A video created by a pair of students, along with many of their classmates and some staff members at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School, has gone viral. It’s not only raising awareness about the self-directed form of education, but has also tapped into the larger national and global conversation about how kids learn.
Amelia Iaia and Lucie Parker are 15-year-old students at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School on Zena Road, one of many across the county and around the globe dedicated to the concepts of education by direct democracy, where students and staff are equals, where there is no predetermined curriculum, and where self-analysis and personal growth are key. Iaia and Parker saw their school’s own informational video and felt that by creating their own, they could more fully share the true student experience. And to do so in the modern age, that meant going viral.
“What if there was a school with no classrooms?”
The film clocks in at just 2:36 — that’s two minutes, not hours — and it packs an immediate punch, with students of various ages riffing on what being a Sudbury student means; the words paint their own picture, but without the video’s artfulness, and scene after scene of kids being involved in their own education it might not have become so popular. Every moment of the film was carefully crafted, said Parker.
“When we were writing it, I think we had some obstacles in that we didn’t come to this idea of ‘What if?’ until later,” she said. “It started to sound like every other promotional video on Facebook and it wasn’t surprising enough. This was very trial and error.”
Iaia agreed. “We wrote a ton of drafts,” she said. “It ended up just kind of being the people who wanted to do it were really focused, and the people who didn’t want to do it didn’t do a lot. We were writing it, and every time we brought it to them it was like, ‘Maybe we can change this, we don’t like this, maybe we can change this up.’ It was a little frustrating having a lot of people’s opinions. But I also think it made it really good. Another obstacle we had was not everyone was so into being in the video, so we did have some trouble finding kids who’d say the lines. But it all ended up working out.”
The film winds its way through the inside of the school — to desks and tables, to a democratic meeting of students — and then moves outside onto a leafy campus. It was shot with the assistance of a professional filmmaker, Jake DeNicola, but it is very much the product of the students who created it.
“[DeNicola] was editing, and I was there for a lot of it,” said Iaia. “We found music together. We talked about the sequence and other shots we needed. It was mostly him doing the editing, but we were there to learn about the process.”
Iaia and Parker also learned a lot about how videos go viral, quickly realizing that sharing directly to Facebook and not YouTube increased its chances of spreading like wildfire because the video could be watched right on the social media platform that way.
“I’d seen this video that recently went viral about a school in, I want to say Denmark,” Iaia said. “And I thought, ‘If they can have a viral video, why can’t we?’ I see this all the time, and I thought we should just make something like this for Facebook. The next step was kind of getting it out there, reaching out to friends and family and asking them to share it.”
It began locally, Parker said. But on Facebook, seemingly everyone knows people from all around the world.
“Me and Amelia, we were texting parents of kids in the video asking them to share it with families and relatives,” said Parker. “I wasn’t too surprised it went viral. I was pretty optimistic about the whole thing.”
The video was first posted to Facebook on Monday, Nov. 13, and as of Wednesday, Dec, 6 has since been seen over 488,000 times and shared 5,361 times. Those numbers will have risen by the time you read this sentence, and they’ll have risen again by the time you finish reading the story.
“I was kind of thinking in the range of like 50,000 (views), which is still a ton,” said Iaia. “But I thought that would be over the course of a month. But then I woke up [the next morning] and saw it already had 2,000 views in eight hours, and I was really shocked.”
Since then, word has spread, and Iaia and Parker, along with a staff member from the Hudson Valley Sudbury School, have been interviewed on the Tom Woods Show, a popular libertarian podcast, in an episode entitled “Spontaneous Order or Lord of the Flies?” Elsewhere, commenters are having their say on the official Facebook post.
“We’re getting a ton of questions about the school,” said Iaia. “Some are extremely positive, and some are extremely negative. I think we’re getting out to people locally who don’t know about the school, and also to people around the world. I kind of also think a conversation about education is already happening. You see people everywhere saying, ‘What we’re doing is not working; we need to fix it.’ And I think with the political climate, everyone is going against the government almost. I think it’s a prime time for Sudbury. There’s another possibility, and this is what we do.”