Afters several years working as a special education teacher in the Hockinson and Washougal school districts, Nicki Mann was ready for a change.
Mann, of Washougal, wanted to move away from things like scripted curriculums and common core standards and focus on helping children discover their interests and take control of their learning process.
That’s why she’s so excited about starting a school of her own.
Someday School will begin classes on Monday, Sept. 9, on the second floor of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in downtown Washougal.
Someday School will offer full-time, part-time and “flex schedule” schooling for children ages 5 to 13, and provide “a la carte” offerings for students who are primarily home-schooled.
Students will learn in their own way and at their own pace, according to Mann. There will be no standardized tests, and teachers will not rely on grades to measure student progress.
“The main thing is we want kids to learn not because someone is telling them to learn,” Mann said. “(We want to find out) what makes them excited, what makes them curious, what they want to learn about and help them become engaged in the learning. It’s similar to Montessori, but I guess it goes a little bit further than Montessori by giving them even more choices.”
Mann said she would specifically like to reach out to children with special learning needs, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or autism.
“At The Village Free School (in Portland) and other schools, kids with autism and ADHD have been really successful because the model takes away the compliance, the part where, ‘You have to be sitting, you have to be standing in this row, you have to be doing this,’ which are things that they struggle with,” she said. “It gives them more freedom and choices, and we can individualize it a lot more with such a small school.”
Mann, who will serve as the school’s primary teacher, said that she can accommodate up to 15 students for the 2019-20 school year, but hopes that number will increase in the future.
“I did really well in college because during my student teaching, everybody liked the activities that I made for the kids. They were really engaging,” said Mann. “All the kids with special needs made real growth because they were interested in what they were doing and excited about it. Then I became a public school special education teacher, and I was kind of disillusioned because it was all about trying to get everybody onto the same level. It was really not what I was expecting. I wanted to make learning fun and exciting for kids, and it just seemed like I was just getting them all to be robots and doing the same things.”
Mann is filing for nonprofit status for the Someday School.
“Once we are a nonprofit, we could have fundraisers and make a scholarship fund for kids and do a lot more,” said Mann, who is funding the school’s start-up costs by herself. “We have to charge tuition, and some people can’t afford to pay. I don’t want it to be accessible only to people with money. I want it to be accessible to everybody.”
Someday School will use the Sudbury model, which dictates that students assume complete responsibility for their own education and are almost equal to teachers within a direct democracy.
Washougal resident Daryl Myers, a former high school teacher, will help Mann with the school.
“I think young kids inherently want to learn things,” Myers said. “If you can get them excited about learning and expand on the type of learning that they’re interested in, you can get them to learn way more than they think, and that’s ultimately the best way to go. … I feel that if you’re a good teacher you can bring anything and everything into a particular subject. For example, with art, you can mix in math or do science experiments. There’s so many things you can teach students without them realizing they’re being taught.”
Mann said that for her, being able to attend an institution like Someday School when she was growing up in Chicago “would’ve been awesome.”
“I had a lot of trouble in school when I was a kid. I have ADHD and autism, but (when I was younger) I was not identified as that, so (my teachers) just thought I was not learning on purpose, or goofing off on purpose,” she said. “My big thing was daydreaming. When you have ADHD or autism, you can pay attention, but you can’t control what you pay attention to. When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand that.
“But in high school and college I realized that if I could find a way to make (the material) interesting for myself, I could do it,” she continued. “A lot of times I would go to my college classes and sit through them and go back later and use websites and stuff to find ways to make myself learn (the material).”
She was able to not only put her own struggles into context but discover a passion after reading about the Albany Free School in Albany, New York, the oldest independent, inner-city alternative school in the United States.
“They wrote a book called ‘Teaching the Restless,’ and it was all about how they used to teach kids especially with ADHD and it was a very similar model,” she said. “That really captivated me because it was all about instead of telling them what to do, you’re asking them, ‘What do you want to do?’ They still learn and sometimes even go beyond what their peers would learn because they’re so excited about it. I read about that and wanted to start something like that one day.”
Myers believes the school will catch on after people learn more about it.
“My boys could’ve used a school like this when they were younger,” said Myers. “I know so many kids can do so much more than they’re doing in a public school, and they need something different.”