We're Hiring!

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Help Grow a Unique School

Tallgrass Sudbury School, located in Riverside, IL, near the Brookfield Zoo, is a democratic K-12 school community where students pursue their interests at their own pace and in their own way. Tallgrass is seeking a staff member to start part-time on Tuesdays and Thursdays and potentially transition to full-time as we grow. 

Unlike at most schools, staff members at Sudbury schools are not expected to teach or to direct students’ activities. This position will involve supporting the overall work of the school as well as some administrative tasks. This is an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community dedicated to living out its democratic principles, and to learn about self-directed education in action. 

The hiring process includes an interview with the student-run Staffing Committee, an interview with our School Meeting (all students and staff), and a vote by School Meeting members on the preferred candidate. 

In a typical week as a staff member at Tallgrass, you might:

  • Help students with day-to-day needs like learning to use things around the school, conflict resolution, and problem solving

  • Serve on our Judicial Committee as the secretary

  • Take students outside to the yard, nearby parks, or other off-campus locations

  • Work with committees that include staff and students to make decisions collaboratively

  • Work with other staff and students to troubleshoot issues around the school and keep the physical plant and administrative systems running well 

  • Talk to parents about questions and issues 

  • Assist with marketing and enrollment functions

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Ability to interact with students as equals, while maintaining appropriate boundaries.

  • Understanding of the Sudbury model. If you’re not familiar with the Sudbury model, please spend some time looking at our website before applying to make sure it aligns with your interests and values: https://www.tallgrasssudbury.org/

  • No degree or teaching certification is required. Tallgrass does not prioritize degrees in employment decisions.

  • Be able to act as models of responsibility, resourcefulness, initiative, and good conflict resolution, and be willing to listen to and accept feedback.

  • Strong communication skills; the ideal candidate does not shy away from productive confrontation and is open and honest in communication.

  • Ability to maintain confidentiality of student and family data.

  • Ability to pass required background checks before beginning employment.

  • Tallgrass is particularly interested in diverse candidates

You will join a team of 2.6 staff serving about 30 students, ages 5 to 18. Tallgrass hopes to grow our small community significantly in the near future, and the ideal candidate will be willing and able to act as one of the leaders in this effort. Work hours are 8:30 to 4:00. Occasional time outside of school hours is expected for meetings and events. The pay for this position will be between $15 and $18/hr or the equivalent salary. We follow a typical school year schedule, and staff also do some work over the summer. 

Please submit a cover letter and resume to info@tallgrasssudbury.org. If you have additional questions, contact us either by email or by phone at 708.777.1037.  The application period will close on October 14 at midnight.  


August Open House

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You don’t have to dread the first day of school. Learn more about the benefits of a Tallgrass education at our final summer open house.

  • Sunday, August 18, 12-3 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place at Tallgrass Sudbury School (85 Kimbark Road, Riverside, IL 60546). RSVP by calling 708-777-1037 or emailing info@tallgrasssudbury.org. Openings still available for the fall in some age groups.

May Open Houses

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Considering Tallgrass for next school year? Want to see our space and talk to staff and families before the end of the school year? Join us at one of our upcoming Open Houses!

  • Sunday, May 5 10:00am-12:00pm

  • Thursday, May 16 6:00-7:30pm

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place at Tallgrass Sudbury School (85 Kimbark Road, Riverside, IL 60546). RSVP by calling 708-777-1037 or emailing info@tallgrasssudbury.org.

Event: Movie Night: Summerhill

Join us for a screening of Summerhill, a fun, family friendly movie about the oldest democratic school in the world. Feel free to wear pajamas and bring your favorite plushies, blankets and/or snacks! This event is free and open to the public.

Synopsis: Imagine a school where you don't have to go to lessons, you make all the rules yourself and climbing trees and building boats are definitely part of the curriculum. That school exists. It's called Summerhill and it has been there for almost 100 years.

