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Author: Pamela Ameen

Guest post by Karen Brandt: The Home of Happy Teenagers

I like to call it “the home of happy teenagers”.

When I stop by to pick up our daughter, I enter a floor below the action and get to listen in on the banter. Lucky the dog gazes down at me from the top of the stairs. I hear laughter and loving jibes between teens who know each other well and support each other fully. Echoes of four different beginner foreign languages float down to me: Spanish, French, Mandarin and Greek.

No one needs to worry about where to sit in a cafeteria – the kids just pile into the kitchen, sit at the big table and open their lunch. Gym class? The kids get to take a break mid-day and drink in the fresh air and sunshine of beautiful Maudslay State Park. On winter days, they might go rock-climbing at MetroRock or learn some dance steps at Aurora Dance Studio.

Our daughter is a sophomore, so she studies the core pillars of a classical education: Honors Chemistry, Geometry, European History, British Literature and Mandarin. Her teachers guide her through her course work, creating a framework of milestones that she can measure herself against as the school year progresses. Recently, our student/teacher/parent meeting reviewed the schedule for mastering the final chapters of the Chemistry curriculum, and starting the test prep for the SAT II Chemistry Subject Area test.

Our family is planning for the PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT and several SAT II Subject Area tests. Since our daughter is technically enrolled as a “homeschooler” — outsourcing all the teaching to Learning Outpost — we know our daughter’s college applications will get individual attention from admissions officers. Colleges have come to embrace self-directed learners and the value they bring to a campus community.

Educational experiences are a big component. Build a chicken coop speaking only Spanish… perform The Bald Soprano in French… play Wall Street Survivor with professionals. Kayak the Merrimack, solve the challenges of Boda Borg, hike to the Maine huts, visit the MFA and MIT… That’s just a few of this year’s experiences.

But also important is what we left behind. Our daughter was in high honors at a selective day prep school with a great bunch of friends. But she wouldn’t get home until 5:30, then she’d have just a half hour for dinner before diving into hours of homework — most of it filled with stress, angst and exhaustion. Late to bed, early to rise and do it all over again. There had to be a better way.

Once she made the tough decision to leave her school and join Learning Outpost, boom — we have our happy kid back again. And bonus – she sees her friends more than she ever did because she finally has time for a social life.

Balance and just the right amount of challenge. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

Noam Chomsky on Standardized Testing

Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing

“The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.. it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless. And the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank. Not into doing things that are valuable and important.”

Click here for the full article.




Time to fetch the chicks!

DSC_0742DSC_0730The Spanish students have been working with Dan Wellehan to build a chicken coop while only speaking in Spanish. Looks like next Friday will be the day to pick up the newly hatched chicks that will be moving in later in April.

The improvement in the students’ Spanish is truly amazing. They all have gained confidence in their speaking and have also picked up some added proficiency in using woodworking tools.DSC_0741 DSC_0744 DSC_0746

Learning Outpost is in the stock market now with Brandt Wealth Advisors

We spent three months working with Brandt Wealth Advisors in Newburyport learning about the stock market using the Wall Street Survivor program. Everyone was given a virtual $100,000 to work with and we progressed from simple stock share buying, to shorting stocks and Exchange Traded Funds.DSC_0755

Early in our process, the students saw the movie, “The Big Short.” This led to a level of disenchantment with the market, and investors considering a turn to more socially conscious choices. Bob Brandt and Mike Houghton walked us through a great exercise of examining our personal values and how that relates to an investment strategy. Portfolios switched from gas ETFs, pharmaceuticals and big tech to solar power, Disney, exercise/outdoor companies and Whole Foods.

We also saw the danger of paying broker fees and the difference between day trading and riding the waves in for the longer term. Patience!

DSC_0756In our final session, we had a fascinating look at what the tax ramifications of profits and losses are, for instance what tax rates apply to long term capital gains versus income earned. The information on how exactly our federal tax dollar is broken down was very illuminating. We thought we’d like to hear the presidential candidates speak to this table in particular: How is your tax dollar used?


DSC_0758Fortunately all this risky financial work was accompanied by a steady stream of delicious cookies. They sure weren’t virtual. Thanks so much to Bob and Mike at Brandt Wealth Advisors.

Upcoming Info Sessions and Open Houses

Education. . . student designed. Teacher supported.


Upcoming Open Houses at Learning Outpost, 2 Coffin Street, Newburyport

Monday, June 6th, 9:00 – 11:00 am

Thursday, June 9th, 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Come visit us at Learning Outpost to see how things work on a daily basis. Ask some questions, talk to the students and find out what they are working on. It’s a happy place!

Opt-Out Newburyport

I opted out of the standardized testing last year for my fourth grader. The MCAS was administered over four days.

During the testing my daughter continued to work on her school studies.  I logged her onto Khan Academy for additional/new math lessons.  We visited the Peabody Essex Museum and the MFA in Boston.  We did some free art and fun science on our own and took the dog for walks at Maudslay and Olde Town.  It was a very positive experience, both for her and myself.

This year, repeat scenario, only the testing will include the PARCC and a section of the MCAS spanning NINE DAYS!  I have been encouraged to reconsider by the principal.

“The state assessments provide important feedback to families, teachers, administrators, and state policymakers as to where schools are succeeding and where schools and districts need to enhance their efforts. They also provide a valuable gauge of your child’s progress in relation to his/her peers, as well as, provide the school/district data that represents all of our learners. ”

I’m not impressed by impersonal, generic feedback generated by standardized testing.  Teachers interact, instruct and assess students on a daily basis which empowers them to give specific, personal feedback on each student.  Administrators have very little interaction with my child and know nothing of her personally, and State policymakers know nothing of my daughter and should not be assessing her performance unless they do.

Success has multiple meanings, varying with each individual.  For me the process by which an individual attains success is most important.  I want my daughter to think for herself and act accordingly.  Testing does not assess a student for kindness, fairness, determination or respect. These characteristics lead to a productive happy life regardless of where you are or what you do.

Opting Out is a positive way to demonstrate my educational values.  The opportunity lost to students is not only nine days of learning.  It includes the multiple days of preparation.  In addition, this wasted time represents a considerable economic cost, paying for the tests and the staff time.  This money could be saved or used to improve the art department, create a foreign language department or improve the school library.

Let teachers teach.

Teach students to think.

Think, then act.