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Lockey Coughlin, a mother of three, has lived in Sherman for 14 years. She has homeschooled all her children. She and her husband had always wanted to live in Sherman; she calls her home her sanctuary. She loves her job as founder of Education Without Walls in New Milford.

Five years ago, when Sherman resident Lockey Coughlin first founded Education without Walls in New Milford, it was very small and open just one day a week. It has grown exponentially since then and is now open every day, with over 50 students enrolled in its programs. Education Without Walls is a community resource sharing center for students ages 10 to 19.  “We are an independent cooperative group of individuals, teachers and specialty schools who have come together to educate and socialize children in a non-judgmental and supportive environment,” Coughlin said. “The philosophy of this group is one of community building, inclusion and flexibility.” Some children come to Education Without Walls after school for art classes and tutoring, while other students spend the whole day there, taking classes.  “We work with 12 specialty schools and resources right in town that we utilize — including dance, drama and vocal, as well as self-defense and improv,” she said.

Some of these schools include Robotics And Beyond, Twin Star herbal education, the Village Center for the Arts, Art Experience and Studio D [a dance school]. “We are like a prep school campus in that everything is in very close proximity to each other,” Coughlin added. Coughlin explained that Education Without Walls resembles a college more than a high school.  “You get to pick your own classes and create your own schedule. In this way, we foster independence,” she said. She explained that each student has his or her own individual learning curriculum.  “We can offer something different for each person who comes here.”

One of the reasons some students come to Education Without Walls is they have talents that require a specialized curriculum.  Currently enrolled at the school is a pre-professional dancer, a junior Olympic gymnast and a go-cart racer. “With these students’ long training schedules, they don’t have the time to go to school during traditional school hours.  So, we customize the education plan to the student,” she said. In addition, the facility caters its programs to meet the needs of students who have anxiety taking tests and those who are very introverted.

Another type of student who comes to Education Without Walls is one who — for whatever the reason — does not fit into the public school system.  “In these cases, we create an ideal situation for their child,” Coughlin said. Students are placed in classes that are appropriate to their ability level.  There are between 5 to 8 students in each class. While classroom size is small, Education Without Walls is very different from the home-school environment, Lockey pointed out.  “It offers the chance for students to interact with one another through classes. “Most kids prefer to be in a classroom where they have interaction with students asking questions,” she said.  “We also offer regular social events such a masquerade ball, a prom and a teen night.” Students travel up to an hour and 30 minutes to get to the facility.

Over the summer, Education Without Walls offers an SAT preparation class, and a writers and math laboratory to keep kids current on their work.  This is also an opportunity for them to either catch-up or get ahead in their studies. Beginning this fall, Education Without Walls is offering a brand new class that it has put together with Great Hollow Nature Preserve & Ecological Research Center in New Fairfield. This is an environmental science class where students work in the classroom with a teacher who has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics.  They then spend one day a week at Great Hollow as part of their wilderness education experience. Coughlin’s favorite part of her job is watching students open up over the course of the year. “Whatever it is they are looking for when they come here, it really takes a full year for all of that materialize. It’s so much fun for me to watch that progress over the course of a year and to see them learning to love learning.”

Education without Walls, at Railroad Street in New Milford, can be reached by calling 860-350-3006 or visiting EducationWW@aol.com.

By Sandra Diamond Fox