Canton Learning Collaborative

An Alternative to Middle School and High School

Empowering teenagers to learn at their own pace and in their own way. 

At Canton Learning Collaborative (CLC), we empower young people ages 12 to 18 who are seeking an alternative to traditional middle and high school. We believe there's no one-size-fits-all approach to learning.

Why Choose CLC?

CLC is not a school, but a unique blend that offers the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling combined with the resources and support you might find in a more traditional setting. We don't issue grades, credits, or diplomas. Our focus is on helping you become the best version of yourself. 

Mentorship and Guidance

Our experienced staff members and volunteer mentors provide academic support, help with development of personalized learning plans, and general navigation of the self-directed learning process. Each teen member at CLC has an advisory relationship with a member of our core staff. This relationship is central to the CLC experience. 

Learning Resources

CLC Members enjoy access to a wide range of materials including an ever-expanding library of books and curriculum materials, online resources, makerspace, and multimedia tools.

Flexible and Collaborative Learning Environment

We maintain a physical space in downtown Canton, IL, open four days a week, for teens to work independently and collaborate with peers and mentors on projects, discussions, and group learning activities. Classes are developed representing the interests and passions of our members, core staff, and volunteers. Most classes have fewer than 10 students.

Social Interaction and Community

We regularly schedule events, workshops, and field trips that provide opportunities for teens to connect with like-minded peers and build a sense of community. Weekly Circle Meetings provide our community with time to discuss our learning experiences, make community decisions, and resolve conflicts. These meetings emphasize democratic principles and promote a sense of equality, empowering teens to take ownership of their educational community and develop essential communication and leadership skills.

Connection to the Greater Community

CLC provides teens with support to find volunteer work, jobs, internships and other learning opportunities with community-based programs outside of CLC, helping them gain valuable and unique experience in their areas of interest.

The 7 Principles that Inform our Work at CLC*

*used with permission from North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens of Sunderland, Ma

Young People Want to Learn

Human beings are learning creatures. We don’t have to persuade babies to be curious and to seek competence and understanding. The same can be true of teenagers. Rather than trying to motivate teenagers, we support their basic human drive to learn and grow. Where obstacles—internal or external—have gotten in the way of this intrinsic drive, we focus on helping teenagers overcome or remove these obstacles.

Learning Happens Everywhere

Conventional wisdom says that children “go to school to learn,” as though learning can only occur in places specially designed for that purpose. We believe that people learn all the time and in all kinds of places. It doesn’t have to look like school or feel like school to be valuable, and it’s not necessary to make distinctions between “schoolwork” and “your own hobbies” or “for credit” and “not for credit.” As one teenager who had recently left school observed, “Everything I do counts now.”

It Really is Okay to Leave School

Many young people who are miserable in school—academically or socially—stay because they believe that leaving school will rule out (or at least diminish) the possibility of a successful future. We believe that young people can achieve a meaningful and successful adulthood without going to school. We’ve seen it happen, over and over again.

How People Behave Under One Set of Circumstances and Assumptions Does Not Predict How They Will Behave Under a Very Different Set of Circumstances and Assumptions

School success or failure is not necessarily a predictor of a child’s potential for success or failure outside of school. An unmotivated student may become enthusiastic and committed after she’s left school. A student who doesn’t thrive in a classroom environment may become successful when allowed to learn through apprenticeships or in one-on-one tutorials. When we change the approach, the structure, and the assumptions, all kinds of other changes often follow.

Structure Communicates as Powerfully as Words, and Often More Powerfully

It’s not enough to tell kids that we want them to be self-motivated, or that we want them to value learning for its own sake, if the structure of their lives and their educations is actually communicating the opposite message. Voluntary (rather than compulsory) classes, the ability to choose what one studies rather than following a required curriculum, and the absence of tests and grades all contribute to a structure that supports and facilitates intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning.

As Adults Working with Children, We Should Mostly Strive to "Make Possible" Rather than "Make Sure"

Most of the time, we can’t truly make sure that young people learn any particular thing—learning just doesn’t work that way. A group of adults can decide that all fifth graders should learn fractions, but when it comes to each individual child’s genuine understanding and retention, we can’t actually make it happen or guarantee that it will happen. As adults, what we can do, however, is try to make things possible for young people—provide access, offer opportunity, figure out what kind of support will be most helpful, and do whatever we can to help navigate the challenges and problems that arise.

The Best Preparation for a Meaningful and Productive Future is a Meaningful and Productive Present

Too often, education is thought of in terms of preparation: “Do this now, even if it doesn’t feel connected to your most pressing interests and concerns, because later on you’ll find it useful.” We believe that helping teenagers to figure out what seems interesting and worth doing right now, in their current lives, is also the best way to help them develop self-knowledge and experience at figuring out what kind of life they want and what they need to do or learn in order to create that life. In other words, it’s the best preparation for their futures.

Next Steps