Maddy and Ryan attend Summerhill and find it changes them in ways they would never imagine. But then when Ofsted Inspectors decide the school must close, Maddy and Ryan join forces with staff and pupils in a battle that goes to the very heart of the Government. Based on a true story, Summerhill is an enchanting drama that will captivate the whole family.

Event: Free-Range Parenting: Using Freedom to Teach Your Child Independence

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Join us on Tuesday, March 5th, 6:00-7:00pm for a talk and discussion about how to give your child the space and freedom to be a kid. Free range parenting is basically the practice of helping your child develop age-appropriate independence skills that we once all took for granted, such as biking to school or playing with friends without adult supervision. Tallgrass parent Lisa Dinesen and staff member Elizabeth Lund will share what free range parenting is, how it helps kids be happy and healthy, and how to do it safely, with time for discussion and questions at the end. We hope to see you there!

Donate Today to Help Tallgrass Grow

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Tallgrass Sudbury School, the only Sudbury school in Illinois, is growing rapidly. We have nearly doubled our enrollment in the past 2 years, and can no longer accommodate any more students in our current space. Right now we have 31 students. In 2019, we hope to expand our space to fit up to 45 students. Raising $3,000 by December 31 will allow us to rent this additional space.

Every gift, no matter the size, gets us closer to our goal and helps ensure a strong future for our school and Sudbury education.

Tallgrass is funded 100% by tuition and donations from generous individuals. A quarter of our students come from families making under $25,000 per year.

Show your support for a student you care about by donating today!

Event: The Rewards of Trustful Parenting: How Radical Freedom as a Child Made Me a Responsible Adult

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Join us on December 11th, 7:30-8:30pm for a talk about trustful parenting. Cassidy Bradford, currently working in higher education, was raised by parents who embraced a trust-based form of parenting from the start. Join us for a discussion with Cassie about her childhood experiences and how they ultimately helped her to become a successful adult.

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place at Tallgrass Sudbury School (85 Kimbark Road, Riverside, IL 60546). RSVP by calling 708-777-1037 or emailing info@tallgrasssudbury.org.

Event: HamBingo Fundraiser

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Support our school by coming on out to HamBingo at Hamburger Mary’s in Oak Park (https://www.oakparkbeer.com/events/event/hambingo-marys-2/). Tuesday, December 4 at 8pm. Bingo cards are $15, and 100% of the proceeds benefit Tallgrass! Bring your friends and spread the word! (The show can get a little risqué, so leave the kids at home.)

*This is a cash only event.

Support Scholarships for Low-Income Students on Giving Tuesday

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This year Tallgrass reached a major milestone: our 10-year anniversary. Thank you for all your support over the years! We are so grateful for our thriving community of almost 30 students aged 5 to 17. As our school grows, we are more determined than ever to make Sudbury education accessible to a broad range of families.

I’m writing to ask you to make a gift to support Tallgrass this Giving Tuesday, so we can continue serving students of all backgrounds. We want Tallgrass’s unique form of education to be available to every family, regardless of their financial situation. We use an income-based sliding scale to determine tuition, and a quarter of our students come from families making under $25,000 per year. This year, for the first time, we were able to give 2 full scholarships, making Tallgrass even more accessible.

Tallgrass does not receive any government money, and is funded 100% by tuition and donations from generous individuals.

I feel so lucky to be a part of this dynamic community. To celebrate our first 10 years, last month we held a reunion party that brought together almost all our graduates along with current and past families and their friends. Tallgrass supporters from Riverside to Japan shared their memories and how the school has had a positive impact on them.

Now, we need your help to continue to make Tallgrass available to a wide range of students. Giving Tuesday is  November 27 and is the perfect time to help fund scholarships for low-income students. Tallgrass is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and donations are fully tax deductible.

Will you make a gift to help Tallgrass continue to serve families of all incomes? Make a note on the donation form to donate in the name of a student or someone else you love.

Thank you for your continued support of our school and self-directed education!

