“Our lives run parallel to our pages”

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Writer Megan Stielstra, sitting on table in center, with Essayistic students on Friday.

Megan Stielstra, an essayist who is an Artist-in-Residence at Northwestern University’s Department of English, visited the Essaysist class on Friday to share her advice on writing, read from one of her many essays, and engage students in a conversation on how writing their experiences and thoughts helps them engage with their world. See more at the Justice Project Blog!


Truth and Justice

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Teen Learning Lab students learn to handle the truth.

Last week Mock Trial students learned different ways to question witnesses. While some of these tactics may seem hard-nosed, the ultimate goal for lawyers on both sides is to find the truth of what happened so that justice can be served. And because witnesses can have their own agendas and be reluctant to admit to the truth of what happened, lawyers need to be able to dig out the truth. See the Justice Blog for photos of the Prosecution and Defense teams meeting, as well as more about the Mock Trial class.

Resilience and Snow

I’m a strong advocate of homeschooling, and have been doing it since 2005. But I’d be

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Snowflake, photographed by Wilson Bentley, one of 5,000 unique photographs he took between 1885 and 1931. Photo from Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

among the first to admit that there are downsides to homeschooling. A big one: It is far too easy to surround ourselves with other families who think like we do. It is comforting to do this, of course, because homeschooling can be grueling and we need to draw support where we can. However, the downside is that our children do not get used to being around other people who have different beliefs or opinions. The Urban Dictionary has an interesting listing of definitions of the term ‘snowflake,’ referring to a highly sensitive person who is easily offended, in the latest iteration. Of course, much of our society is very busy isolating itself from others who have different beliefs. Social media is speeding up that process.

That means that we parents need to make extra efforts to nudge our highly sensitive,  opinionated, empathetic, and verbal teens to engage in a positive way with people who do not agree with them. This is painful for some of our teens. It is hard to come to terms with others who have different beliefs. I do not mean that everyone should agree with everyone else. How boring! Instead, our teens must learn how to agree to disagree, and instead find areas of shared interest. I believe in my heart that our society’s future depends on these young people finding ways to overcome differences.

I am so proud of the teens at Teen Learning Lab who have learned embrace the challenge of learning from others who have different opinions. Those teens are truly demonstrating their intellectual curiosity and resilience. They will be successful no matter what they choose to do with their lives, because they are learning how to work with all kinds of people in creative, positive ways. Those teens are developing into resilient adults who will be able to handle anything life throws at them. Snowflakes are lovely, but to thrive in our world our teens need to be made of sterner stuff.

January is for planning

The latest rounds of snow, ice, deep freezes and thaws certainly increase motivation to start planning for a spring. Here at Teen Learning Lab, the Instructors, Board, and new Advisory Committee are working on plans for the 2018-19 school year. It is exciting to think of the possibilities that are ahead of us! I love thinking about ways to open more and more doors to our students. The high school years are full of hope and anticipation for the future– what better time for our community to develop ways for students to tap into their potential, explore new subjects, practice independence, and take control of their educations– and their own futures!  We will be announcing plans for the new program year in March, along with dates for Open Houses and Registration.

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As for the students, they are busy, busy, busy working on their projects. In Essayistic, they are finalizing their editorial board for their class ‘zine and further working on their writing; Mock Trial sees them learning how to write effective Opening Statements; and in Science & Justice they are setting up their small-group projects, as well as debating the pros and cons of genetically modified foods With all that activity, the students also work in active break times on Fridays. See the Justice Project Blog for photos of our students taking a break!


Teen Learning Lab Board Expands!

I am thrilled to announce the addition of several new Board Members to the Teen Learning Lab Board! Since October we have added Noelle McWard, Rob Repp, Brigid Dutton, Sharon Jacksack, Patty and Paul Sprenger. These phenomenal parents join Board Members Lisa Limburg-Weber and Kristin Henikoff. I am sad to announce that founding board members Lisa Stracks and Kristin Henikoff are stepping down. Lisa Stracks stepped down at the end of 2017, after after two years, to devote more time to her husband’s practice and enjoy the last semester of homeschooling her daughter. Kristin will be stepping down at the last class meeting of the Justice Project on May 4. TLL would not exist without the unrelenting work of both Lisa Stracks and Kristin Henikoff.

I am excited about the future of TLL; we have a new and larger board to take Teen Learning Lab to the next level of excellence!

Semester Two begins with planning

One of the reasons Teen Learning Lab is a unique opportunity for homeschooled teens is the long-term projects the students create in each class over the course of the school year. In the Fall Semester, students have a pretty heavy reading load so that they learn enough to conduct their projects. On Friday, the first class meeting after the Winter Break, all three classes (Essayistic, Mock Trial, and Science & Justice) used the time to focus on the end-of-year projects. See the Justice Project Blog for more details.

Standing Up

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TLL students at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Can a bystander be neutral? In the face of injustice, is doing nothing a good option? At the Illinois Holocaust Museum on Friday, Teen Learning Lab students learned that choosing to be a bystander means choosing to be complicit to injustice, that there really is no such thing as an innocent bystander.  They were challenged to stand up to injustice by making the choice to be an “upstander” and not a “bystander.”  Many thanks to Board Member Lisa Limburg-Weber for organizing this profoundly meaningful field trip.