NPR Community starts a Free Skool’
PORT RICHEY - While waiting for her students to arrive at her home in Port Richey, Annie Christensen took out the pots, the jars, the stick blenders, the parchment paper and a jar of lye. When the door rang, Christensen greeted a woman she’d never met before and invited her to sit at the kitchen table. Welcome to the New Port Richey Free Skool. Last Tuesday night’s class was Soap Making, led by Christensen, but the array of classes offered by the group is endless. The teacher can be anyone with a skill to teach and the students are community members of all ages who want to learn.A Free Skool, according to NPRFS’s website, is “a cooperatively run, grass-roots project that fosters community by creating free and welcoming spaces where individuals can share passions, skills and knowledge.” The misspelling of “skool” is intentional. It’s a movement separate from regular schools that are free of cost and the phrase is also meant to convey a freedom from the rigid structure and bureaucratic nature of a regular school environment. “Skool” is easier to find in a search engine as well. Free Skool is not an institutionalized structure with traditional academic classes. It stems from an anarchist mindset of decentralization and is a non-hierarchical, open-structure collaboration between community members. “Free” refers not only to freedom from financial payment for knowledge, but also to the freedom to participate in mindful speech, peaceful assembly and the birth of new ideas. There is no set location for a Free Skool — any place in the community can be a classroom. Community members open their homes for cooking classes, discussion groups and workshops. Free Skool teachers can also use free public spaces and parks to conduct dance classes, music workshops or environmental education courses. Free Skools have been active in Tampa and St. Pete for the last few years. “I’m going through divorce and now soon to be a single mom,” said Danica Valentine. “I’ve been out of the social scene and I feel like a fish out of water. I can’t afford to pay for a class, so I was looking for something to do with my time other than being depressed over not getting calls for all the resumes I’ve submitted.” Angela Hadley, one of the original founders of NPRFS, nodded her head. “She brings up a great point,” Hadley said. “Not many people can afford to pay for classes. The Free Skool is the great equalizer that gets education into the hands of the people who can’t afford it. “Education is a right. Knowledge is a right. It gets people out of poverty and out of loneliness and solitude and it should be free.” Hadley and Eric Stewart, the co-president of the Suncoast Co-op, got the grass-roots project off the ground but attribute its success to many other community members and local organizations and businesses that have gotten involved. NPRFS has partnered with groups such as the co-op, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Progress Energy Art Gallery and the new Port Richey Cultural Affairs Committee. They hope to reach out soon to Pasco-Hernando Community College professors about teaching some basic history and economic classes. “It promotes a sense of community,” Christensen said. “It’s easy to go buy a book on macramé or learn how to do it on YouTube but with this, you meet people.” The most commonly requested classes, Hadley said, are gardening. The partnership with the co-op makes that easy and NPRFS offers several opportunities to learn gardening hands-on at various gardens in the community. Yoga classes, chess club gatherings and parenting groups are small sample of what else the Free Skool has to offer, and if a class you want to take or teach doesn’t exist, you can file a request to see it happen, like Christensen did for her soap making class. “What is so great about this is Annie, through her soap class, can show people what she does as a passion and source of income and be able to promote her home business as well,” Hadley said. “We really want to encourage small businesses to step forward and teach or host space.” Christensen considers it “paying it forward” since others were kind enough to teach her soap making skills. Hadley considers it part of the “Each One Teach One” concept that originated during American slavery when free slaves would teach other slaves how to read and write because education is the key to empowerment. “This works off premise that if you know something, in order to build a community, you should share,” Hadley said. One of the classes coming up that the group is looking forward to is “Weed Dating” on April 27 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Madison Avenue in New Port Richey. Weed dating is speed dating but for people into gardening. Men and women will line up and have three minutes to chat and weed before moving to the next person. “I’m the only person on my street with a garden as a front yard but I know I’m not the only one out there,” Hadley said. For more information on NPRFS and a schedule of classes, visit http://nprfreeskool .wordpress.com. For Christensen’s store, Sweet Annie Organics, visit http:// etsy.com/shop/sweetannies organics#.