Antioch School in Yellow Springs celebrates 100 years

Nursery school-age children at the Antioch School in Yellow Springs play in the sand in one of the school's classrooms.

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Nursery school-age children at the Antioch School in Yellow Springs play in the sand in one of the school's classrooms. CONTRIBUTED

Antioch is a “democratic” school, where children direct their own learning

YELLOW SPRINGS — For years, graduates of the Antioch School in Yellow Springs have sent their children to the school, hoping their kids can learn the same valuable lessons they did. Considered the oldest “democratic school” in the country, The Antioch School celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

In a democratic school model, each student’s learning is self-directed. Children choose how they spend their time, have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and have an equal voice in the school community, school leaders say.

“Children are seen as full human beings with their own needs and desires. We meet them where they are, and each makes their own path,” said school administrator Nathan Summers. “There are degrees of freedom. We have blocks of time throughout the day, where they have freedom to do what they like. We have great grounds to learn outside. And there are blocks of time that are more traditional.”

Some students currently attending the school have parents or grandparents who also attended there as children.

Lila Rose Jensen and her daughter Evadene, a current student at Antioch, have even had the same nursery school teacher, Ann Guthrie.

“A strong underpinning of the whole school is trusting kids that they know what is good for them and what they need, and celebrating who a kid is,” Jensen said.

One of the core things Antioch teaches its children is conflict resolution between children. Kids can call “meetings” with one another, moderated by a teacher, in which both express their feelings to the other and learn to determine their own solutions to problems.

“If kids have a conflict, the teacher doesn’t solve it for them,” Jensen said. “They have the kids sit down and come up with their own solution to the problem, which is so helpful in life. In young adult life there isn’t a teacher to fix things for you.”

Serving children ages 3 to 12 years, the Antioch School has educated generations of children without using grades, tests or homework. Started by Arthur Morgan, then-President of Antioch College, the school was part of Antioch until the late 1970s.

Student teachers at Antioch, including Coretta Scott King, would do their student teaching at the school. Teachers have complete autonomy over classrooms, with a distributed power structure in school administration.

In the 70′s, Antioch planned to close the school, as it would not be part of the education program, Summers said. Community members worked out an agreement to purchase the school from college, and the school became independent in 1980.

“Roughly half of students come from Yellow Springs,” Summers said. “It’s a place that a lot of families find who are looking for something different. Many are dissatisfied with the educational approach traditional schools take.”

The school has also had an outdoor program for the last decade, dedicating a portion of the school property into a “forest kindergarten classroom.” Every Monday, the children can go on a hike in Glen Helen, make a fire in the fire pit if it’s cold, and receive lessons. In the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers developed two more outdoor classrooms for kids in grades 1-3, and the older classes.

“The three groups were almost exclusively outside as part of COVID mitigation,” Summers said. “To my knowledge, I don’t believe we had any (COVID) transmission within the school.”

Many students go on to careers in business, the arts, or take on leadership roles, Summers said.

“Lot of alums carve their own path as artists or entrepreneurs,” he added. “Having their interests respected and recognized empowers students to go on own path and find their own way.”

The Antioch School’s annual Auction Gala, which supports the school’s scholarship fund, is May 6 at 6 p.m.

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