Alison Snieckus

Sara is one of many teenagers who battled anxiety and depression during her years at public high school. The school day became emotionally exhaustive. Consequently, she found it increasingly difficult to attend classes, and her grades no longer reflected her abilities. In her junior year, Sara realized what she needed most was a situational change. She chose PLC, a supportive, noncompulsory environment. At PLC, she was no longer simply surviving the day, but thriving. She not only attended voluntary classes, but led classes including a course on gender and sexuality and a sign language course.

Sara graduated from Hampshire College in spring 2020.

Sara shared her story at our self-directed learning celebration in spring 2016:

Sara wrote this essay describing her previous school experiences and how her life has changed since joining PLC:

My experience with public education was not a pleasant one. I enjoyed school up until middle school, when I started to feel like every day was the same. I struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my high school years, which made it difficult to attend school each day. In my freshman year, I stopped going to my classes as soon as a week into the school year. At first it was just a few classes that stressed me out, then I ended up just attending English and lunch. By November, I was too petrified to enter the building sometimes. I spent about a month in a therapy program six hours a day, and slowly transitioned back into school, doing home instruction to make up for the classes that I missed. I had to get an IEP so that I could get accommodations to pass my freshman year. In my sophomore year, I realized that I wasn’t learning anything. We were just focusing on me trying to stay present in class. By the end of the day, I was too emotionally exhausted to do homework, and my ADHD didn’t help with that either.

I felt like I was a square cookie trying to be smooshed into a triangular cookie-cutter. Everyone is different, so why teach everyone the same way? Before my junior year, I goaded my parents into looking at some alternative schools. We visited the Jersey Shore Free School, a Sudbury school in Little Silver, and South-Mountain Co-Op a democratic school in Maplewood, New Jersey. My parents were just very skeptical of them, because of the lack of a high school diploma. Now, I know that I don’t need a high school diploma to be successful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I knew that I needed an alternative path, but my parents were hesitant at the time and they thought I would be able to push through at public school until graduation.

I pushed through my junior year until winter break. By then, I was having breakdowns almost daily and my grades were not reflecting my learning abilities. I was enrolled in a therapeutic program that my school had started that year, and no one seemed to understand that I didn’t need therapy, I needed change. It was then that my mom found PLC. We found it just in time. I visited PLC on a Tuesday and the next Monday was my first day. I knew instantly that PLC was right for me. A small community of caring people, no pressure to hand in assignments, and an overall love of learning from everyone.

Since joining PLC, I’ve taken full advantage of the countless resources and opportunities. I became an active member of many classes and taken leadership roles in the PLC community. I led a trip to visit evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant, who are professors at Princeton University and have done incredible studies on Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos over a span of 40 years. Me and another PLC student started a recycling center in hopes to reduce PLC’s waste, which has gone incredibly well. I taught multiple classes, including a six week “short course” on gender and sexuality and a sign language class that I will be continuing in the 2015-2016 year.

PLC has helped me find out what my passions are as well. When I was in public school I had interests, but I was so focused on schoolwork and such that I had no time to pursue my own academic interests. I’ve taken classes at Union County College in my time that I’m not at PLC and I am going on a trip to Ecuador that focuses on sustainable development. Next year, I will be applying to colleges that I would never have gotten into with a GPA that didn’t reflect my learning abilities at all. Thanks to PLC, I have an incredible future that is worth looking forward to, and many adventures lying ahead.

–Sara, 2015