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School Gets Praise From Students?

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"We need something like Solstis to stay sane," remarked 'a Hurón High School student. Jesse Kleinman, a 17-year-old youth who finished his junior year at Pioneer High School in June, agreed: "Ifs the only school I've ever gone out of my way to goto." What is this school which gets such lavish praise from its pupils at a time when so many schools are denounced as irrelevant? Solstis School, headquartered in an old house, at 706 Oakland, 's an experimental summer project begun in June by a group of Ann Arbor secondary students, teachers and University of Michigan students who were dissatisfied with usual approaches to education. The founders of Solstis say it is "an attempt to créate a humanistic and dynamic learning experience for junior and senior high school students of the greater Ann Arbor area." Judging from the fervent endorsements of the school by its students, it appears that Solstis - one of the many "free schools" cropping up these days across the country and locally - has met that particular goal. Many of thé Solstis students interviewed recently by The News freely used the word "great" to describe the project. "We really look forward to coming to. classes here - we don't dread it," commented 15-yearold Sally Gustafson, a Hurón High student. At Solstis, which closes for the summer Aug. 21 but hopes to start up again in some form this f all, about 75 students take classes taught by about 70 teachers - most U-M gradúate students or local public school teachers. Was there any problem onding teachers for the summer project? Not at all, as the pupilteacher indicates. "They came swarming in," according to one staff member. More than 40 courses have been taught this summer. Many are traditional, such as French, history, botany, creative writing and music appreciation. Others, such as guitar, transcendental meditation, karate, yoga, barbering, women's liberation, rock music, Dutch and Chinese, are certainly not so traditional. Some "classes have had as many as 25 students. Others have just one. Interest in the school is high, according to one of the students, because "nothing is forced on you." The teachers do not have tol be cèrfified to teach. Ttiey need only have some type of interest or skill which other people want to learn about. A relaxed learning environment, where teachers are called by their first ñames, flexible structure and student participation in curriculum planning are the hallmarks of Solstis. Some of the classes are held at the small Oakland house, with the students oftea clustered on the floor, "rapping" with the teacher. Others are held on the lawn outside or at other locations. ("We have a space problem," explained Ro Lee, a U-M junior who is one of three full-time staf f members at Solstis.) There are no desks, no bells. The students help plan the classes themselves, and seem to appreciate this as one of the most important freedoms at Solstis. "Schools are for kids, after all," one of the students remarked. Added Holly Eliot, 15, "We have a say in what we want to learn. I think that's the only way kids really learn." The class structure is flexible, depending on student and teach-J er wishes. Hurón High Principal I Paul K. Meyers criticized the structure aspect of free schools i when asked to comment onj them: "Over the long haul, I you've got to have structure. I For a while you can 'do 'yourl Jown thing' and make it fairlyl interesting. But interest lapsesl when there is no structure andl no requirements." The Solstis students have anl answer for this, however. Theyl emphasize they are not opposedl to structure, per se. "It's justl that we help plan that struc-l ture," one boy explained. Pioneer High School Principall Theodore R. Rokicki said he isl "in favor" of experimentall schools and "trying out new ed-l ucationál ideas and theories. Butl in a large operation like ours,l it's difficult." Rokicki also argües that "kids do need and appreciate somel worthwhile structure." Ideally, Rokicki says he would favor a combination of independent s t u a y, regular academie courses and "mini" courses of interest to the students - a plan which would have been introdu c e d this f all under the so called "floating period" schedule at Pioneer. But the June 8 millage defeat forced Pioneer to scrap those plans. School Supt. W. Scott Westerman Jr. says money problems are one reason why more educational experimentation is n o t forthcoming. But the "major deterrent" to experimentation in the_j3ublic schools, he says, is the f eeling that such approaches I will not be sanctioned by the public: "There is an absence of sufficient agreement among the people we serve, particularly the parents, about different directions we could take." B u t Westerman is "encouraged" by experimental schools such as Solstis, saying that such schools may give us new answers to educational problems f aster than would be gotten oth- erwise. "In my view, we will have to find a means within the public school system for experi-l mentation," Westerman addedJ "The need is urgent, and wel must exercise the initiative our-l selves. We can't wait for others to do it.' In this vein, many new courses have been introduced over the past few years at Pioneer and Huron, such as creative thinking classes and est sessions" (where people from the community come and talk to students on a variety of subjects). But this pace is too slow, in the view of parents, students and teachers disenchanted with the public school system. There is no tuition at Solstis, which is open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. six days a week. The school has been funded by the University Tutorial Project, 1 rious private and foundation! donors, and by money-raising projects of the students themselves. Three U-M students work as f uil-time paid staff members - Paul Keenan, 21, a senior in the Literature, Science and Art School; Ro Lee, daughter of former Ann Arbor Board of II tion Trustee Joseph T. A. Lee'J and a 19-year-old junior majoring in political science, and Paula "Peppy" Goldstein, 20, a student in the School of Education. Ted Turkel, director of the U-M Tutorial Project, is liaison Ifor Solstis with the University. Professors Allen Menlo and Fred Goodman of the School of Edu-, catión have acted as consultants for the program. Miss Lee says that despite space, money and other problems, the Solstis people are determined to reopen this f all. "We will keep going in some form or another," she promised. Solstis supporters think the school might be especially needed this fall, with junior high students on split an,d staggered shifts and havingmore free time. Asked 'whether they'd have time to come back to Solstis this I fall, one Tappan ninth graderl answered quickly: "I'll makel time. fogtitV.' I Related picture on following page