Open Connections

The biggest thing that OC taught me was that different children are ready for different things at different times in their development.

-PJ Prest
, Alum

PJ Prest


At what age did you start at OC? 

I began OC at age 5 and left when I was nearly 8. I was there full-time. 

[Editor: This was as far as OC programs went at that time.] 


What led you to OC? 

My parents selected OC after meeting with Susan and Peter [OC Co-Founders]. I have two older siblings, but my parents correctly observed that my learning style was very different. They wanted an environment where I could have the freedom to grow in whatever direction I needed and wanted to. 


What have you been up to since OC? 

I attended St. Albans School in Washington, DC, and then went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, where I earned a degree in English. I did graduate work at Drexel University before completing medical school and general surgery training at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. I went on to a fellowship in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and have recently taken a job in Columbia, SC, working with the University of South Carolina in their trauma division. 


How did OC impact you? What did you find useful? 

OC was a wonderful and nurturing place. I learned to grow, and I wasn't simply put in a chair and told that I needed to be at the same level as everyone else in the classroom. I developed certain skills early, while others came at a later time. As I am now grown and have two young children of my own, I appreciate that different children learn at different rates—some benefit from more structure, and some not so much. After a few years in the OC environment—and then I went on to a similar school called Child Works—I was ready for structure, and in some ways eager for it. And I excelled. But I know that if I had been introduced to that same structure earlier that things would not have turned out as they did. 


The biggest thing that OC taught me was that youth are ready for different things at different times in their development. I was a good example of this—I wasn't ready to read at a young age but was ready to develop my mind in other ways. It was that freedom of growth that allowed me to stay interested in education—something that continues to this day. 


My son and daughter are very different in the way they learn. My daughter is much more in the Open Connections mold. She develops at her own pace and in her own ways, and seems to thrive with that freedom. By contrast my son is somebody who thrives in a much more structured environment. When given too much freedom or leeway he tends to regress in all areas of his behavior. When we offered him a more structured environment he excelled not only in all areas of his academic development but also in his general happiness toward schooling. 


There is not a school like Open Connections where we live. Our son and daughter are in very different types of schools. My son is in one that offers more structure while my daughter is in a more open environment. Both are thriving in their own unique ways. I think the thing that I have gained most from my experience at Open Connections is this openness towards finding the right educational environment for the right child, rather than forcing the child into a universal educational mold. 


What would you have changed about OC? 

What would I have changed...only that I could have spent more time there!