenager, I organized games with children in my neighborhood. As a result, several of them learned to speak basic English in just one summer. Later I taught English, French, and Romanian at a private school in Moldova. In New York, I worked at the Brooklyn Waldorf School for seven years as a class teacher; a founding librarian and reading groups teacher; an assessment and learning difficulties teacher; and a homeschool group teacher. Over the next five years, I was fortunate to work with about 200 homeschool families throughout New York City, designing and leading small homeschool coops and teaching all the subjects.
Over the last four years, I have been exploring the vast and diverse world of self-directed learning, both personally and professionally. One summer I immersed myself in a Spanish-speaking environment. It was my first-ever experience learning something in a non-traditional way. It was a challenging and mind-opening experience. As a result, I improved my Spanish and learned a lot about the culture and history of Spain and Mexico, but most importantly, I learned so much more about myself and how I learn best! In my current work with children and their families, I am emphasizing connections to nature, intra-personal and inter-personal skills, and emotional intelligence as my main tools to create a solid foundation for a more natural and deeper way of learning throughout life.
A Parent's Testimonial:
"I feel that Svetlana is a truly special teacher. She knows so much about nature, children, and learning! My children can be very shy with other adults. Both of them opened their hearts to her. She talked to them in a very kind and warm way, explaining things they were interested in, asking them questions and listening to their opinions. She encouraged good communication for all of us." -- R.K. (NY)
Svetlana recently co-facilitated an explorer's camp for The Hub.
I have been a coach since college. I am passionate about coaching children to become self-directed learners, whether it’s through physical activities or art or academics. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in education, I developed a popular training program at the Walden school in New York City. The children brought their families to the gym to meet me, and eventually the children, parents, and I decided to start a school. In 1984, Life Sport Gym was launched. Since then, parents have introduced us to schools and community centers, where we have created programs that provide a range of opportunities for children to growth and develop.
I believe that a good coach is someone who is interested and observant, connects with children, senses their needs, and helps them know and express their true selves. I coach to acknowledge and maintain a child's self-respect. This is the best way for children to find out who they are and develop the resources to take care of themselves. I also believe that the best learning is built on a foundation of good feelings. These build on themselves when children—through their own efforts, plus the support of caring adults and peers—develop more and more skills and knowledge. The goal is to help children become not just well educated, but also well-functioning and healthy, with the ability to take care of themselves, and to know where to find the necessary resources and support.
Rudy recently co-facilitated an explorer's camp for The Hub.
A: For its inaugural year (September 2020 through May 2021), The Hub's programming is centered on an online micro-academy for ages 9 to 12. This will be supplemented with some à-la-carte options, primarily designed for the same age group, and their parents.
The micro-academy caters to children who want the best of both worlds: customized learning and community. They may be bored or disengaged in a one-size-fits-all setting, but come alive when given the opportunity to develop important skills and knowledge at their own pace, within the context of pursuing authentic interests. Or they may already be learning in a customized way that engages their minds, but be craving a more consistent cohort experience. The first year's cohort is playing a key role in establishing The Hub's culture, and laying the foundation for future years. As such, the first year's micro-academy program is best suited for families that see themselves as community-minded builders or co-creators, are open to new experiences, and are drawn to interest-based learning.
The Hub's focus will broaden as it grows, and it will cater to a wider range of families and individuals through its à-la-carte programming (please see further down the FAQs for more details).
A: For the first year, the focus is on offering a vibrant, part-time and online micro-academy, as well as support (as needed) for integrating the micro-academy plus other experiences to create a comprehensive whole.
The micro-academy is designed to expose children to a variety of useful skills and bodies of knowledge. It also facilitates deeper dives into those that feel relevant and aligned with children's interests, which sets up the optimal conditions for them to integrate and retain knowledge. Additionally, it emphasizes developing the “5 Cs” that are essential to a lot of success in life—critical thinking and problem solving; communication; collaboration; creativity and innovation; and citizenship. There is ample time outside the micro-academy to acquire other skills and knowledge that are needed to meet each child's and family's goals.
Over the course of the year, The Hub will also begin offering select à-la-carte offerings, in response to member and community interest.
The Hub's wraparound support services are designed to help families who would like assistance with finding resources, putting the pieces together, and/or documenting what's being learned. Examples are also provided of curated learning pathways and portfolios.
A: The micro-academy is the heart of The Hub’s program, and is designed for people who consider themselves independent learners, and who enjoy having a communal base that: serves as an extension of their family’s home base; provides consistent social connections; amplifies deep, interdisciplinary learning opportunities; and offers opportunities to work on group projects that are vehicles for learning important, higher-order skills, such as how to manage projects and work effectively as a team.
From The Hub's perspective, enrollment in the micro-academy can be paired with enrollment in any other programs, as long as regular attendance and engagement is practical. The Hub's à-la-carte classes, workshops and activities are also suitable for anyone.
It is up to families to research and ensure that they’re following any relevant regulations and requirements regarding school enrollment and/or homeschooling. A site that contains a lot of information about homeschooling requirements in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia can be found here.
A: In the micro-academy, the facilitator’s role is like that of a conductor, helping everyone co-create a beautiful piece of music together. It means being attuned to what’s happening with everyone within the group, and modeling and helping others to develop the skills that foster a healthy balance between meeting individual needs for self-expression and creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The facilitator is also like a "guide by the side" on the broader learning journey, working in partnership with parents and children to really get to know each child and what makes them tick, and to use that understanding to help the child develop their unique set of strengths and interests, while also helping them manage or overcome weaknesses that are standing in the way of them reaching their goals.
A: To foster the desired level of personal relationship-building, the overall facilitator-to-student ratio for The Hub's micro-academy will be capped at 1:8.
For à-la-carte activities organized by The Hub, the person leading each activity will decide the minimum and maximum size they believe will allow them to offer a quality experience.
A: Grade cutoffs are arbitrary and limiting. Children learn things (in a meaningful way) only when they’re ready, and no two 10-year-olds are the same, whether they’re in the same “grade” or not. On the other hand, children progress through developmental stages that start and end roughly around certain ages, and mixed-ages learning has many benefits, for younger and older children alike. Like human-development age ranges, The Hub’s age range is “ish”—it’s more about maturity level and maintaining good group dynamics, rather than calendar age.
A: The Hub's focus will broaden as it grows, so that it will eventually cater to individuals of all ages who are seeking educational experiences that combine customization plus community (with varying degrees of each available).
The intention is to also launch a streamlined physical hub in Washington, D.C. in Fall 2021, for those who prefer more in-person experiences. The upper age range will gradually expand, until a full program for teenagers debuts in Fall 2022 (with online and in-person options).
Learning is part and parcel of living, and formal and informal peer-to-peer and inter-generational learning opportunities abound if we bring ages and functions together. So we plan to add educational programming for younger children and adults to the mix, and to also offer co-working and community spaces. (For a glimpse of how this might eventually manifest, see the conceptual floorplans.)
The standalone à-la-carte classes and activities will respond to community interests. They may run the gamut from math circles to improv classes; physical-movement workshops; unique academic classes; open office hours with subject-matter experts; special-interest clubs; and parenting and other practical, skill-building classes. We will offer thoughtfully curated packages that will have taken care of a lot of the mixing and matching for those who prefer to be faced with fewer choices.
A: Glad you asked. The three main elements needed to achieve this vision are people who resonate with the concept, space (for Fall 2021 and beyond), and resources. Get in touch to find out about the current list of priority needs and/or to tell us what you might be able to contribute to the effort, and we’ll see if there’s a match.