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Friday Feature: Radiant Collective

Colleen Hroncich

Jo Lawson and her husband were both public school teachers. When they had children, they planned to alternate years teaching and being home with the kids. It seemed like a perfect set up. Then COVID-19 happened, and things started to look different. That prompted them to really think about what is going on in education right now.

They started hearing about learning pods and microschools, which gave them some ideas. They considered using the Florida Virtual School curriculum, which they liked, and offering an in‐​person place to give the students hands‐​on learning experiences. But as they talked to parents, they found little interest in going back to virtual school. Someone suggested they look into Agile Learning Centers.

As soon as she looked around the Agile Learning website, Jo was hooked—it was the school that she’d been seeking. She’d taught in private, district, and charter schools, always trying to find a place where they were letting kids be creative. So she used the Agile Learning model to create what is now known as Radiant Collective.

The heart of Radiant is the learning center for homeschoolers ages five to fifteen. Families can attend two to five days a week, with tuition prorated based on how many days they choose. Mornings are a blend of structured learning and personal choice, with a variety of organized offerings that emphasize project‐​based learning. Projects are designed to include a range of subjects and skills, encouraging students to dive deep into topics that interest them. They have quarterly showcases that allow the children a chance to show off their projects.

In the afternoons, Radiant offers small group tutoring for a separate fee. Kids can attend lunch and learn sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where they focus on reading and math. On Wednesdays, they can participate in adventure labs, where they use creative approaches to experience science and social studies.

Arts are imbued in every aspect of Radiant because of Jo’s passion for art. She’s seen schools that cut art or music programs and is horrified by that. She said she can’t imagine what school would have been like without the arts, but she’s sure it would have been terrible. Even the science classes incorporate art because she thinks it so important for kids to have that way to express themselves.

According to Jo, Radiant Collective is really about collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking, and those are the skills that are prioritized in the rubric they use for evaluating students. She explains that she tells parents we have no idea what our kids will be doing in the future, but these skills will always serve them well.

Jo admits she laughed at the idea of unschooling when she first heard of it, but now she recognizes the value of it. She sees her own daughters learning so much even when it’s not being formally taught. She’s had to unschool herself to some degree since she attended and taught at traditional schools. The idea of education being teacher led was instilled in her from early on, but she’s seen the growth that’s happening in students at Radiant when they have more independence and flexibility.

When it comes to math, Jo works with the younger kids and tries to incorporate some math concepts from the Waldorf philosophy. This allows kids to really experience math, to explore and discover how things work. Her husband takes the older, more advanced kids and does a lot of hands‐​on, real world math. He frequently uses sports to teach math because many of the students love sports. During football season, he used team and player stats to teach them statistics, and then they had a contest to see who had the most accurate playoff picks. Similarly, he uses March Madness basketball to get them using statistics and other math concepts.

Radiant Collective’s location is purposely very homey because it’s geared towards homeschoolers. But Jo also wants to serve as a resource for the community. She plans to offer afterschool sessions that would be open to homeschoolers and students from public or private schools. This would give the kids and parents a chance to get to know each other and give the conventionally schooling families exposure to a different approach to education.

Jo says she’ll never go back to a conventional classroom. This is what she always wanted her classroom to feel like, but it never could because she always had to stick to a schedule and kids had to stop what they were doing when the bell rang. She thinks there are many teachers out there who want this and don’t even realize it. As options like Radiant Collective spread, more teachers will discover that they can do what they love without the bureaucracy and the lack of flexibility of the education system.

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