The Rapidian

New teen learning center to open in Eastown, holds open house during Bizarre Bazaar

Open Doors, a school alternative for teens, will open on Lake Drive in July. Founder Rebecca Kirk shares the story behind Open Doors and invites the public to an open house on June 22.
Underwriting support from:

Open House for Prospective Students and Families


 

What: An open house for prospective students and families.
When: Saturday, June 22, from 9am-6pm
Where: 1324 Lake Drive, Suite 1 (across the street from Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse)

Come learn about Open Doors, meet our instructors, and take a peek at our class schedules. We'll walk you through our brand-new space and answer any questions you might have. Find more information at http://opendoorsforteens.org/.

 

/A teen voices her opinion during a recent meeting of Open Doors' teen advisory panel.

Fun with Fibers. Hip-Hop Culture.  Life Prep 101. These may not sound like your typical high school classes—but then again, what’s opening July 29 at 1324 Lake Drive is no typical high school. In fact, it’s not a school at all. It’s Open Doors: Center for Self-Directed Teens, and it’s the brainchild of Rebecca Kirk, a naturalist and former public school teacher.

"I fell in love with teaching and recognized I was a teacher as a naturalist," says Kirk. "I saw how excited kids could get when engaging [in learning]." This led Kirk to pursue a master's degree in teaching at Aquinas College and to begin a career as a public school teacher. But what she found in public schools was a far cry from her days as a naturalist: her new students, she found, were thoroughly unmotivated. After six years of teaching, Kirk discovered why. “It occurred to me that it was because [students in public schools] never get to learn what they want,” says Kirk. “They just have things shoved down their throats.”

That epiphany launched a decade of educational exploration. Kirk left her teaching job, began consulting for homeschooling families, and started researching, attending workshops, and traveling the country, looking for an alternative to traditional schools. This took her everywhere from Missouri to Minnesota to New York—but it wasn’t until a colleague introduced her to North Star, a teen learning center in Massachusetts, that something clicked.

“The thing that sold me most was that everyone there—teens, volunteers, staff—was happy,” says Kirk of her visit to North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens. Nowhere at North Star did she find the apathy she encountered in public schools. It’s little wonder: the center has no set curriculum. At the beginning of each semester, students meet with an advisor to lay out a curricular plan, choosing classes, seminars, and tutoring sessions that match the students’ interests.

After interning at North Star, Kirk decided to start a teen learning center of her own here in Grand Rapids. Open Doors is patterned after North Star and intended for middle and high school students who don’t feel engaged by traditional school settings. It’s also designed for families who are interested in homeschooling, but don’t know where to start. The Center's website characterizes it as "...a progressive, secular learning community where teens feel valued, respected, and inspired to explore and develop their own natural learning experiences.” Open Doors is not a school, the site says, but an alternative to school. 

Kirk insists that the Center is not designed specifically for "gifted" students. “[It could be] someone very bright and creative and frustrated at school and held back from what they want,” she says, “or even someone not doing well—not good at math or English, but can build anything.” She says even someone struggling for social reasons could benefit from Open Doors. “Let us help and figure out what does work.”

What about teens who are anything but self-directed? “The advisor has to be very clear that the student calls the shots,” says Kirk. “They have the right to do that.” Kirk feels confident that, with the right combination of freedom and guidance, all teens can discover their interests. “It’s also important that the advisor will encourage them to learn whatever they want to learn—even if that means something outside the center.”

On July 29, Open Doors will begin its first semester, a four-week pilot program. Students have the option of attending one to four days per week, depending on their availability and choice of classes. The Center’s current course offerings, which include everything from cooking to yoga to science, were determined by staff expertise and input from a panel of teen advisors. Membership fees are based on a sliding scale dependent on number of days attended—though the Center’s website states they have a goal of not turning anyone away for financial reasons.

Open Doors is having an open house for interested teens and their families during the Bizarre Bazaar this Saturday (June 22) from 9am to 6pm at 1324 Lake Drive, Suite 1. All are invited.

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