Democracy is Our Way of Life
Children are born curious. From birth, they reach out to the world around them – learning and making connections. When they grow up in a democratic school where they have the freedom to follow their natural tendencies to explore and interact, children flourish. The Highland School is designed to enable children’s growth in a democratic social environment where their individual rights are protected.
Highland is a democratic international boarding and day school founded in 1981. Like Summerhill School in England, Highland cherishes each child’s right to have a free and unique childhood. We operate using democratic processes and structures similar to Sudbury Valley School. The Highland School is a democracy which values the critical contributions of individuals making up the community. Learning occurs through daily social interactions and self-directed experiences. Self-directed play is an essential part of daily life at school. Students’ freely created play is unstructured by adult staff. Children develop personal responsibility through the process of making their own choices and experiencing the consequences of their actions.
Students’ individual rights are fundamental at The Highland School. These rights are described and protected by our School Constitution. By valuing individual rights and the democratic process, the community at Highland creates a safe place for all school members. All children - no matter their size, economic status, or racial background - have the same rights as other children and adults.
Students determine what they will learn and how they will spend their time. Staff members are available to provide support or help with resources if needed. Examples of student created activities may include playing outdoors, preparing for a drivers test, reading a book, exploring a nature trail with friends, discussing current events, computer gaming, or joining local community theater groups. School members organize voluntary meetings to plan a wide range of group activities. Special interest groups, such as library club, science club, or trip and travel club plan trips to nearby cities and distant destinations.
Each school member, students and staff, has a vote in the school’s decision-making process. Proposed rules, events, community issues, activities, finances, personal projects, and field trips are discussed and voted upon at General School Meetings. At The Highland School, students have the rare opportunity to face real life problems, create solutions, share their ideas with other children and adults alike, and see what happens when their decisions are applied every day. Students learn to be responsible community members through having equal voices in making complicated choices.
Racist behavior, sexist practices, and bullying are undemocratic and unacceptable at Highland. Instances of prejudice in social interactions are dealt with through the judicial system, mediation, and experience living with a variety of human beings from different backgrounds.
Children put their best efforts into their freely chosen, self-directed activities. They may spend days, weeks, or months, acquiring a skill. Children have the opportunity to play from the time they enter at 4 years old until they complete school in their late teens. Students can spend time alone, play with others, explore the natural environment, join in group projects, participate in apprenticeships and take community college courses in later years, and learn about the democratic process at any age.
Age mixing enriches the lives of both older and younger students. Children learn easily from the experiences of others. Building friendships, sharing ideas, debating beliefs, or asking questions is a big part of daily life. Because we are a small school, children have the opportunity to serve as leaders in a variety of special interest groups and school committees. Students who were initially very shy have become leaders of the General School Meeting or smaller interest based groups.
Overall, life at Highland School involves individual growth, interactions with others, thoughtful decision making, and communication with fellow school members. Each day is different, but opportunities for play, skill development, and decision making abound. Highland graduates are able to transition into independent adult life through their experiences with making free choices, self- directed learning, equal social interactions, and democratic process.
Meet Our Staff
Noël has been a staff member since 2004. She is a 1998 graduate of The Highland School. While at Highland as a student she held many offices including, GSM Chairperson, Judge Clerk, Tuition Clerk, and GSM Treasurer. Noël earned her Regents B.A. from West Virginia University (WVU) in 2004 with an emphasis in psychology. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology at WVU. Noël has represented the school at numerous conferences, including the Sudbury Model Conference.
Noël has many varied interests, including sports, music, movies, reading, knitting, and conservation club. She is a married mother of two and enjoys spending her down time on family adventures.
Charlotte"Candy" Landvoigt, Ed.D.
Candy’s interest in democratic schooling was sparked by reading A.S. Neill’s Summerhill in 1967. She co-founded The Highland School in 1981 and learned about Sudbury Valley School in 1983. Doing play therapy with children for 15 years and teaching public school teachers for West Virginia University are two of the professional activities Candy practiced over her career. She also participated in many education conferences as well as serving on staff at The Highland School.
Recently, Candy published Crying Under The Apple Tree: Children, Freedom, and Praxis in Democratic Schools, a book about why we do what we do in democratic education. The book also illustrates examples of life at The Highland School over almost 40 years. Candy is deeply committed to respectful relationships with children.