Princeton Learning Cooperative co-founders Joel Hammon, left, and Paul Scutt with the February 22, 2012, issue of U.S. 1.

In February of 2012 it was unclear that Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC) was going to survive.

Paul Scutt had quit his teaching job in the fall of 2010 to be the first staff member at PLC, and I left my teaching job to join him the following year.

We both had children, mortgages, and extremely supportive spouses. What we didn’t have was marketing or business experience, many students, or much money. But we also had a nearly religious belief in what we were doing. We just weren’t sure where salvation was going to come from.

We had created PLC because of our experiences working with wonderful middle school and high school students who wanted more control over their education and their lives. For some, they were bright but bored in traditional school. Others wanted a smaller and more welcoming social scene. Some wanted more time to pursue serious interests instead of hours of homework. Some were active and didn’t want to sit still and listen all day. The traditional schools Paul and I taught in didn’t have any options for these kids, so we created our own.

Our solution? Essentially a hybrid between school and homeschooling. We use homeschooling law because it offers tremendous freedom and flexibility for teens to learn what they want in a way that will work for them. But, instead of parents teaching their kids at home at the kitchen table, we created a center where kids can come during the day to take classes, have caring personal mentors, and have a social life with other kids.

We had a good idea that was significantly improving the lives of the handful of teens at PLC, we just needed more people to know about it. Fortunately for us, salvation came in the form of a front page U.S. 1 article on February 22, 2012.

A reporter wrote an article covering a public event we organized at one of the local libraries. Another reporter, Euna Kwon Brossman, saw that piece and thought it might be interesting to do a story just on PLC. After the interviews and photos were taken, we sort of forgot about it, assuming that it would be a small story buried somewhere towards the back of the paper. So I was shocked when I picked up U.S. 1 a couple of weeks later and saw Paul and me smiling back on the front cover.

The impact of being on the front cover was immediate and profound for our little organization. Our open houses, which had historically been sparsely attended, suddenly exploded. At the first open house after the article came out it was standing room only. We had to keep bringing in more and more chairs. When the dust settled we went from seven students at the start of the year to 22 at the end of 2012.

For some of our early students the connection between the U.S. 1 article and a dramatically improved life was direct: their parents heard of us from the article, came to the open house, and decided to join. One powerful example is Cammy, who struggled with anxiety in traditional school but who thrived at PLC. Her mom, a former school board member in the Roosevelt Public School District, told us soon after Cammy joined that she felt like she “had her daughter back.”

As the membership and stability at PLC grew, we were able to start other centers in the area to support even more families. In 2014 we created Bucks Learning Cooperative in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and in 2017 we created Raritan Learning Cooperative in Flemington.

Just as many kids want an alternative to traditional school, many teachers feel the same way and want to start their own centers based on the model at PLC. We’ve been consulting with teams of educators as far flung as Dallas, Los Angeles, and recently the Philippines to create their own programs. In a real sense, U.S. 1 has contributed to the growth of what we feel is an important and needed innovation in education.

As U.S. 1 celebrates its 35th anniversary and PLC celebrates its 10th, on behalf of all the families we’ve worked with, we’d like to say thank you to U.S. 1 for helping grow PLC and supporting young people in our area.

Princeton Learning Cooperative, 16 All Saints Road, Princeton 08540. 609-851-2522. www.princetonlearningcooperative.org.

Joel Hammon is co-founder of Princeton Learning Cooperative. Learn more at PLC’s next open house: Monday, December 2, from 8:30 to 10 a.m.

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