The World is Calling for Semester Schools – and Alzar School Answers

Alzar School | 14.08.19

Alarmist notes regarding the state of education in the United States are, frankly, old news (cue plethora of TED Talks topics, reform organizations including Teach for America, as well as authors such as Richard Louv, David Orr and Diane Ravich.) Points of celebration certainly exist across the nation, however, discussions of standardizing, centralizing and technologizing are not met with unified enthusiasm. 

For instance, in his humorous and poignant talk, notable speaker Sir Ken Robinson claims that the system of education in the U.S. needs a revolution. He says “curiosity is the engine of achievement,” and that curiosity is stifled by overemphasis on standardized tests. Such tests are useful diagnostic tools, he argues, but it is important that they do not drive the culture of education. Rather, purpose ought to be built at the discretion of those most intimately connected to the learning process, that is – students and teachers.

Sir Robinson says that alternative schools work to this end. Many alternative schools prove successful by providing personalized educational opportunities, supportive networks for teacher development, links to the local community, access to diverse curriculum, in addition to involving students outside the classroom. This begs the question – why are such programs so far from the norm?

Most common words from analysis of Semester School descriptions.(

Enter, Semester Schools –

Chances are that parents and guardians of the incoming Alzar School student class are already familiar with the Semester Schools Network. Drawing elements from boarding schools, adventure education programs and college preparatory curriculum, the emergence of Semester Schools across the United States represents an amalgamation of educational philosophies. A primary focus, while not quite to the extent of unschooling, is the Semester School emphasis on student-centered classrooms and authentic experiential education.

By pushing students out of their comfort zones, in tandem with great teachers who mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage, Semester Schools encourage participants to lean-in and learn in ways that are personalized and inherently relevant. As Sir Robinson says, it is not command and control, but “climate control” that lends to effective education. In other words, schools succeed by “creating a climate of possibility” amid a sea of standardization. The Alzar School charge is to widen the realm of possibility by empowering students with unique backgrounds, worldviews, and personal passions to be what fuels our ever-evolving school culture and become leaders in their own communities.

2019-2020 Alzar School staff family photo.

And with that – 

Welcome, Alzar School fall semester 2019! We enthusiastically await your arrival and contributions to what makes us a special piece in this critical movement.

*Stay tuned in the coming weeks for continued updates and notes on expedition life, diversity and inclusion, secrets to success at Alzar School y claro que si, our travels through Chile.

About the author: Rachel Ackerman is a Science Teacher and a Blog Coordinator at Alzar School. Feel free to contact her at with comments, concerns, and interesting topics for future blog posts!