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The no-homework experiment

Susan Notes:

A three-year-old school in
Coconut Grove wants students to pursue after-
school passions in the arts and athletics, so
no homework is the rule. That's the good news.
The sad part is that a family has to be able to
afford from $11,000 to $13,000 a year to
protect a child from homework. The school uses
curriculum designed for independent study and
popular with some homeschoolers-- Calvert and

By Risa Berrin

When the school days ends, 10th-grader Claudia
Tomas usually leaves all of her books at
school. At MCA Academy, a small private school
in Coconut Grove, there is a "virtual no
homework" policy.

The school's founder, Brigitte Kishlar,
believes that by eliminating homework and
ending the school day at 2 p.m., students will
have time to develop other skills, such as arts
and athletics.

"During these years, they can discover so many
things," said Kishlar, who opened the school in
the fall of 2006. "I wish every child to one
day discover a passion."

For Claudia, free afternoons mean she now has
time to practice piano. She hopes to be a
professional pianist when she is older.

"Before, I didn't have time for my [piano]
studies. Too much homework," said, Claudia, 14,
who lives in Hialeah.

As the director of the Miami Conservatory of
Music, Brigitte Kishlar saw first-hand the toll
that traditional schools were having on Claudia
and the conservatory's 200 other student

"I met everyday so many parents coming in with
all these students swamped with homework -- not
kids anymore," she said.


So Kishlar decided to create a school where
students could meet the challenges of a core
curriculum and excel in their respective extra-
curricular activities. Now in its third
academic year, the school has 20 students in
kindergarten through 12th grade.

Tuition ranges from $11,000 to $13,000 per
year, depending on the grade. Students are
accepted based on an application, interview and
entrance exam. MCA is in the process of
applying for accreditation.

"Just because we don't have homework doesn't
mean we don't work hard in class," Claudia
said. "We have benchmarks and the same kind of
assignments as public school."

Principal Scott Crumpler describes MCA as "a
home school, but not your mom and dad."

While there is a core curriculum for each
grade, each student can advance through the
material at his or her own pace.

"It's a group of students sitting around the
table while the tutoring is going on," he said.
"You don't have to keep up with the rest of the

Lara Jonasson, a teacher at MCA, loves that the
school provides students with individual

"I have the time and the ability to focus and
work with them one-on-one," she said. "The
other kids, they go to town. They work super-


Konasson says the students feel more relaxed
without the pressure of hours of homework.

"After awhile, the kids ask for homework,"
Jonasson said. 'It inspires this go-get
attitude. They think, `If I take it home, I can
do more and meet my benchmark.'"

Nathalie Kanzky did not want to homeschool her
daughter, Athena Trouillot, an aspiring tennis
professional. Kanzky was looking for
alternatives when she discovered MCA.

"I wanted her to be at the same competitive
level as her peers," said Kanzky, who lives in
South Miami-Dade. "I was looking for a
nontraditional setting, but I did not want to
give up on good education principles."

At her previous public school, Trouillot was
always behind in her work because of frequent
absences when she was away at tennis

"School, coupled with my daughter's tennis, put
her under a lot of stress," Kanzky said. "It
took a lot of work, a lot of late nights. She
was losing her enthusiasm for learning."

Camille Wagner, a 9th-grader, says she, too,
had lost enthusiasm for learning before she
came to MCA.

Now, Wagner, 13, says the homework policy gives
her time to explore her hobbies and passions.

"It makes me feel very good because I really
like fashion," said Wagner, who lives in Key
Biscayne. "This school gives me some more time
to work with that."

Crumpler says he recognizes that there are
trade-offs at MCA. The school is missing many
of the fundamentals of conventional schools.
MCA does not have traditional electives other
than foreign language classes. There are no
health and physical education classes nor
school-based clubs. The physical space at MCA
is small. There are only a few classrooms and a
common administrative area.

While the intimacy of the academic environment
is great for some students, Crumpler admits
that the school isn't for everyone.

"It takes a pretty special student. It can be
very distracting," he said. "You have to be
focused on your work."

— Risa Berrin
Miami Herald



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