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Lund

Tallgrass Finance Clerk


Event: Open House

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In order to accommodate the large number of requests that we have gotten recently from people interested in visiting our school, we have decided to host a last minute Open House on Tuesday, November 20 at 4:30pm. This will be a great opportunity for anyone interested in Tallgrass to get a tour of the school and talk with staff and students before the holidays. We expect the event to run about an hour long. RSVP by emailing info@tallgrasssudbury.org or calling the school at 708-777-1037.

Event: Why Kids Don't Like School: And 3 Things You Can Do About It

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Join us on August 14, 7:00-8:30pm for a talk about "Why Kids Don't Like School: And 3 Things You Can Do About It." School should be a place for community, learning, and personal growth, but for too many students, it becomes a 12-year struggle. This event explores some of the important reasons why students don’t like school. Parents of teenagers and younger kids will learn about ways to support their child and ease the stress, and about other options to consider if they are ready to leave conventional school.

Melissa Bradford, EdD, is a founder of Tallgrass Sudbury School and the mother of two grown children. Elizabeth Lund is a staff member at Tallgrass Sudbury School. They’ll share research-based and personal experiences and end with a group discussion. RSVP via Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/why-kids-dont-like-school-and-3-things-you-can-do-about-it-tickets-48564123601

Peter Gray Returns to Tallgrass May 1

Join us on May 1 at 7:00 p.m. for a talk by Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and a prominent advocate of learning through play and self-directed education. Gray will be speaking on “Self-Directed Education:  What It Is, How It Works, and Why Ever More Families Are Choosing It.”

Professor Gray’s research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. He also authors a blog called “Freedom to Learn” for Psychology Today magazine. Gray has published research in developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.

Hosted by Tallgrass Sudbury School, a self-directed school serving students 5-18.

No childcare will be provided, but children of all ages are welcome. RSVP via Eventbrite.

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Play Day April 13

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Tallgrass will be hosting a free play day on Friday, April 13th,from 9:30 to 11:00 AM. Parents can drop off their kids in the morning and use these hours to enjoy coffee with friends, run errands, or just enjoy some time to themselves! The event will take place in the school activity room and will be run by Tallgrass staff, who are CPR certified. Attendees will also have an opportunity to interact and play with Tallgrass students who will be helping out. Toys and games will be provided, but food will not, so children should have breakfast before arriving. Attendees must be 3 years of age or older. For more information and to RSVP, open the Eventbrite link below. Spots are limited! https://www.eventbrite.com/myevent?eid=44809912655

Scholarship Announcement

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This year the staff have been working hard to make Tallgrass more accessible to families of all economic situations. We implemented a sliding scale for tuition and held an end-of-year donation campaign to raise money for scholarships for lower-income families. Both efforts have helped us reach more families, but we understand that paying anything for tuition is still a hurdle for some. For this reason, we have decided to go one step further for next year by offering up to 5 scholarships, each for 4 years of tuition-free enrollment at Tallgrass.

 

Tallgrass is the only Sudbury-model school in the region and offers a unique opportunity for students to direct their own learning. Tom, one of our students who went to public school before coming to Tallgrass, said this about his schooling experience: “At my previous high school I was stressed out all the time. When I came to Tallgrass, I stopped feeling stressed and now I’m able to focus on what matters to me.” By offering this new full scholarship program, we hope that more students like Tom will now have access to this educational option regardless of their family’s financial situation.
 

To apply, prospective applicants must visit the school and complete an enrollment interview by July 15. Applicants do not need to submit financial aid applications, but should announce their intent to apply for the scholarship during the enrollment interview. Scholarship recipients will be chosen by lottery and notified by August 1. The scholarship is open to students 4 through 18.


If you would like more information about the scholarship program or our school, please contact us at info@tallgrasssudbury.org or 708-777-1037.

A Mom and Daughter Talk about Her Sudbury Experience

Check out this discussion between a mom and daughter about her experience with Sudbury education. The daughter started at Tallgrass at age 4--here she is reflecting on her experiences at around age 9. 

