Long Beach Free School aims to encourage ‘life-long learning’ in an unconventional format

<strong>The Long Beach Free School will offer a variety of classes, including graphic design and a “youth-empowerment workshop,” in its first term, which will run from July 7 through Aug. 17.</strong>
Leonardo Poareo
Editorial intern

So many people are eager to learn, but with the much-publicized woes of the public education system in the U.S., it’s getting more and more difficult for people to satisfy their craving for knowledge.
Fortunately for them, there are now more free educational options popping up that diverge from the traditional approach, such as the massive open online courses (MOOC) and other, more community-oriented, free schools. One of these latter options in the Long Beach area is this school.
With a de-emphasis on conventional education methods such as grades and tests, the Long Beach Free School, whose first term runs from July 7 to Aug. 17, aims to strengthen the community and encourage learning for its own sake.
“We’re trying to take a really open approach, and I like to look at it more as skill-sharing and the teachers more as facilitators, so that everyone’s involved in the learning process,” said Rachael Rifkin, co-coordinator of the Long Beach Free School, at the school’s open house June 15 at the Long Beach Community Action Partnership’s Community Garden.
The idea for the school came from Eric Leocadio, founder and executive director of the Catalyst Network of Communities, a nonprofit organization that he said helps “people in groups to connect, collaborate, and share resources.” Catalyst is financially supporting the school, while the school staff and teachers volunteer and locations for classes are donated, Rifkin said.
Leocadio said he wanted the school to have some of the aspects of traditional schools, such as teachers and a registration process, but “let it be organic enough to where the subject matter came from the people.” The teachers, called “resident professors,” apply and are interviewed, find class locations on their own (the staff helps them if needed), and attend meetings for safety and other meetings that aim to help them teach better before the classes start, Leocadio said.
But the school gives teachers latitude, as Rifkin said that it doesn’t require teachers to have grades or give out tests.
“We do take more of an organic approach…because we’re concerned about learning, we’re not concerned about GPA, and so since our priority is promoting the idea of life-long learning, that means the teachers, in terms of their grading process, should be more about assessing something more personalized or individualized,” Leocadio said.
One teacher, who said he probably wouldn’t have a test, is Roger Kroll, who will be teaching a graphic-design class. Kroll, who said he’s seen the cost of his class at the Long Beach School for Adults go from $25 to $300 per session over the years, was attracted to teaching at the Free School by the idea of having “a different audience to teach to” since the classes are free. He has not yet found a location for his class.
Another teacher is only 10 years old. Jonas Corona, whose organization, Love in the Mirror, seeks to help the homeless population, said he will have a two-day “youth-empowerment workshop” that will encourage more children to volunteer. The class will take place at Love in the Mirror’s office, Corona said.
It’s with classes like these, and many more, that the Long Beach Free School hopes to achieve what Rifkin calls “open education and community building.”
“We’d love to have classes taught in every language that’s spoken here,” Rifkin said. “We want people to interact that aren’t used to interacting and to kind of take back their education and take back what it means to learn and be curious about life and enjoy yourself.”
For more information, visit lbfreeschool.com or call (562) 287-4661.

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