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Education: Doing it Their Way

Education: Doing it Their Way

With small class sizes and individualized learning, the Trilogy School of Learning Alternatives prepares students to be successful in the real world.

In 1993, something special happened in Gainesville. A small group of lifelong educators decided to use their collective knowledge and experience, plus a lot of common sense, to develop a creative education alternative. Quinn Wiggins, his wife Terry and their friend Linda Lassiter created Trilogy School. They knew every child was different and deserved a learning environment that was flexible enough to better meet their needs. They believed that meaningful education occurs when teaching is based on instilling a passion for learning and is reinforced with mutually respectful relationships.

Confronted with parents wanting something different for their children, Quinn, Terry and Linda imagined small classes with creative teachers who were free to direct their students in the ways that best enabled them to learn and enjoy learning. What if children woke up every day excited about going to school? What if school was a real community that developed relationships based on the Golden Rule, where bullying, teasing and social cruelty were unacceptable? What if school was a place where parents could really be involved, and where students were truly empowered? It was with these ideals in mind that the Trilogy School of Learning Alternatives was born.

And then the parents started coming.

“My son hates going to school, and I don’t know how to help him.” “My daughter is really strong in math, but she can’t move ahead of her class.” “My 6-year-old is restless and squirmy in class. He has a hard time sitting still all day, and only gets 20 minutes for recess.” “My child is being bullied, and I don’t know how to stop it.” “My son has a hard time taking notes, but he knows the material. Why is he failing?”

Teachers have a tough job, and large class sizes make it difficult for them to tailor education for individual students.

At Trilogy, they have steadfastly refused to become accredited, specifically to avoid being bound by the mandates that make it impossible for public schools to offer each student a flexible education built around his or her strengths and individual needs, while still giving them a way to reach their goals. The Trilogy alternative is based on using teachers with training and degrees in the fields they teach, constantly developing innovative techniques and the flexibility to respond to the changing needs of students. Trilogy’s openness to change allows its curriculum and methods to remain relevant to the demands of the world in which we live and to the passions of the students they currently teach.

On any given day at Trilogy, you might walk into the main building and find Quinn surrounded by middle and high school students, patiently answering their questions and suggesting how a student might tailor an assignment. The goal is to find a way he or she can learn in a manner that’s interesting, but still accomplishes the objective of the lesson— perhaps by making a video in which the student plays the part of the historical figure, or by writing a brief biography. You love technology? Create a slideshow or video presentation that incorporates the lesson. To Quinn, that’s the point: at the end of the day, he wants his students to learn what he’s teaching. Why should they all have to do it exactly the same way? Some students struggle with writing, but possess an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. Why not allow them to show understanding by using a different method?

In her math classes, Linda offers her typical calm, good-natured encouragement, helping each student – one by one – as they work on their lessons. If one is struggling with the lesson, she’s right there. If others are charging ahead, she praises them and lets them keep going. No one will be held back, because everyone isn’t in the same place.  Likewise, no one will be left behind because the rest of the class must move forward.

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The elementary building is a dynamic hive of activity led by Terry and Pam. As teachers, they are boisterous, devoted, affectionate and creative. The classroom is always busy, and the children have countless opportunities to learn by touching, creating, talking, asking, reading and exploring.

Trilogy is not fancy. In fact, it’s the least expensive private school in the area, and deliberately so. Quinn, Terry and Linda didn’t want a school that only the wealthy could afford; they wanted this education to be accessible to everyone. Trilogy is a wonderful community of people from all walks of life: blue collar families, single parents, college professors, area professionals and small business owners. It’s this diversity that gives Trilogy its vibrancy.

Parents are at Trilogy every day. Extended family members are considered an indispensible resource, and often participate in students’ education. One student’s grandfather, a Native American, has helped the children plant a community garden, sharing generations of knowledge about soil integrity, seasonal planting and sustainability. Another parent volunteered to teach drama, introducing students to all the aspects of this performing art. Other parents have allowed high schoolers to shadow them at work so they can learn about areas of particular interest to them, including trades, the sciences, office work, healthcare and technology. Parents volunteer in many capacities at Trilogy, reinforcing their philosophy of a meaningful, community-based education.

Trilogy sits on almost seven acres of rolling property, located on NW 23rd Avenue.  There are only 100 students, elementary through high school. Class size averages fewer than 15 students per teacher. By limiting enrollment, Trilogy is able to create the community and relationships that make it uniquely successful. At Trilogy, the goal is for the student to always learn, succeed and be prepared for whatever life will bring them. They call it “Education for Life.”

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