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Meet ATI student Ty Childs: Discussions inspire learning

  • Angela Tewalt

We all respond to learning differently. Something that might interest me might not interest you, but, if I continue to immerse myself into whatever it is that brings me joy, it might inspire you to dig more deeply into your own interests. One's own genuine desire to engage can be extremely influential to those around him. 

At ATI, each student is seeking and trying to understand their own fulfillment. But, they do so in a beautiful, honest, and collaborative way. Amid their individual journeys, they talk among their peers about their thoughts and experiences, they ask vulnerable questions, and they trust one another to be supportive along the way. Perhaps, this is how we thrive.  

For Ty Childs, a sophomore in Austin, the intimate discussions around Socratic texts energize him deeply. Even though he identifies himself as more introverted in everyday life, when it comes time to gather around with like-minded fellow students, he feels safe, and he opens up in a way that not only nurtures his path, it encourages others to open up, too.  

“Socratic is about having your own ideas,” Ty says. “And I love discussing these ideas with engaged voices at the table.”

Socratic Humanities is a daily course at ATI, where students sit down together to analyze complex tests. A lot of the dialogue is inspired by “The Habit of Thought,” a book written by ATI’s founder, Michael Strong, but students will read poems, plays or essays and then gather to form an opinion on what they just read.

“Some of us like to annotate, then we just ask questions and try to clarify within ourselves what the author might be trying to say, or ideas are brought up tangentially from the text,” Ty says. “I read a lot, but I had never independently analyzed text like this before, so I find it very interesting to see other people’s takes and talk about ideas I hadn’t considered otherwise. It’s a lot of fun for me.”

Ty says the hour-long Socratic conversations inform far more than his opinions on established text.

“Socratic has really changed how I look at a lot of things — analyzing media, for example,” he says. “I’m developing a greater grasp of context in my life and a greater understanding of why things are the way they are. There’s a lot of problem-solving opportunities here as well.”

And this wider exploration happens because the student-led conversations are not contained to Socratic. Rather, students are encouraged to trust that wherever ideas go, it’s okay to follow.

“Our questions are usually related to the text, but it can also lead to unrelated, inspired conversation that is wide-ranging and might even spill over to lunch sometimes — from nature of the universe to what a character’s motivations might be, but all of us take it seriously.”

Ty says the guides at ATI are tremendously supportive in this environment.

“ATI is all about self-direction, which greatly helps us learn about what we are passionate about, and the guides are great in that,” he says. “Their attitude toward teaching and mentoring is very awesome.”

Outside the classroom, Ty is in the process of achieving Eagle Scout rank as a Boy Scout, in which he’s participated in since he was nine years old. To complete the Eagle rank, he needs to complete a large, self-motivated project, and he says his guides at ATI are supportive.

“Kristina, a guide here, along with a parent of the school have helped me to think of ideas,” he says. “They say, ‘How can we support you?’ ”

ATI also encourages club activities by treating the students as leaders in their community. For Ty, he not only participates in a Dungeons and Dragons club every Wednesday afternoon, he leads the club.

“I was excited that even a couple of the guides joined!” he says.  

Ty is thinking about what’s next, considering a career in physics or education. But, for now, he’s thriving in a school that sees him for who is today and among peers who are influenced by who he is, too. They all support one another, and they are all on their way toward something great.

“I’m really excited about ATI,” Ty says. “This is a great place to learn and a great place to learn how to learn. The culture and relationships here really help us to focus and feel like things are worth learning about and worth doing."

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