Alison Snieckus

After years of homeschooling, Nathaniel spent his eighth grade year in a traditional school. He adjusted quickly, but soon found himself consumed with chasing one high mark after another. Education became a race that was no longer intrinsically rewarding. The following year, Nathaniel came to PLC. Freedom from grades and a supportive community provided the conditions for Nathaniel to thrive and regain his love of learning. He enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time outside, and discovered his passions for fitness, architecture, and poetry—a subject he formerly rejected. Nathaniel was an invaluable member and a strong leader in our community.

Nathaniel graduated from Colorado State University in spring 2021 with a degree in health and exercise science.

Nathaniel shared his story at our self-directed learning celebration in spring 2015:

Nathaniel wrote this essay in Writing Workshop about his experience at PLC:

A lot of teens are unhappy in school; this is something we take for granted. Going through school is looked at as something that you just have to do. “I hate school,” is said countless times. There is an alternative to going to school. It’s not homeschooling, it’s something new. A revolution in education that is emerging from the shadows, like the sun rising. It is a bright new day, with self-directed learning. Centers are rising up all over, providing the resources for teens to walk down their own path, learn about what is important to them, and create a life for themselves.

One of these centers is known as the Princeton Learning Cooperative. PLC is a welcoming community where teens can pursue their interests, whether it is math, architecture, or pottery. The social environment is much different too. People are accepted for whom they are, and not rejected for whom they aren’t. The Princeton Learning Cooperative works so well for many people, because it gives them freedom. It is a ticket out of the “shackles of school.”

PLC helps teens do what they like in a variety of ways. Often it is simply offering a class in a subject that a teen finds interesting. “I wouldn’t have been able to take marine biology until college if it weren’t for PLC,” recalls a member. How is PLC capable of catering to so many individual interests? It operates mainly with the help of volunteers. If there is an interest in a class, PLC will go out and find someone to volunteer and teach the class. Also, PLC lets teens manage their own time. One member said, “I was able to build a computer, something I never would have done in school.” PLC gave him the time and the tools to do what was important to him.

In a social aspect, PLC is also different than school. At a mere 28 student members and 4 staff members, everyone knows everyone. When you walk in, whether it’s your first time visiting, or you’ve been going for years, you’re always greeted warmly. A longtime member recalls how the first day he was visiting he was taken out to lunch by some student members, who explained how wonderful PLC is and how well it worked for them. No one judges you for who you are. No matter if you enjoy reading, sports, computer games, acting, etc. it is acceptable.

Why does this type of personalized learning environment work? It is based off of the psychology that people learn best when they are enjoying it, when they are learning something of interest to them. For example, do you ever hear people complaining about how they have to learn a new card game, or how to ride a bike? Generally you don’t hear people complaining about that. This is because they enjoy those things, they want to be doing those activities. The same holds true for members of PLC. When they’re taking classes they want to be taking, they’re enjoying them, really learning from them. Do you still remember how to ride a bike? Do you still remember your favorite card game? You probably do, because you enjoyed learning it. But you probably won’t remember some obscure fact you memorized for a test, which you didn’t want to take. It’s simple, if you love what you’re learning, you learn so much more!

Princeton Learning Cooperative’s different stance on education helps teens succeed, by giving them freedom and the resources to pursue what they like. Teens may be unhappy in school, but PLC can turn that around. When there is much less stress, limited boundaries telling teens yes or no, they can accomplish amazing things!

–Nathaniel, 2014