Clonlara Makes a Series of Major Changes This Year

Photo credit: Ben White Two girls reading in a field may be more conducive to learning than in a classroom.

This school year, Clonlara made changes to its leadership staff, re-opened Ann Arbor’s physical school, and expanded global initiatives.

“I am grateful that we have an amazing team that will continue to handle the day-to-day operations while I keep a bird’s eye view to ensure that the strategy is strong and our history is protected,” new Chairperson Chandra Montgomery Nicol said.

 Nicol has been with Clonlara since 1967 as a student, parent, and has held many staff positions—most recently as the Executive Director.

Major changes

 “It is a major change that Clonlara’s programs will not be run by a Montgomery family member any longer. This reality has brought a small tear to my eye, and to my mother’s eye, too,” Nicol revealed. “But we are also very proud that Clonlara is sustainable enough to spread its own wings and leave the nest.” 

Pat Montgomery, Chandra’s mother, started the school in 1967. “Clonlara” reportedly translates to “meadow of the mare” in Gaelic, which also aptly fits the philosophy of the school, because the sheep, ponies, and horses freely graze there. 

“Ann Arbor Family Press” interviewed and featured Montgomery in 2018 about her founding of Clonlara and its pivotal history that transformed education.

 This school year, the school also announced its new Executive Director.

“Another major change is that Sofia Gallis, a Portuguese native and resident, will be running the operations from afar, as we create a truly global organization,” Nicol added.  “Our faculty and staff represent at least 10 countries, from which our Off-Campus Program services are being delivered to more than 2,200 students.”

New Executive Director Sofia Gallis said she vows to keep the same philosophy and pedagogical practices that the Montgomery family revolutionized first with its Ann Arbor school, which is so popular now locally and internationally.

“I feel honored to carry on the legacy of the Montgomery family, supporting and empowering families and educators all over the world,” Gallis said.

Gallis also wants more people to learn about Clonlara’s impact on revolutionizing education and empowering people. 

“I hope to support Clonlara in getting the recognition it deserves,” Gallis added. “What we do is unique and can be seen as a true innovation in personalized education. Clonlara has a more than 50-year history as an innovative school, and we hope to reach more educators by sharing our approach and supporting them in the future.”

Open campuses

Closed previously due to COVID, Clonlara’s Ann Arbor’s brick-and-mortar location is now reopened.

Director of Education April Huard has been with Clonlara since July 2017 and was originally hired as an advisor. She will now serve as the director of education at the Ann Arbor campus, which remains Clonlara’s physical headquarters at 1289 Jewett Avenue.

“After closing our Ann Arbor campus last year due to the pandemic, we are excited to relaunch for the ’22–’23 school year,” Huard said. “We have refreshed our physical space and redesigned our offerings to better serve local families.”

 “Ann Arbor Family Presscovered Clonlara’s surge in its Off-Campus and Online Program during the pandemic and interviewed Nicol at that time.  

Clonlara will continue to offer its Off-Campus and Online Programs. However, the online courses are now reportedly available as part of its Off-Campus Program. Clonlara’s Off-Campus Program is “highly personalized to support each student on their learning journey.”: 

Huard announced other updated offerings at their Ann Arbor physical location.

 “Our daytime program runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a three- or five-day option,” Huard said. “We also have new enrichment programming, including ceramics, Capoeira, STEM, and baking classes, that run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Thursday. These afternoon offerings allow local Clonlara Off-Campus students in the Ann Arbor area, as well as other homeschooling students and students from other local schools, to experience Clonlara’s Full Circle Learning Model and joyful culture.” 

Gallis has high expectations for the Ann Arbor campus as well.

“My hope is to have our Ann Arbor campus building filled with K–12 students again, to offer a joyful learning environment where students and staff can learn and grow together,” Gallis exclaimed.

Clonlara is also preparing to open its first physical campus outside of the United States in Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal.

Homeschool Movement Roots

Photo credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu
Some highly motivated people prefer online learning, which is also generally more independent.

Clonlara has earned international and national recognition throughout its history. For instance, it was featured on the Phil Donahue show and won a major legal case which connected to parents’ rights in education.

“Pat Montgomery was one of the very first professional educators to accept that parents could educate their children outside of a school building or institution,” noted Nicol. “She also strongly believed in children following their own curiosity, using unconventional resources—instead of textbooks and workbooks—and getting hands-on experiences.” 

