As a naturally self-directed learner, Luke felt his time was constricted in school with assignments and deadlines. At PLC, Luke is finally getting enough sleep and still spending plenty of time pursuing his interests and writing a self-assigned 30 page paper.

Occasionally we will have a kid like Luke join, a kid who loves to learn, is very self-motivated, and has the skills already in place to pursue his own learning without much direction. Why would a kid like that struggle in traditional school and want to leave? As you’ll see from Luke’s reflections, the highly structured assignments, deadlines and demands on Luke’s time got in the way of his progress. He had more specific projects in mind with more intent purposes, and more defined uses of his time, in general. Flexibility gave Luke the ability to flex his own abilities and grow as a student and as a person.

Luke wrote out his story for a panel discussion in spring 2023:

All throughout middle school, my grades defined me. I barely got anything less than an A or A+. I took double accelerated math and advanced courses everywhere I could, believing that academic success would make me happy. But I was still stressed and sleep-deprived: I stayed up past midnight doing homework and often got less than 4 hours of sleep each night. That’s when COVID hit, and I realized that my grades weren’t what made me happy. It was going to school and seeing my friends— it was going to martial arts class or singing in the choir— it was learning for the sake of learning.

Quarantine took away my life outside of academics, and I fell to a low that I didn’t even know existed. Now in high school, my classes weren’t much harder, but all my intrinsic motivation to do school vanished, and my good grades vanished with it. But my passion for learning never went away. That summer, I decided to take college-level online drug addiction, psychology, and public speaking courses; I continued watching history and science channels on YouTube and felt happy doing it. I wrote no essays, yet I still remember much of what I studied. Flashback to 7th grade when I took Algebra 1 two years ahead: I remember being constantly stressed and crying at my desk while doing homework alone in my room. I don’t remember what math problems I was doing, but I remember how terrible they made me feel. And for the longest time, I thought that that’s what school was: learning to tolerate the pain of hating what you do and who you are every day so you can pursue what you like as an adult. PLC allowed me to change that outlook, and now I can learn freely. It’s the first time I’ve been excited to go to school for a very long time.

Before I came to PLC, I spent most of my free time in the aforementioned limbo between productivity and lethargy— mostly the latter. Homework hung over my head constantly. I never had the motivation to do work that I saw no value in, and that prevented me from taking the initiative to explore new passions. Academic stress wasn’t something I could turn off, so engaging in school was next to impossible while I was there.

At PLC, I can apply myself to my work. The classes I take are my choice and my commitment. Instead of evaluating myself based solely on my grades, I can actively focus on my education. And as a result, I’m learning at a pace I’d never thought possible. Some of my favorite topics, like neuroscience, psychology, and anatomy, are taught by proficient volunteers who aren’t constrained by a curriculum. And it’s this flexibility of PLC that allows me to apply myself to the classes I hated in public school, like English or US History. 

In my free time, I prioritize my physical and mental well-being. Recently, I’ve begun volunteering as an assistant instructor for young classes at Gracie Barra, my Jiu-Jitsu studio. I also explore the various nature preserves around me on bike rides during the weekends. More recently, I’ve been coordinating with my old school on a report regarding the efficacy of their current drug policies. I hope to present it to the Board of Education policy committee soon.

Moving forward, I’d like to further improve my knowledge of psychology and pharmacology to prepare for a postsecondary education. I want to attend a comprehensive university that can prepare me for a career in medicine or policy advisory. Outside of academics, I seek to continue martial arts training and weightlifting to physically better myself, alongside my mental well-being.

But I also want to focus on my life right now. I’ve spent most of my time in school pushing forward at the prospect of a better life one year ahead. Public school taught me the value of my time by throwing it away. And through a new life at PLC, I’m taking it back.