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Columbus Learning Cooperative Opening Doors in Olde Towne East

Hannah Herner Hannah Herner Columbus Learning Cooperative Opening Doors in Olde Towne East
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A mansion in Olde Towne East reminiscent of a mini-Hogwarts now houses an educational institution.

But its location at 731 E. Broad Street is far from the only thing that makes Columbus Learning Cooperative different from the traditional education system. Enrollment is open to students ages 10-18, but they won’t be segregated into grades.

“The idea is, if you’re twelve and you’re ready to learn calculus, you’ll be in a calculus class,” says founder Devin Fraze. “If you’re 17 and you need to practice your basic reading skills, you’ll be in a class for that. That’s what matters.”

Rather than a set curriculum, students pitch ideas for subjects they would like to cover at the beginning of each of four 10-week academic terms. The scheduling for classes will vary. For example, a science lab could be scheduled a few hours at a time to complete, compared to a class on current events for a half an hour.

There isn’t completely free reign though. Students who would attend CLC register as home schoolers with the state, and the institution will help students meet those requirements.

columbus-learning-cooperativeRather than tests and grades, students frequently meet with a mentor who tracks their progress, and work on projects for their portfolios.

Marcelle Gilkerson will be one of those mentors. In the past she’s worked at a Waldorf early childhood center while her own children were going through public elementary school. At that time, she began to see shortcomings in the public school system.

“My son came to vist one time and said ‘oh the kids can climb trees here? We’re not even allowed to touch the trees,’” Gilkerson says. “There was something so sad about that.”

Fraze says he had a positive experience at Worthington Public Schools growing up, but it wasn’t until he went to college for math education and began to teach in the classroom, that he truly began to pick up on flaws in the education system.

“About 80 percent of my time teaching became classroom management. Teaching kids to sit down, shut up, listen to what I had to say, prepare for the tests. It didn’t feel good. Learning wasn’t exciting or interesting for me or the kids,” he says.

Fraze moved on to math tutoring for several years, where parents of his pupils added to his feeling that “there’s got to be a better way, or at least an alternative” when it comes to education.

Fraze says he hopes to influence the public education system through CLC. While he is a proponent of free education, he says he must charge to keep the cooperative running. Tuition is $8,000 a year, or $680 a month for the full curriculum, with scholarship assistance and part-time enrollment available.

“It’s not a money-making venture,” he says. “I would go flip houses in Franklinton if I wanted to do that.”

Looking to results of other alternative schools around the country, Fraze says that students who graduate from CLC will be ready for any career path, even for the traditional college setting centered on exams.

“The kids that go through traditional school are so burned out,” he says. “Our kids are coming in with this passion for education, they’re going to be ready to go. It’s always challenging in college, but its not uniquely challenging (for graduates of alternative schools).”

With the CLC’s unusual policies, those involved say they hope to create an overall positive environment for the students.

“It’s not just about education, it’s not just about self-directed learning, it’s also about culture,” Gilkerson says. “It’s about creating a culture of inclusion, a culture of kindness.”

Classes are set to begin on September 22, and CLC is currently accepting interested students and faculty.

For more information, visit www.learning.coop.

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