St. Petersburg Free Skool goes 2.0

08/02/11 Andrea Lypka
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A new, radically different grassroots educational project is taking shape in St. Petersburg. Students are learning life skills, arts and crafts, underground music history class, women’s health and different academic subjects in informal classes.

It is a full night at the St. Petersburg Free Skool: a bike ride followed by a women’s health and a U.S. history class. There are no classroom teachers here but a handful of volunteers who want to share their knowledge and passion. Classes are not held in classrooms, students meet in parks, homes and other gathering spots. There are no textbooks required.

“This is Brendan (Mannion) and I am Chris (Nadeau). We are going to talk about U.S. history in a roundabout way. This is our third time doing this history class and we would like to talk about personal bias, and then I am going to talk about one of my favorite Americans, who is abolitionist,” said Christopher Nadeau.

He then talks about William Lloyd Garrison, the creator of the anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator not because he is an abolitionist but because he is an outlier in history.

“My bias is going to be focused on people that exist outside of time… We definitely want to open up this (to discussion), so that we can feel like a loosen family,” he said. Nadeau says the free skool is based on the idea that everybody has something to offer.

“My co-teacher and I have different backgrounds. I have a degree in history from USF and the fellow teaching with me only has a high school diploma. And he is equally knowledgeable like I am without formal diploma. It is a political statement to say that someone who hasn’t gone to college can share the stage with someone who has gone to college in a specific field,” he said.

Volunteer Celeste Guzman said that there are about 30 Free Skools in the country all unique in their nature.

“Free describes not just the monetary cost of the classes, but also freedom from the rigid environment provided by a traditional school environment. St. Petersburg Free Skool was started because we felt like St. Pete was lacking something (namely, things to do at night besides drinking and sitting), and so far it has created a greater sense of community and a wider variety of things to do. This variety is what I think makes free skool interesting,” Guzman said.

Every class is different; there have open discussions, lectures, and hands on classes to foster dialogue and critical thinking among students.

“We encourage people to teach what they love, regardless of turnout. Some of the best classes I've attended have had only a few people, because the small group fosters a great discussion,” she said.

Tara Kuk who was studying to be an elementary school teacher cooked up the idea after she left college.

“I was halfway through school for my BA degree when I decided I don’t want to do this anymore…. I was volunteering for elementary schools and I realized that it (the educational system) wasn’t ideal,” she said. So with the help of some friends, she established a different type of education, the St. Petersburg Free Skool. She hopes that it keeps growing.

“I want an array of classes, a different array of topics that anybody can find interesting. I just trying to reach out to people and keep that going,” she said.

A list of free skools in the U.S.

St. Petersburg Free Skool

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