Sudbury schools.. I honestly wish I'd known about them sooner.
I spent two years of "high school" in one, and honestly - it was the best experience I've had in my life (until my own kiddos came
I was lucky enough to attend Sudbury Valley School in MA - the "original" - I'd heard about it through a friend from a local gaming shop (You know, Dungeons and Dragons, et c) and asked my mother if I could try it out. I had to work my entire freshman year of high school to pay the tuition for sophomore year, and if I "proved" myself to my parents, they would pay the remaining years tuition for me.
It was the best thing I ever could have done for myself.
The democratic school model is incredible - it's not so much student run as student-led - with adult mentors (teachers?) to provide a baseline. We were allowed to either work on our own or in groups on a subject that we were interested in, or be "taught" conventionally in a classroom setting - it was great.
I rarely saw self-esteem issues, or self-consciousness .. We were all comfortable just being ourselves, without being "pushed" by our fellow students to look a certain way, act a certain way, wear the "right" clothes, or be someone we weren't. We were also allowed to learn at our own pace - for some of us fast and solitary, or in groups and "slowly." By the time I left SVS, I was only missing 3 college credits for my associates degree in early european history .. In a more mainstream school I would have had a total of 3 college classes.
As for younger kids being around older kids and teens - I really think it was awesome. Being able to spend time with a 5 or 6 year old, helping them "get" what they were working on that had totally stumped them, or helping them find a way that was more interesting to learn it, was awesome
In a lot of ways I think it helped me become a better mommy once I had my own kids - when my oldest neice had moved in with us when I was in middle school, I had NO patience - I was very resentful of the time I had to spend being with her, helping with homework, tutoring, babysitting, et c.. But after time with the kids at the school, I learned patience, and felt so much more comfortable around them. My "graduation" party was the best, even if most of the people there were between 6 and 16 *lol*
My dad credits the school with helping me to become a better person - I don't believe that, though. I'm sure I was always the person I am now, but the mainstream public school culture made me so self-conscious about who I really am that I felt like I had to hide it. SVS made me comfortable in my own skin, and helped me to respect who I am, and what my beliefs are.
as it stands now, DD (6), DS (5), DS (4) all go to public schools, they wouldn't want it any other way, and that's where they're most comfortable. If they choose to switch when they're older, that's fine and dandy with me - we started them all off homeschooling. But DS (2) and DD (almost 1 OMG!) will probably remain homeschooled because of Benny's failure to thrive, and because after moving to new hampshire and seeing the current state of the public school system, I just plain don't want any more of my kids in it.