My name is Lexi and I am the founder of Utah SDE. I am passionate about self directed education and creating a better world. This is my story and my journey to founding Utah SDE.
I grew up in South Jordan, Utah and I attended my neighborhood district schools from 1st-12th grade. I did pretty well academically, though I was often bored at school and didn't place much value in turning in assignments for credit. This led to a lot of conflict with my parents and also shame for only caring about learning what I thought I should learn.
I was rarely challenged at school and my work ethic was underdeveloped, which led to difficulties when I got to college. This was the first time I cared about getting credit for the evidence of my learning. I failed class after class because I wasn't in the habit of turning in work within artificial deadlines. I was also still internally conflicted between caring about getting credit and resisting the idea of someone else deciding what is important to learn.
I eventually learned to conform to the rigidity of college classes and I got all the credit I needed to get a bachelor's degree (after 7 years). I started out college on a pre-Med track. In high school, I loved health sciences, and I even got my CNA license. I wanted to become a physician assistant, and I did so much research on the educational path I would need to get there. I was actually more focused on researching the classes, programs, schools, etc. than I was on the actual career.
In my second year of college, I taught a human physiology help session in the evenings to college students taking the class. I absolutely loved that; organizing the content, discovering effective teaching strategies, explaining concepts in unique ways, it all brought me so much joy. After my second year, I switched my major to secondary education. This made a lot of sense for me; I connected all the things I did for fun (enrollment simulations, class scheduling, course flows, etc.) and my joy teaching in college, and realized that I had a passion for education.
I spent the next 5 years taking courses in biology, chemistry, and teacher preparation, then completing a student teaching semester. As I thought more about what I wanted to do in the future, I realized that I what I really enjoyed was the educational administrative side of things. I also was starting to realize that the educational system has many issues, and the changes I wished for could not be done in the role of a teacher. My long term plan became: teach for a few years to get experience in the classroom and understand the issues firsthand; then, move into an admin role where I could make school level changes; then later down the road, move into a position in which I could influence change at a state level.
After graduating, I got a job at a small charter school in Provo called Walden School of Liberal Arts. I was very lucky to get this job for a few reasons:
1. In a small charter school environment, innovation was welcome. I could influence change to the existing models and see results.
2. There was a shared leadership model with a small faculty, meaning that I could understand and practice operational administration of a school even as a beginning teacher.
3. The school culture was accepting and welcoming of all kinds of diversity. It was an island of progressive ideals in a community that valued "the way things have always been done".
I began taking on more admin tasks, more than the other teachers to a point where I had to decrease my teaching load. I loved being in the classroom and interacting with the awesome teenagers, but this shift confirmed that my real passion lays in educational administration.
I became aware of self-directed education around 2018. I researched Sudbury Valley School and the data that supports the model, and it was interesting to me, but a little too far from my comfort zone. I continued to theorize and implement some small changes to the educational system that I was educated in and experienced professionally. In the back of my mind though, I always knew that these were band-aids to a system that is too far gone. I kept coming back to research on self-directed education.
Then Covid hit, and I got busy with rethinking our educational model and advocating for more student autonomy. The early stages of the pandemic were exciting for me because I thought the huge disruption to the educational system would allow for more acceptance of alternative models. I was right in one sense; the number of homeschooling affidavits jumped during the pandemic. However, the families and educators that chose to remain in the public education system buckled down on support for the existing paradigm (ex. "kids are behind in math because of Covid, let's catch them up before next school year").
This was extremely discouraging for me, and in part, drove me to seriously consider alternative ways of educating young people, no matter how different it was to what I was familiar with. I came to the conclusion that people are naturally driven to learn in stimulating environments, and the role of educators is to facilitate that environment and provide opportunities without coercion.
In 2021, I began to plan for my advocacy work for self directed education. I was aware of two schools in Utah following this model, Alpine Valley Academy and Sego Lily School. Unfortunately, Sego Lily School did not make it through the pandemic, but Alpine Valley Academy (AVA) is still going strong and gaining more families by the week. The unschooling movement is here and there are not enough options for all the Utahns that want a better educational model than the default.
My current plan is to build a community of Utah families that are interested in this model first. I know they are out there, I just don't know their names, locations, or needs. Once I have a good idea of the needs, I want to open an SDE school based on a democratic model that serves a different market than AVA. I can't do it alone though, so I'm also asking for people who want to be involved in the founding of a school.
Education is my passion, and I truly believe that the self directed model is most ethical and moral way to nurture the next generation. I do not resent my educational journey, or my parents' decisions; I was able to experience a broken system that formed my purpose in life. Just as my parents provided me with the best educational option they could with the knowledge and resources they had, I want to provide my kids with the best educational option I know of. If any of this blog post resonates with you, leave a comment below, or explore the rest of the website to learn more. Thanks for reading!