Open Connections

I think the OC recipe is a keeper!

-Eva and Kelly
, OC Teen and Parent

Eva and Kelly

OC Teen and Parent

Indroduing the Dillon Family

Orignally published in the Summer 2019 OC Magazine

Written by Eva, OC Teen

Please describe your family constellation: Parents, names and ages of young people.

My mom, Kelly Dillon, is a Facilitator for Group Tutorial III on Tuesday and Thursday and Choice on Wednesday. My dad, Will Rutledge, lives in Colorado and works as a freelance photographer and videographer. I am their only child, Eva, and I’m 17 years old.


How long has your family been on this path of self/family-directed Partnership Education?

Eva: I briefly went to preschool and transferred to Open Connections when I was 5. My mom has been working at Open Connections for 11 years.

Kelly: Eva started in Open Program in January 2007, I started as a Parent Resourcer in the Open Program in September 2007.


What led you in this direction?

Eva: My mom was interested in me pursuing something different from the traditional public school experience that she experienced as a young person.

Kelly: I consider myself fortunate to have been able to “stay at home” with Eva in those early years. Witnessing her grow and learn was, and still is, simply an awesome experience. Awesome in the same way that nature is awesome. We had not planned on taking a homeschooling path, yet when Eva was nearing “kindergarten age,” I found myself wishing for a way that Eva could continue to naturally pursue what was curious and amusing to her. A community that more closely aligned with, and/or supported, my shifting values. A place that welcomed my wish to continue to be involved in this part of Eva’s life learning.


How did you get involved with Open Connections?

Kelly: Maria Llevat, OC Advisory Council member and parent of two OC alum, Alexandra and Marcus Barainyak, had shared an OC DVD with a mutual friend and former OC parent, Asha Larsen. Asha shared the DVD, as well as Maria’s endless accolades, with me. I was relieved and impressed by what I heard. We attended a Homeschooling in Pennsylvania event held at Open Connections, and not long after that met with Peter Bergson (OC Co-Founder) and took a tour. Eva joined the Open Program. (I wanted in too, and sadly there were no programs offered for my age group. So I did the next best thing. I joined the staff as a Parent Resourcer for the Open Program.)


What programs does your young person attend at Open Connections?

Eva: I attend Shaping Your Life on Tuesday and Thursday.

Kelly: Eva continues the joyful journey started in the Open Program, continuing through Group Tutorials I, II and III, as well as Choice I, II and III, and now SYL.


How does your young person spend her time when she’s not at Open Connections?

Eva: I spend my time at Delaware County Community College three days a week and I work four days a week at Chipotle. In the time that’s left, I fit in learning my other subject areas at home. I ran cross country for a local high school in the fall and enjoy working on art projects. When I have “free” time I enjoy catching up with friends.


What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?

Eva: I’m very grateful for my mom for initially choosing this educational path for me! I feel like I am a more open-minded, independent, and creative person because of it. I find that the skills I have learned throughout my time at Open Connections and as a homeschooler are valuable and I will continue to use them for years to come. I appreciate that I have the freedom to choose what I want to focus on learning, and I feel like I have a lot of control over how I want my life to go because of that level of freedom.

Kelly: Where there is curiosity and purpose, there is no need for coercion. When the interests pursued are genuinely one’s own, the learning comes naturally because it’s your life you’re living, it’s you being/ becoming you. If one has the ability to flex one’s schedule to suit their own needs, there is the opportunity to follow a muse du jour in a big way, for as long and far as it will take you.Whether it’s creating and following a training schedule to run your first half marathon, getting up with the birds to band them and gather data or take on a part-time job where you can discover more about your work ethic and enjoy the community in a diverse group of coworkers.I think it would be difficult to resist a love of learning or becoming a life-learner with this kind of freedom.Maybe this is where we find the key to true happiness. A huge takeaway here is the developed confidence to find our way. To recognize and own what we don’t know and apply what we do know to move closer to a possible solution.


What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?

Eva: My mom and I have had a few disagreements over how I choose to spend my time, and if I’m learning the “right” things on my path towards graduation. I think through trial and error and time we’ve been able to works things out. It certainly hasn’t always been an easy journey but it’s been a worthwhile one for sure.

Kelly: Well, after all of these years there are still moments of concern. “Am I providing the ‘right’ opportunities?” “Are we doing enough? Too much?” “What is my role here?” These thoughts frequently pass with a quick personal inventory and reality check, independently or with a friend within the OC community. The wise words or shoulder of those who have either gone before, or are navigating similar bumps in the road, have often been just what’s needed.

I have also found that while the trust, freedom and independence came easier when interests were all about horses and used bookstores, things got more complicated as Eva approached her mid-teens. The internet and social media have been my biggest challenge. While I recognize the powerful and valuable resources we have at our fingertips with our current technology, there is plenty of content out there I wish were not quite so accessible. It can be hard to trust what you cannot see or hear, and leave your young person to navigate it all independently. Yet they will need to do just that one day, sooner than we all think. So I acknowledge my gut feelings, prepare to be willing to reconsider what drives them, and continue be aware, stay informed and seek to understand.

I don’t believe I generally concern myself with the pace of learning. I have at times found that there appears to be a need for support in timekeeping, scheduling and calendar translation. I trust it’s temporary; this too shall pass.


What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?

Eva: Our approach has always been a combination of all three. I find it is easiest for me to learn skills if I use them in real work scenarios, as it helps me understand why in addition to how. In my high school years I have been very self directed and really taken the reins of my education, combining my time at OC, college classes, and working at Chipotle to create a holistic educational (life) experience. This has really helped me prepare for college.


What resources—people, books, curricula, places or organizations (museums, art centers, scouting, 4-H, businesses, etc.)—have you found helpful? How have they contributed to your youth’s development? Eva: The library has been a great resource since day one. It’s a great place to learn how to read and to do, research for various essays and symposiums, and they have a great program where you can get free passes to all kinds of cool museums and field trip locations. In more recent years I have been very appreciative of Delaware County Community College. I think it’s a great way to get used to the feel of college if you are considering higher education. Willistown Conservation Trust has also been a great resource. I have been able to learn a lot from volunteering at their bird banding station.


From your young person’s perspective, what could OC do to further enhance their OC experience?

Eva: Sometimes I feel like I missed out on some of the classic teen experiences, so I think having more* “school dances” would be a really great way to get the Open Connections teen population together more often. I have also really appreciated the times in Shaping Your Life where we have gone on college tours and done mock interviews; having even more of these opportunities would be great!


Looking back to when your family was new to OC, what events (Open Campus Days, Parents’ Meetings, Open Mic Night, etc.) helped your family become more connected to the OC community?

Eva: For me the Open Mic Nights, Family Dances, and Film Fests were the best way to get to know other OC families and spend quality time with my peers.


What could OC do to further your (the parent’s) experience, help you reach your un-met goals, or pursue them in a more effective or enjoyable manner?

Kelly: I think the OC recipe is a keeper! How to continue to grow and flourish in supporting the shifting interests and needs of our young people in this ever changing world. How to nurture and maintain the connection to this oh-so-very special community for our years ahead beyond Open Connections. I am grateful beyond measure, and without words to adequately express how deeply I have appreciated all that each and every one of you have brought to our lives, in your countless and unique ways.



*OC Teens have an annual Teen Formal that is entirely organized by them.