If it’s not a school, not a homeschool provider, not an after-school program, not a homeschool co-op, what is it then? What is Abot Tala?
It is like a school since it offers classes but unlike school, there are no grades, report cards, certificates. Unlike the typical gradeschool and highschool, you can choose the classes to attend based on your interest and curiosity. Unlike school, there is no curriculum except the one you make yourself together with your mentor.
Abot Tala operates during school hours from 9am to 3pm so it’s definitely not for those looking for after-school activities. It’s not a homeschool co-op since there is a permanent venue. It’s not a homeschool provider either, but we do have a partner who is precisely that. Laksmi Maluya of the Gopala Learning Haven has been serving homeschooling families for many years. We have partnered with her so that she can take care of the DepEd requirement side of the equation while Abot Tala can focus on providing the space and environment where young people can be themselves and thrive.
So if we have clarified what we’re not, what are we then? Three main things:
- Personalized learning
- Collaborative learning
Every week, each member meets with his or her mentor. Meetings are used to help keep the teen on track on what they want to do in life, to reflect on choices made and actions taken, to offer opportunities that fit with their goals, to discuss issues that come up, and to challenge them to look at how their choices match up with the dreams they have for themselves. Oprah Winfrey has a beautiful description of a mentor:
A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. A mentor is someone who allows you to know that no matter how dark the night, in the morning joy will come. A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.
Learning is personalized. The teen can choose what to study and how to go about it whether it is solo or in a small group, through one-on-one tutorial or through classes. Abot Tala aims to build a community of learners who help each other move forward through their unique paths and journeys. We hope to connect young people to learning opportunities within and outside the center’s walls, through internships, workshops and by linking up with people who could be role models in the field they are interested in.
Abot Tala is part of the Liberated Learners network with centers across America based on the North Star model. More than twenty years ago, Ken Danford started the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens. Back then, he was a disillusioned teacher who did not want to continue playing the role of what seemed to be a prison warden in school. Since then, the Liberated Learners has helped other communities launch their own version of North Star.
While Abot Tala is based on the North Star model, Ken has always emphasized that each center adapt the model to the specific needs and characteristics of the community. Thus, each center is even named differently and it’s not like a McDonald’s franchise where everything is copied lock, stock and barrel.
Ken has a favorite analogy to explain the North Star concept to people: it’s like a YMCA but for academics. Nobody forces you to swim or take up a sport at the YMCA. You come on your own volition.