Great quotes:

"I remember going to open house [at another school's kindergarten] and seeing all these owls that looked exactly the same."

"Math can be important for your future, it can be really important. But if you *force* kids to learn it every day, they're going to forget it."

Putting Kids in Charge of the Rules

 

Sometimes people assume that schools like ours don’t have any rules. We do--currently, 28 pages of them! You won’t find a dress code or any rules about asking permission to go to the bathroom. You will find detailed explanations of how school meeting is run and how chores work. All the rules are voted on by the community as a whole, including the students.

Of course, not everyone follows the rules all the time. When someone breaks a rule, they might get “written up.” Anyone in the school can write up another person. Staff can get written up, too!

These complaints then go to judicial committee, or JC. JC is basically a simplified version of a court system. The committee consists of two student JC clerks, who run the meeting; four other students, who take turns serving on the “jury”; and one staff member. They meet on any day that there are complaints, which usually means a few times per week.

During JC, we look at complaints and handle them according to a process that we’ve all agreed on as fair. We talk to anyone involved in the complaint and question witnesses. We vote on whether to “sentence” the person and what the sentence should be, and the person has a chance to plead guilty or not guilty.

Complaints can range from the mundane (“Elizabeth left her lunch out”) to the serious (“Paul hit me.”) Sometimes newer students are scared of JC or lie to the jury. But after they’ve seen that people are treated fairly, and especially after their first turn on the jury, they start to tell the truth and let go of ideas like “So-and-so ratted me out.”  

If JC thinks that a case requires a suspension, or if the person pleads “not guilty” for something JC thinks they did, the case can get referred to school meeting. There, everyone can state their case and we all vote on the result.

Often, the threat of writing someone up is enough to get that person to stop doing whatever they’re doing. JC takes time out of everyone’s day, so people don’t want to resort to it unless they have to. An alternative to writing someone up is to use mediation to work out things like interpersonal conflicts, either with one of the school’s trained mediators or informally, by asking staff or another student for advice.

Sometimes kids will ask, “Why do we have to have JC?” We don’t have to have it--but JC is the fairest way Sudbury schools have figured out to enforce rules. The details are open to change and debate, and someday, someone may come to school meeting with something better. While no justice system is perfect, JC helps students understand why the process is necessary by being a part of it themselves.

Meet Morgan

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Morgan attended Tallgrass for 5 years. Here's his story. 

Current age and occupation: 21, college student

Before Tallgrass: Morgan unschooled before attending Tallgrass. He never went to a conventional K-12 school. 

What are you doing now?
I’m in the nursing program at Joliet Junior College. I just finished my first semester. Prior to that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think in a way that was really good for me, because I got to search for what I was interested in. I was a martial arts coach for a very long time. I still coach that, and a variety of other things. Having the opportunity to really be open with my time, I was able to discover what I liked about my job, and how I can translate that into my education and a future career.

How did you spend your time at Tallgrass?
I hung out with my friends all day, every day, and played video games.  I maybe did a total of 6 hours of academics throughout the time I was here.

I was school meeting chair for a year, and that assisted me in taking initiative, but also in being more open to listening to what people had to say. As the school meeting chair, your job is to manage the meeting, to make sure that each person gets their own opportunity to talk, that they are able to talk about their opinions without being interrupted. There’s this unspoken rule that you don’t want to provide that much. You don’t want to be taking up all the dialogue within the meeting, so you have to be better at listening and managing time and being more concise.

A lot of the school meetings were really enjoyable. I found it incredible the way that everyone works together to solve different problems within the school and make changes. 

Were you planning to go to college while at Tallgrass?
When I thought about it, I was terrified to move to college. I had no idea what it was like, and I had heard from friends what school was like.

How did you get into college?
I ended up starting at Joliet Junior College. I was taking classes, but I focused too much on friends initially, and ended up stopping for a little bit. I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I got into nursing because I've been a martial arts coach since age 12. Currently, I teach gymnastics, parkour, free-running, and martial arts. I've been working with people for so long, and it's something I love to do. I translated that into nursing, where you're working with people a lot, and you're really helping them.

