Fifteen-year-old Diana Morales-Manley struggled with reading when she was a young child. Instead of lowering her grades or holding her back, the Albany Free School let her pursue a budding fascination with photography. “Even though I wasn’t good at reading, I enjoyed looking at photos in books,” she says. She improved her reading by sounding out words in photo captions and looking for context clues in the images.
In seventh grade, she got a first-hand lesson on Hurricane Katrina when she traveled to New Orleans (shown above) and photographed people struggling to rebuild and help one another. The following year, Morales-Manley used her camera to document a class trip to Puerto Rico that included Deirdre Kelly, the Free School cook pictured on our cover, and studied Spanish and politics with locals who were immersed in a campaign to stop the U.S. military from testing bombs on Vieques Island.
The schools believe kids learn what they need if given time, space, and access to mentors. They might strengthen language skills by staging a play, or get a social studies lesson by apprenticing with an attorney. Or they might organize a regular history class, with exams and homework. Above all, kids learn “how to be in control of their lives and solve their own problems,” says Free School teacher Bhawin Suchak.
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