The center and cornerstone of our program is conflict resolution and nonviolent communication. Students are presented with a basic template for problem solving with modeling of a restorative compromise from adults and peer mediators. Holding space and support for challenges as a means to work out conflict is essential. Students play an active and pivotal role in working out their interactions with others and the world around them. Students who engage in this type of resolution gain invaluable practice and tools for their future.
Our program emphasizes play and pursuing goals. We work with every student and their family to create a learning plan that addresses what the student thinks is important and relevant for their life. We will also not shy away from encouraging each student to tackle fundamental skills like literacy and numeracy. Staff and students collaborate on a schedule of offerings that include but are not limited to: arts & crafts, science lecture & lab, writing, reading, math, and cooking. We also get creative with toys, play games, use digital media, listen to music, and spend down time together. We utilize the wonderful resources available in the city around us and the abundance of opportunity for growth outside of our classroom for physical activity, field trips, library skills, and usage of public transportation.
We have a commitment to documenting what each student accomplishes and encouraging self reflection. Every student has a different path based on her choices. Written reflection, drawings, and photos, as well as a collection of work, are compiled to create an anthology that represents each child’s individual journey at VFS.
The most important aptitude a student needs is their ability to connect. Relationships are key at VFS, whether it is with an advisor or student or friend group. A supportive shared experience is key for a student’s success in finding their way in this world.
VFS uses All School Meeting as a means to utilize democracy. Students share their input regarding issues directly impacting daily life. We vote twice, allowing the minority to speak before a final vote. Broadly, a democratic school refers to any school that approaches students as capable decision makers, and any school that allows those affected by decisions within a school community to have a voice in decision making. Our school uses the term to refer to our democratic decision making processes, and our commitment to student voice and power.
Free School usually refers to a school in which the students choose for themselves how to spend their time. At VFS, like many free schools, there are generally no required classes, no compulsory evaluation, and, though there are age targeted activities and spaces, there is no strict age separation.
Adults at VFS are seen as guides and resources, mentors and helpers. We know that adults have a wealth of experience and knowledge that our students can benefit from. Staff and volunteers suggest paths of learning, help students reflect on how they’ve spent their time and what their goals are, and encourage exploration, practice, and mastery of skills. While their experience and knowledge often give adults contextual authority, at VFS, adults are committed to avoiding arbitrary authority that diminishes the voice or spirit of youth. We don’t pretend that adults are more or less than youth. We embrace the idea adults have an important role to play in nurturing youth and guiding them. However, we also know that often an important action for adults is to get out of the way and allow students to find their own way.