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Not home, not alone

Diana Kapp | March 27, 2012 | Lifestyle Story City Life News and Features


WHAT IT IS: A rigorous but creative math and science program in Berkeley and Mountain View offering an intriguing array of courses for K–10.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Two science teachers in their 30s, Ryan Nurmela and Michael Finnegan, who met at a now-defunct charter school in Oakland.

WHY THE EXCITEMENT: Nurmela and Finnegan offer passionate and ambitious instruction, three-hour classes that delve deep, other kids who love geeking out just as much as yours does—and no grades.

REALITY CHECK: Plans for a full-time school, based on the dynamic duo’s trademarked teaching concepts, are in the works. But how scalable is their enthusiasm?

GETTING IN: Classes aren’t tied to any grade level, but many do have prerequisites. Most courses are geared to high-end homeschoolers, but there are a few evening and summer options for kids who have to spend their days in a regular school.; $600–700/quarter-length course


WHAT IT IS: A Livermore-based nonprofit co-op that offers “independent study support”—on- and offline lectures and discussions, workshops, study sessions—for homeschooled students grades 6–12.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Marketing pro Karen Roddy, who wanted more organized options to fill in the gaps in the homeschooling of her three tween/teen daughters.

WHY THE EXCITEMENT: It provides some of the key advantages of a classroom experience while letting parents maintain complete control over the actual curriculum (including Shakespeare, philosophy, and writing). The literature discussion group, which meets online for two hours every two weeks, attracts students from as far away as Australia and China.

REALITY CHECK: Co-ops evolve depending on the mix of kids and parents; Roddy’s still the point person, but she’s less involved now that her girls are older.

GETTING IN: Although the curriculum is geared toward homeschoolers, other students are welcome. register at; cost varies


WHAT IT IS: The largest nonprofit industrial arts education facility in the U.S.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Sculptor Michael Sturtz and friends set up shop in downtown Oakland in 1999, teaching classes in metalworking and stone carving; more recently, the program has expanded to include immersion intensives (five days a week, 7 to 12 hours a day, focused on just one concept or skill).

WHY THE EXCITEMENT: With shop classes now almost nonexistent in private as well as public schools, the Crucible fills an important niche: teaching kids who learn best by taking things apart and welding them back together again.

REALITY CHECK: For what is essentially a highbrow version of your old high school shop class, you’ll pay through the nose—a kids’ immersion class starts at $675 a week.

GETTING IN: Kids and adults are equally welcome; wait lists for summer programs only. 1260 7th St., Oakland;; membership fee $75


WHAT IT IS: An organization for both kids and adults, focused on “epic quests” and “ancient arts,” that promotes learning about the outdoors and applying those skills to everyday life.

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Founded by a married pair of outdoor educators in Portland in 2004, Trackers recently opened a Bay Area branch under the directorship of Berkeley-based Jess Liotta.

WHY THE EXCITEMENT: For kids who spend their recesses in the schoolyard (or backyard), the varied programs—scheduled during the day, after school, on weekends, and during vacation breaks—offer the chance to get a little wild. But there’s plenty of structure, too, with participants organized into “guilds” (Rangers, Mariners, Artisans) that emphasize different skill sets and ways of tending to the earth.

REALITY CHECK: The New Age-y vibe won’t suit every-one. Consider this quote from the website: “The Remembering is here. There was a time you forgot who you were, how it feels to release an arrow, the music of the bowstring resonating, the route of your blood, the path of those who came before.”

GETTING IN: Open registration based on availability; some teen programs require applications and interviews.; cost varies


WHAT IT IS: A Menlo Park nonprofit that offers homeschoolers and others everything from sports training to creative arts, nature immersion programs, and “student services” (supervised opportunities to rack up community-service brownie points).

WHO'S BEHIND IT: Gary Riekes, who started offering music and fitness programs for kids out of his home in the 1980s and opened the center in 1996. As custom schooling has exploded, the center’s popularity has soared.

WHY THE EXCITEMENT: The emphasis on athletic and outdoor programs (including Wild Skills and surf camps) means that kids’ fitness needs get just as much attention as their academic ones.

REALITY CHECK: Some home-school programs run upward of $2,000 per session.

GETTING IN: An application is required, and popular programs have wait lists. Non-homeschoolers are welcome at all classes and camps. 3455 Edison Way, Menlo Park;; cost varies.

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