Montgomery was pivotal in empowering families in the learning process.

 “Thus, in 1979, when a family asked to enroll in Clonlara, but not to attend the school campus on-site, she chose to allow it,” clarified Nicol. “This led to the founding of our Home-Based Education Program, which we now call our Off-Campus Program.” 

Nicol said Montgomery felt so strongly about the rights of families to homeschool that she filed a lawsuit against the Michigan State Board of Education to prevent the State from regulating them beyond its legal authority.

Ultimately, in 1993, Clonlara, Inc. vs. State Board of Education was decided in favor of Clonlara. Montgomery generously ensured that the decision would apply to all homeschoolers in Michigan, not just those enrolled with Clonlara.  

Thirty years later, homeschooling is thriving and Clonlara still offers a wide variety of valuable programming and services.

 Beautiful Philosophy

 “Our philosophy began as Pat Montgomery’s personal and professional intuition as a teacher,” Nicol said. “The beauty of it is how science is now bearing out its validity through the studies of brain development, child development, and mental health, such as SDT and the Neufeld Institute’s findings.”

SDT is a Self-Determination Theory for students to be motivated to learn partly through taking charge of their own learning. 

The Neufeld Institute, in part, studied the relationship between resting, playing, learning, and homeschooling.  

Joy In Learning 

“Clonlara strives for joy to be both a component and an outcome of a student’s learning journey with us,” Nicol said.  “We promote it by intentionally creating many opportunities for autonomy in our Full Circle Learning (FCL) Model. From the work of positive psychologists and particularly Self Determination Theory (SDT), we know that autonomy is one of the three components of self-motivation and strong mental health. We also foster the other two components: Competence and relatedness, to ensure students are able to have positive and joyful experiences.”

Nicol described how throughout the school year, Clonlara promotes joy by hosting Celebrations of Learning, during which students can share their projects, knowledge, processes, and satisfaction with the whole organization. 

“It is always fabulous to see our students’ joy evidenced in their presentations and their reflections on their work, which are components of our FCL Model,” Nicol said. 

Huard added that student-centered learning is always kept in mind in Clonlara’s philosophy and mission.

“Everything we do at Clonlara School is firmly rooted in personalized, interest-led learning,” stated Huard. “Our academic advisors and teachers are trained to help parents and students identify interests and passions and then find resources and opportunities to learn about those things. We believe that meaningful learning always starts with curiosity, and that looks different for every Clonlara student. We want to see students taking advantage of place-based learning opportunities but also using our global learning community to learn about other people, cultures, and places.”

Global Reach

“While Clonlara’s kind of learning has been available a lot longer in the United States, given our history of private, progressive/alternative schools, and correspondence and online programs, these are much newer in most other countries,” Nicol said. “Our international programs started because parents from other countries asked if they could enroll and translate our guides for families in their local languages.”

 Spain was Clonlara’s first official international program. Now, Clonlara serves thousands of students throughout the world.

“We have made it our goal not to be an American school that enrolls foreign students,” Nicol described. “We are creating a truly global school, in which students from anywhere, who are also located anywhere in the world, can work together on projects they design and run clubs they host—as well as the ones our teachers and advisors offer. Our Board of Trustees has members from Portugal and Italy, now, too. We are committed to globalization in a broad sense. This has made us unique and attractive to students and families all over.”

Diversity, inclusion, and collaboration are also essential parts of Clonlara. 

“Our global learning community provides many opportunities for parents and students to connect with other Clonlara families around the world,” Huard detailed. “In each of the languages we serve, we offer online clubs, workshops, webinars, events, and discussions on a variety of topics and interests. Many of our programs are starting to host local meet-ups again, which have been missed during the pandemic! Our goal is always to provide many different ways for students to connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other.”

 Full Disclosure: In addition to being a freelance writer/journalist, Iadipaolo is Clonlara’s Online Mathematics and Electives Teacher. She began her work there in 2017. She also develops open-ended, creative projects with her students, such as relating mathematics with art, poetry, movement, and other disciplines. Iadipaolo earned an Honors Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and three teaching certificates Majoring in math, English, and social science. She formally began teaching in 1993. Additionally, Iadipaolo earned a Master of Science degree in Mathematics Teaching and Learning from Drexel University, a Master of Arts degree from Eastern Michigan University, and an Education Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of West Florida.