In 1976 Nicole's grandfather Rob Simson, a high school Geography teacher, won a grant to develop and run a multi-day expedition for senior students from all across the state to Carnarvon Gorge. It was called Project Arcadia, a federally funded innovation, that involved leading 24 students from high schools across Queensland. There were three of these major expeditions: they traversed Robinson Gorge and the Expedition Range, Dawson Gorge, Consuelo Tableland & Carnarvon Gorge. Jen was one of the participants on Arcadia. Nicole grew up with stories and slides from these trips being spoken of in reverent tones. Rob was also part of the catalyst for Nicole's interest in alternative education. Sadly Rob died in July 2018, before Arcadia ALC came to fruition, but when choosing a name, what better than to honor multi-generational family passions for alternative, outdoor, experiential education.
Once upon a time (back in 2010) I (Nicole) went back to uni to do my Graduate Diploma in Education.
I did well in my theory subjects, enjoyed sociology, and curriculum studies, and graduated with honors. There was only one problem. I hated every second of both my teaching practicals. They were pure hell.
I decided I didn't want to apply for jobs straight out, i'd just do relief for a while. I was under the impression that my biggest issue was that I really needed to get my behaviour management down pat - I could practice that easily enough in relief, without the fear that i'd be stuck with an out of control class for a year or longer. I spent my time reading up on behaviour management strategies, and trying to convince myself that I just needed to be tougher - a no-nonsense teacher who disciplined every tiny infraction, and gave rewards for every tiny "positive choice", because that's how you gained control. That's what i'd been taught at official Education Qld behaviour management training after all.
By the time i'd done a year of relief i'd decided it wasn't me, and my lacking behavior management skills that were the real issues.
It was school.
Even on prac I couldn't understand why I had to bother arguing with 14 year olds to take their hats off inside when it really made no difference to their ability to learn. Who really cares and why? The understanding i'd had for uniform policies when I was a high school student myself, no longer seemed to make any real sense and suddenly I was rebelling against them, at 27, instead of 17.
Somewhere in this time there was a doco on ABC called "The Unteachables" it featured UK multi-award winning teacher Phil Beadle. Somehow he was taking these kids who had been kicked out of every school (including military school) and had them happily re-engaging with schooling. Another doco showed how a school in Sydney was using what we now call a Flexi-school model to re-engage disenchanted teens.
Then I read The One World Schoolhouse. That was when the few little snippets of exposure to self-directed learning that i'd had (mostly a news report about a grammar school in Sydney where the kids can build fires and ride go-carts, and occasional articles on John Marsden Candlebark school) started to perculotate in my mind.
I shared the book with my grandfather, thinking it would be up his alley and wanting his thoughts. My grandfather was a retired high-school principal, and whilst he'd been a very mainstream teacher his whole career, in retirement he'd become more and more interested in self-directed and alternative learning options, and quite critical of a lot of the norms of schooling, such as start times that don't account for teenage biology.
But that was about where I left it, until my son was about 1.
By that time i'd started down the rabbit hole of attachment and peaceful parenting, and was very invested in learning about child development. And I started finding myself questioning how he was going to go with school. Would I end up being the parent who's always in the office because their child won't sit still, even though sitting still isn't a developmentally appropriate expectation for 5 year olds?
I started to dream of being able to have a group of a few families with kids around the same age who could home-school together with me running most of it because I had the education degree. And the search for kindy's that were play based began.
Later I was introduced to Dream School. It was almost perfect. Run by teacher's like me who could no longer handle teaching in the system, less than 10 mins away, reasonably priced, on acerage and they'd come up with an interesting way of approaching the curriculum. The problem? The "unashamedly Christian" religious aspect.
But it reignited my desire to run some sort of home-ed group.
I started looking at models whilst putting my son's name down for the new alternative schools that were set to open soon......
Only they kept getting delayed.
In 2016, I seriously investigated opening an alternative school too. But after a year of investigation, it was clear that whilst the process was doable for groups in Townsville, Hervey Bay or the Cassowary Coast, Greater Brisbane was a different story. All due to and availability. At that time there were a good half dozen parent run groups trying to start alternative schools in Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold Coast. There was no point competing with them for nonexistent land in a game that was going to take years, probably burn me out, and still leave me with no where to send my son.
So I re-worked models. And I kept coming back to the idea of a few kids and running something from my shed. A contact who was with the HEA suggested I look at flexi-schools and Agile Learning Centers. So I did. And it fit, so here we are.