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“School Without Walls” A Good Fit for Hare Krishna Children

By: for ISKCON News on Aug. 1, 2014

Executive Director Nandapatni Dasi presents a student with his diploma

The Executive Director of the Learning Community International, a private school “Without Walls” claims her school’s unique learning style is a good fit for ISKCON children.

And she should know. Nancy De Luca Stempel, also known as Nandapatni Dasi, joined ISKCON in Dallas in 1976, where she started a day school program for young children.

She then taught at the ISKCON school in Gita Nagari, Pennsylvania, before moving to Washington D.C. in 1986 with her husband Haridasa and her daughter Dvijapatni, then five years old and ready to begin her schooling.

“I felt that my own academic pursuit as a young child was not congruent with my learning style, and I felt stunted,” Nandapatni says. “So I wanted to give my children the opportunity to reach their highest potential, and use the whole world as their classroom.”

Nandapatni Dasi speaks at a TLCI graduation

After writing to several different homeschooling organizations – the homeschooling movement was burgeoning at the time – she discovered The Learning Community, which blended the flexibility of homeschooling with the authenticity, guidance and support of a fully accredited private school.

Impressed by its inclusive style and focus on freedom of study, Nandapatni enrolled her daughter, and later her two younger children. She was invited to work for the school as an advisor to families, then to become its high school director, and finally, its executive director. 

Although it has a home base in Columbia, Maryland – just outside of Washington D.C. – The Learning Community International (TLCI), founded by retired public school teacher Manfred Smith in 1984, is not a bricks and mortar school.

Rather, its 200 students around the world in Paraguay, Indonesia, Trinidad, India, Nepal, Egypt, and of course the United States – including some ISKCON devotees -- study an online core curriculum of all the traditionally required school subjects such as math, science, social studies and English.

Principal Director Manfred Smith, far left, and Executive Directory Nancy De Luca Stempel (Nandapatni Dasi), far right, with graduates from TLCI

But TLCI is more than that. Each student, from Kindergarten all the way through twelveth grade, is assigned an advisor who meets with them twice a month through emails, phone conversations, and face to face and works with them to create their own custom designed course pursuant to their unique talents, interests, and goals.

“That’s why I think it’s so perfect for devotee families – because the students can see academic subjects in the light of their spiritual orientation or their philosophy,” says Nandapatni. “And it allows them to use their Krishna conscious reflections to assess the value and application of the different subjects.”

Several advisors are even trained specifically to assist devotee students, so that they feel understood and don’t have to explain their unique backgrounds and perspectives at every meeting.

With no agenda to move students through a specific curriculum, TLCI creates a very dynamic learning experience by allowing students to go much deeper into any single subject that they have an affinity for. This allows them to pursue their passion early on and realize their highest potential.

Students gather at their graduation ceremony

“Even if students wanted to do something on kirtan, or puja, they could, especially if it was linked to a historical or current analaysis,” Nandapatni says. “And it would go towards their credits.”

Another aspect that makes the program ideal for devotees is its flexibility in regards to travel. As a result, several ambassadors and global executives who travel with their families have enrolled their children in the school.

And whether they’re travelling or at home, students also get to integrate their local history and culture into their program and take advantage of local resources, rather than just sitting at a desk.

“For instance here in Washington DC, you have all the Smithsonian, there’s nature centers, you can take field trips -- there’s a real plethora of learning opportunities to take advantage of,” says Nandapatni.

And of course, upon completing twelveth grade, students receive a private high school diploma that can be used to apply to any university anywhere in the world – so far, TLCI has already graduated over 1,200 students.

Looking to the future, Nandapatni wants to expand and spread the word about her unique school in other countries, particularly throughout Europe, where she hopes to connect with devotee communities as well as communities at large.

She’s also developing a television show called the Educational Network which will stream classes and workshops on writing, research, public speaking, and critical thinking at TLCI’s website, tlcischool.org, that will go towards students’ credits.

“While I was educating my own children at TLCI, I felt like I was growing and living and learning, and it was so deeply fulfilling for me,” Nandapatni says. “That’s why as executive director in the Learning Community I want to continue to assist other parents in facilitating their children to reach their highest potential.”

Nandapatni is interested in hiring devotees to work as advisors for TLCI, so that devotee students can have advisors with full knowledge of their philosophy and lifestyle. Please contact her for more information at nstempel@tlcischool.org

For admissions and more information about The Learning Community International, please visit http://tlcischool.org.

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[ education ] [ homeschooling ] [ washington-dc ]
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