Raritan Learning Cooperative's approach is pretty simple.We focus on meaningful education and let go of the one-size-fits-all approach that teens don't like and that gets in the way of learning.
small, welcoming community
Is your child a square peg trying to fit into the round hole of traditional school?Bright but bored in school? Learns differently? Struggles with social atmosphere? Anxiety? Serious pursuit like dance or theater? Medical condition makes attending hard? Hates homework? Doesn’t want to sit and listen all day?
RLC was designed for you.
Mentoring relationships are at the heart of RLC. Each teen works with MaryBeth who sets aside time to meet individually each week. It’s hard to overestimate the importance for young people to be heard and known and not just feel like a number. Having a caring, supportive and knowledgeable adult as an ally helps teens to make the most of their time at RLC.
Mentors also help connect young people to the learning opportunities at RLC, online and in the wider community. We help them keep track of what they learn and the experiences that they have for whatever next steps they are planning to take after RLC.
We know that sometimes parents also have questions. What steps do we need to take to apply to college? How does a young person get working papers so they can get a job? Is a gap year a good idea? What is the process to get a driver’s license? Chances are, we have helped other families do whatever you have questions about. We schedule three routine family meetings throughout the year, but you can get all the help and support you need with just a phone call or email to your child’s mentor.
The community at RLC is one of the highlights for many of our teen members. We experience “reverse snow day syndrome”: instead of cheering when we have to close for bad weather our members are disappointed because they genuinely enjoy being at RLC. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where you are welcomed, have friends, can learn about things you are interested in and have time to laugh, play and enjoy yourself?
We intentionally keep the community small, no more than 30 or so at capacity. We want everyone’s voice to matter and not feel like they are just a cog in a machine.
While not perfect, we work really hard to keep the RLC community a welcoming and inclusive community where people are respected for who they are. For young people who are coming from a hard social situation in school, the friends and acceptance that they find in the RLC community can be the most valuable experience they have.
Many people are astounded by the huge number of opportunities there are for young people to learn independently of the traditional school system. RLC acts as both the provider and connector to this world of possibility.
The classes and activities at RLC typically meet once a week for an hour, average between three and eight attendees, and cover the whole range of interests - everything from traditional subjects like algebra and writing to interest-specific subjects like learning Dutch or computer programming. MaryBeth leads some of the classes, but many of the learning opportunities at RLC are offered by our amazing community volunteers. This allows us to provide a huge diversity of offerings based on our members’ interests.
RLC sets aside Fridays for trips and special workshops. Often proposed and planned by members, trips can be anything from a nature hike, to a pizza shop tour of Brooklyn, to taking a trip to Raritan Valley Community College to learn about hydroponics.
Since RLC is a small community, there are many leadership opportunities. Our members organize trips, lead our weekly all-group meeting, take on roles in the community like first-aid and safety manager and even lead classes and offer one-on-one music lessons to other members.
Many parents worry that leaving traditional schools to use self-directed education will somehow limit the opportunities or choices their children have after they leave RLC. Nothing could be further from the truth!
A large majority of our members plan to attend college after their time with RLC. Many people are surprised that teens who don’t attend school can go to college. Actually, the self-directed-education-to-college path is well established in the United States. There have been millions of young people who homeschooled or had other non-traditional schooling backgrounds who went to college. This is a routine application process for colleges and doesn’t disadvantage families who choose this educational route. Our mentors help young people document the learning that they do and create a narrative transcript that translates that into a form colleges understand. Every young person who has attended RLC that wanted to go to college has, often to their first choice school.
The second most common next step for our members is either into the working or entrepreneurial world. Young people can use the flexibility and control offered by self-directed education to start learning the skills needed to be successful in a given career. The budding software designer can start coding and building products. The future carpenter can start informally apprenticing on jobs around town. The would-be salon owner can start doing their friends’ and families’ hair and makeup. Instead of squeezing your interests into “after-school” time, you can work on your interests as the main focus of your education.
Finally, some of our members take time after RLC to travel or do a gap year before heading to college or into the workforce. The big message is that anything teens can do by attending school, they can still do through self-directed education. RLC is here to help provide and connect young people to those opportunities.
Real People, Real Life
One of the most unique aspects of RLC is that many of the classes and tutorials are led by community volunteers. We ask members regularly if there is anything else that they'd like to work on or learn, which often leads us to search in the local community for someone who is willing to share their time and talents with a young person. We’re constantly amazed at the talented and dedicated people we are able to find or who find us.
RLC members get to learn computer programming from actual computer programmers or people who have an incredible passion for it and want to share that with others; Spanish from native speakers; agriculture from farmers. Getting exposure to and making contacts with people who are active or retired in the fields teens are interested in is an incredibly valuable experience and can lead to many opportunities down the road.
RLC is open four days a week (closed Wednesdays) between 8:45am and 3:15pm during the traditional academic calendar of September through mid-June.
RLC does not provide transportation to or from the center, but families sometimes carpool or find other creative solutions if transportation is an issue. We’re happy to help you brainstorm possibilities.
We are committed to being an economically diverse community. A family’s ability to pay our full fees is never the sole determining factor in the application process and we offer need-based fee reductions when necessary and when we are able to. RLC costs $13,000 per year and is pro-rated if someone joins mid-year. If RLC seems like the best fit for your son or daughter, we encourage you to please be in touch regardless of finances.
RLC members are legally considered homeschoolers by the state of New Jersey. Homeschooling does not mean that teens have to do “school” at home or that their parents have to teach them anything. It is simply the legal mechanism in the United States for families to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their own education in a way that will work for them. The process for leaving school to use homeschooling is very straightforward and easy to do and our staff will help you navigate that aspect of self-directed education.
You've come this far, perhaps you want to go a little further...
Rather talk to us in person? Self-directed learning and supporting teens are our favorite things to chat about. Give MaryBeth a call: 908-938-1464, or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, check out these links to learn more about our philosophy.