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The Village Free School

What can we take from the Village Free school that work as new-paradigm principles of learning?

The Village Free School offers many programs, practices, and great minds that we would consider to fall under Empowerment Education. This school allows students total choice in their learning and to be a part of a truly democratic environment. Many believe that this type of system seems ludicrous. However, from the research, most of the students who come from schools like this develop extremely resilient temperaments, are less stressed, more well, and are just as successful in the world as those who are in a traditional non-choice school.


The Village Free School is the best decision we have made about, not only our son’s educational needs, but his lifelong needs and future goals.  He had become so frustrated with having to fit into a box that he shut out the learning process.  Now he really wants to learn and loves going to school.  Having control of his education will ultimately allow him to have more decision making capacity for the rest of his life.

-VFS Parent

Below are some of the highlights of The Village Free School.

Learning Environment

Free School  usually refers to a school in which the students choose for themselves how to spend their time.  At the Village Free School, there are no required classes, no compulsory evaluation and no strict age separation.

The program emphasizes play and pursuing goals.  They work with each student and their family to create curriculum based on what the student thinks is important and relevant to their life.  Students and advisors collaborate on the weekly schedule and utilize the resources available in the city around us to broaden our perspective and experience.

Adults at the Village Free School are considered guides, resources, mentors and assistants.  Students, interns, and volunteers help students set goals, reflect on how they’ve spent their time, and encourage exploration, practice, and mastery of skills.  Adults engage in conversations surrounding interpersonal relationships, academic fear and shame, and the challenges unique to each individual.  Adults also respect each student’s right to say “yes” or “no,” and are committed to disengaging from arbitrary authority that diminishes the spirit of youth.

The center and cornerstone of our program is conflict resolution and restorative communication.  Students are presented with a basic template for problem solving where each voice is heard, respected, and valued.  Adult and peer mediators model compromise, reflective listening, and empathy.  Students who play an active role in resolving interactions with others gain invaluable practice in understanding the world around them and moving through it with confidence.

Democracy thrives in the Village Free School in many forms.  Students, advisors, interns and volunteers use All School Meeting to make decisions regarding daily life and to resolve conflicts facing the community as a whole.  All School Meetings can be called at any time by any member of our community, and may be facilitated by either a student or adult.

Practicing Democracy

Core Practices

A democratic school often refers to a school in which students are valued as capable decision makers and given a forum to exercise their voice and authority.  At the Village Free School, democratic process exists on a number of levels, each outlined below.

All School Meeting is arguably the most important decision making body at our school.  All School Meetings are called as needed, by a student, advisor, or intern, and attended by everyone present in the building.

All School Meeting is a forum in which community members take up challenges and problems, or make decisions regarding the daily life of the school.  Students, advisors, and interns are each given an equal vote, enabling every person affected by the outcome to have a say in how rules are formed and decisions made.  All School Meeting uses a majority voting system, with two separate votes, allowing time for the minority to voice opinions and concerns before a final decision is made.

Staff Members also use democratic process in decision making during their biweekly meetings.  While the staff regularly consult All School Meeting regarding any policies or rules that affect the student body, they also have the power to enact necessary laws and policies related to emotional and physical safety.  Staff members use a form of consensus to make decisions.

The Circle is the largest decision making body, made up of students, parents, staff, volunteers, and Council members.  Each member of the school community gets one vote on proposals such as amending the bylaws, budget recommendations, and Council nominations.  Proposals are discussed during regularly held Circle Meetings, then put on a ballot which is distributed to every Circle member in the community.  The Circle makes decisions by majority vote.

The Council is the Board of Directors made up of members elected by the Circle.  They are legally responsible for the oversight of the school’s financial and employment practices.  The Council plays an important role in staff review, fundraising, and outreach.  Internally, the Council ensures that Village Free School’s practices and policies are in line with the bylaws, mission, and core principles.  The Council makes decisions by consensus.


The Village Free School is a private, independent, non-profit school in Portland, Oregon. We operate democratically and provide traditional academics alongside holistic, informal character building for children ages 5 to 18.

Statement of Non-discrimination

The Village Free School admits students of any race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. This public benefit corporation does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs, employment policies, election of officers, membership, or election to the Council.

Summarization Written by Mark Stamper MBA, ACC


Reflections from Mark Stamper

This school reflects an empowered school. However, in looking at their learning environment, which says that there are no required classes, no compulsory evaluation and no strict age separation, one might question that. You have to look deeper at their school construct. When you do, then you see a context that supports this empowered school. For example, although their mission says that they operate democratically with holistic character building, they also provide traditional academics. They provide a balanced curriculum. Again, their learning environment says that students choose for themselves how to spend their time, but they work with the student and their family to create curriculum based on what the student thinks is important and relevant to their life.

Students and advisors collaborate. Adults are considered guides, resources, mentors and assistants. As a coach, I believe this goes to the crux of how one is empowered. They already have answers within them, and just need a support structure that does help guide, but doesn’t control. Risky and counter-cultural, but needed if students are to thrive, and then to lead others in how to follow their footsteps. Democracy is a core practice of this school, and perhaps the most important tenet of anything they do is how they practice their democracy.

Students are given an equal vote, and therefore they are part of affecting the outcome. Students are given a voice! And this voice is not at the expense of the emotional or physical safety of any other student, or staff person. To reinforce the key point, having a voice and being able to express that voice is one of the most empowering things an individual can experience. That underlies wellness and wellbeing, and I believe a factor in leading away from chronic disease, bullying and depression/quitting, where a muffled voice comes out in destructive ways such as these.