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Learning at its Best, School Stories

Can A Community Support Education?

Can a group of like minded parents and community members, support an education model for our children? An education that is designed for our evolution and not for our economy?

Can we change the paradigm and create a new kind of education that is more organic and true to the needs of our imminent future? Can we create an education system built around the integrity of the community’s values that can sustain itself without being tethered to the bureaucracy, politics and the outdated industrial model of our current education system?

There are a growing number of parents who want to be more invested and involved in the education of their children, who have something of value to share. At The Garden Road School ( we welcome and provide the opportunity for that to happen.

Community Supported Education is a concept born out from ten years of innovation, experimentation, and hard lessons won as a small school trying to change the world. We have endeavored to provide an educational environment that is natural, balanced and inspiring for our children. Our drive has always been to improve the human condition and to help others cultivate their natural genius at the same time, cultivating our own as educators.

The Garden Road has always had a strong community and parent involvement.  We decided to create a new system, similar to a co-operative, but unique to the school.  This ‘hybrid’ idea is modeled after a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).The school (like the farm) provides the farmers and a rich soil in which the seeds (the children) can flourish to their fullest potential. The parents support and participate in the cultivation of those seeds and the maintenance of the farm, creating a full experience for all.

In efforts to make the school as affordable as possible, tuition is adjusted according to how many working hours a family can reasonably contribute per week. There is value given to the time and effort given by parents who want to invest and take an active part in their child’s education.

Our parents enrich the curriculum by teaching from their talents and skills (natural genius) things like art, sewing, calendar making, dance, language, culture, cooking, songs, sports, puppet making, the list can go on. Some of our parents help with the day to day running of the school or with marketing and administration. Almost all of our parents come and clean the kitchens and bathrooms once or twice a month.

With Community Supported Education, children have the benefit of the collective genius of teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Everyone has something to offer.

At The Garden Road School, we cultivate natural genius in order to drive change for society, to benefit our local community and to build a more sustainable world.

So CAN a community support education?

Can a group of like minded parents and community members, support an education model for our children? An education that is designed for our evolution and not for our economy?

these are the questions we are trying to answer.

What do you think?

We are interested in your feedback.


Donna Mikkelsen, Founder/Director of The Garden Road School



12 thoughts on “Can A Community Support Education?

  1. Hey my name is Corey Waldon I attend the University of South Alabama. For an assignment in my EDM310 class i am suppose to read your latest blogs and leave a comment about the blog.

    Well with the community support education idea i think it is great. You give children and parents the opportunity to learn more about each other from each other. I see it as a chance for parents to invest more into their children’s education by teaching them hands on. The fact that the tuition cost can be decreased by the amount of time parents put in is also great. I feel like in today’s society education and parents don’t mix. Most parents only involvement with their child’s school is when they pick them up. With the community based education children can be comfortable learning from people they know and see daily. I really think it is a great idea and i support it 100%.

    Posted by corey waldoon | January 30, 2012, 12:52 am
  2. Yes, I think a community can support education, although as you’ve noted from the beginning, it will run in great contrast to education that is supported by the government. The good thing about commity supported education (a CSE so to speak) is that community members are more apt to understand the needs and values of the students beyond a coverage of “the basics” like math and reading. One interesting I see about your school, similar schools like sudbury schools, and the lessons that are taught is that there is a focus on “softer” subjects like art and music. This can be seen as a big issue in the face of the economy (which has never truly been community focused anyway – it’s more focused on the general wealth of a faceless workforce). I also think a strength with your school is that there is potential for learning to happen within the greater community in order to solve issues with it and strengthen the needs of the town/community – especially when the kids grow older.

    Posted by teganor | January 30, 2012, 10:14 am
    • Thank you for posting! One of the most incredible things about doing this is tapping into the natural genius of the parents. It really is awesome. Our communities are rich with talent and innovation, we just need to tap into it.

      Posted by Donna Mikkelsen | January 30, 2012, 4:54 pm
  3. It takes a lot of courage to walk away from the status quo and give children this type of learning opportunity. There is something less than a stigma but more than a perception that parents and children who steer clear of traditional public education are not doing what is best for their children. What is the tipping point for a parent/student? When is it not working? How far does it have to go for students to demand something different? And can they really demand it? What outlets do they have if there are no Garden Roads or Donna Mikkelsen’s?

    Posted by timmcclung | January 30, 2012, 12:42 pm
  4. Can all communities support education?

    I would like to think so, especially if we decide to allot our resources to support them. It would take a generation or two to return education to local communities, but it would benefit kids greatly as humans, thinkers, and citizens to live and learn and problem-solve with the communities around them.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 30, 2012, 5:14 pm
  5. Very interesting! I like the idea of community-supported education–it really does take a village 🙂 From visiting the website I see that this is preschool and elementary currently, but I’d love to see if this method could also be applied to high schools. It sounds a lot like my early education. My sister and I took classes at our local homeschooling cooperative program (supported by the local school district), and afterwards we took classes through the afterschool program my mom set up, with other kids from the neighborhood also attending. It definitely followed the same parent-involvement model.

    Posted by Adora Svitak | January 30, 2012, 9:29 pm
  6. Hi Donna,

    We have to talk! I am very impressed by all you are doing at the Garden Road School, Congratulations.

    I think, often when we talk about new models, it can be helpful to reference something with which folks are familiar and with which they have good associations. I think making the explicit connection to CSA’s would go over very well in my community. It’s a type of co-op model that people already understand and value, and could easily apply to other sectors of their lives, including education.

    I also really like that in a small school like yours (and mine ) (-perhaps in every independent school?) parents must support the school somehow, and if they can’t, afford full tuition, providing ways that they can support the program with their time is something we always encourage. What you do, however is say that that type of in-kind “volunteer” support is actually the preferred model. Let’s do this together. If you can’t afford the time, well, you can always support us with increased tuition instead. I love this flip!

    I have many questions about details: are parents who want to work in the classroom all welcome? Is there a “training” or “orientation” for them? Are all volunteer jobs counted in hours? Are any considered of different “value” than others? I’ll e-mail you personally and perhaps we can go into some of the particulars.

    Have you studied the original Reggio Emilia schools in Italy at all, and the role of parents there?

    Thanks for the post,


    Posted by Paul Freedman | January 31, 2012, 10:06 am


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