How did your Tallgrass education affect you once you started college?
A lot of my basic courses focused on critical thinking. At a Sudbury school, there’s no getting away from situations like there is in public school. When something happens in a public school, it’s some higher up, some adult, that just tells you what’s going happen, and that’s what happens, and when you’re in such a big school, too, you may not even see that person again. All those issues just go away and you don’t really see the repercussions.

In this kind of school, you’re part of the decision making of what’s going to happen to the other person, and you know that you’re going to see that person every single day, so you have to be a little more fair. You don’t want to do something unreasonable to them because you know it could happen to you too. I think that a lot of my problem-solving skills initiated from Tallgrass. Having that critical thinking from my Sudbury education made a lot of the other content easier to understand, I always knew which questions I needed to ask and what information I needed to further my progress through school.

Another thing is time management. When you have so much free time and it shrinks all of a sudden, you realize quickly that you need to order things in a way that’s going to benefit you the most. You learn to allocate time properly to manage your schedule in the way that you need.

I’m also able to work with all ages. A lot of my friends growing up had no idea how to talk with adults, and now that I’m older, a lot of people don’t know how to talk with kids. That’s one thing that I've never had a problem with, because I've always been around such a large range of ages.

Would you send your child to a Sudbury school?
While I was a student, I thought I was going to send my kid to public school, because I was so nervous about what I was going to do with my life, and I didn’t entirely see the benefits. There were a lot of things that I loved about the school, but I didn’t really know. Now that I’m in college and I’m a little older than I was when I was here and I’ve learned a lot of different things, there’s no way I wouldn’t send my kid to a Sudbury school. I’ve realized how invaluable this education is. I couldn’t possibly see myself sending my kids to public school. The only way is if they really wanted to, then I would absolutely send them to public school. Otherwise, there’s so much value to this system of education, and I don’t think you really get it anywhere else.

Hear more from Morgan and from other Tallgrass alumni in our alumni panel discussion video

Ready to take the next step towards enrollment? Email us or call us at 708.777.1037 to schedule a tour for you and your child. 

What About Bullying?

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One of the first rules in our lawbook is “No one may knowingly infringe on the right of any person to exist peaceably at the school, free of physical or verbal harassment.” Basically, this means if someone asks you to stop doing something, you need to stop.

When this rule is broken, we take it seriously. Everyone understands that bullying and harassment are destructive to our community. No kid wants to go to a school where they have to worry about being attacked.

If someone breaks this rule more than once, they will often be suspended by school meeting, with a strong warning that continuing this kind of behavior may lead to an indefinite suspension. “Indefinite suspension” means a student can’t come back to school until they can explain to the community how they have changed.

Our school has never had to indefinitely expel someone for bullying. Once or twice we’ve had a younger child who still hits people instead of talking--in which case we say, “Let’s try again next year.” I have never seen an older student seriously hit someone. In six years at Tallgrass, I have also never seen someone be made fun of for looking different, for their interests, or for an unchangeable characteristic like race or sexual orientation. Even new kids who are healing from previous bad school experiences don’t do that kind of teasing.

People do get left out sometimes. If they’re left out in a way that seems intentionally hurtful, it might go to judicial committee (which you’ll learn more about in the next email). An ongoing personal conflict might be dealt with through mediation. Other students and staff can end up informally mediating when friends argue or when a group is having trouble getting along.

Why does Tallgrass work so well to prevent bullying? Bullying is a natural response of children who feel powerless in some other part of their lives. It’s not hard to see how this plays out in mainstream education: teachers and other staff tell students what to do and when to do it, even if when they don’t want to. Some kids, especially those with emotional problems in other parts of their lives, react by finding ways to create their own power in whatever way they can. But when kids are given real power, they don’t need to resort to bullying.