Learning in their Native Environment

Sam Jones

The students pose in front of A Living Walls mural near the Trinity Triangle.
The students pose in front of A Living Walls mural near the Trinity Triangle.

No school on Fridays, personalized lesson plans, and the ability to work one-on-one with a teacher is the norm for The Learning Tribe, an alternative to the traditional class setting.

For Ben Kinzer, who attended Decatur his freshman year, a new kind of educational environment is precisely what he wanted.

“I’m kind of more of an independent person, and I really appreciate when I’m allowed to be independent,” he said.

Kinzer didn’t feel fulfilled by Decatur’s class structure, but now he enjoys a new classroom composition of discussion-based learning. Since the Tribe is centered around the individual interests of students, Kinzer enjoys the control he has over his own learning experience.

With a “person-centric” environment comes a smaller classroom size, which allows him to “actually learn stuff,” in comparison to Decatur.

Kinzer’s friends supported his desire to change schools, but after explaining the new experience to his friends, they felt “pretty jealous.”

MJ Randleman and Sharon Annan, former Academe of the Oaks teachers, decided to found The Learning Tribe after some of their students asked if Randlemand and Annan would teach them individually.

The teachers took the idea in stride and began a community based around Camille Annan and Ben Sadler, the original students. The school grew through word of mouth quickly.

Jacob Miller joined the next year. From that point, around 20 new students joined into the organically-developed learning experiment.

Students were drawn to the school by their shared love of learning.“

 We get to focus what we’re teaching on the interests that the students already have,”

— Randleman

” Randleman said.

The community doesn’t stay in one place. Field trips are common for The Learning Tribe. They often venture to art studios and museums for lessons.

Randleman loves incorporating student’s uniqueness into the classroom by changing up locations and the general monotony of school.

The benefits of the small community attract students that are ready for a change.

Junior Gibby Ruby transferred to The Learning Tribe this year  after dealing with obstacles at Decatur City Schools since middle school.

“I had a couple feuds with a couple teachers [at Decatur], and I when I tried to bring it up with the administration, they were … [unhelpful] about it,” Ruby said.

Now he enjoys a new kind of relationship with his teachers and, besides the school name, has no complaints.

“I have two teachers, and we’re on very good terms,” Ruby said. “[There’s] an actual friendship, not such a large gap between teacher and student.”

Teachers’ respect is a relatively new experience for him, so he appreciates his new relationships.

“It’s more of a friend-colleague kind of thing where you help each other learn,” he said.

Despite Ruby’s troubles, Randleman felt comfortable sending her two daughters to Decatur.

“If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have my kids there. If there was a problem, I know there are other options,” she said.

According to Randleman, there’s no perfect learning environment. Good teachers that strive to find the intrinsic love of learning within a student create a strong education.

Teachers aren’t the only ones cultivating the learning – the tight-knit social element allows students to learn from each other. The small number of students creates a focus and motivation on learning that changes the communal atmosphere.

“I get to hang out with a more mature crowd than the general high school setting,” Ruby said.

Students largely control the direction of their learning.
Students largely control the direction of their learning.

But the energetic and small-scale learning community creates its own challenges for students. Students are held accountable for their learning and rely on their own drive to complete work.

“Because you are given more freedom and opportunities like that, more responsibility is put on you,” Kinzer said.

The independence and freedom – an integral part of the school’s mission – create a high school experience without a social ladder.

Despite teacher relationships and curriculum perks, there’s no shortage of schoolwork.

“The whole point of the school is to make it so schoolwork isn’t something you have to suffer through,” Kinzer said.

Looking towards the future, the Tribe doesn’t know how it will grow, but Randleman describes it as an organic process.

The Tribe’s biggest problem, as of right now, is finding a new name.

“Please don’t talk about that. We’re changing it,” Ruby said.

A parent named The Learning Tribe after its mobile philosophy and recurring field trips.

The community is brainstorming new names that fit the unique atmosphere but are simultaneously recognizable and original.

Even the government has a hard time classifying the anomalous educational community. Currently their school is classified as homeschooling by the government.

“We’re not homeschoolers, as in the parents don’t teach their kids, but there’s really no other name for us,” Randleman said.

Ruby hopes a new name reflects the uniqueness of the school itself.

“I want it to be The Tupac Shakur [School for] Troubled Inner-city Atlanta Kids.”