Describing a school’s academic program is much easier than describing a school’s atmosphere. There’s only so much a website, article, or mission statement can tell you about what a learning culture actually feels like. When you actually visit a school though, you know whether it works based on simple impressions and observations; how community members interact with each other, how welcoming and inclusive the school seems, the fullness of life and freedom emanating from the students, the general feeling of comfort and connection, and whether the learning feels personal, meaningful, and ethical.
There are many fancier, better resourced, better endowed schools than Scarsdale Alternative School, but I can think of few schools that impressed me more on almost every education related metric that matters. The fact that the A-School happens to be a Just Community only confirms for me, once again, the unignorable intellectual, social, and moral value that derives from democratic learning and democratic experience. At the A-School, the mission and philosophy is not merely an externalized declaration of progressive values; mission and philosophy is internalized in the very nature of the community, and the personalities who speak and feel what the Just Community represents. The school aims to meet the following goals:
- To establish a workable, democratic governance system, a “just community.”
- To promote students’ social, civic, and moral development in addition to their academic development
- To create a sense of community where students and teachers learn together toward agreed upon goals
- To increase students’ freedom and participation in pursuing their own education
- To make the school less isolated from, and more responsive to, the larger community outside its four walls
- To emphasize cooperation, and eliminate the more destructive forms of competition
- To maintain the high level of academic achievement for which Scarsdale is known.