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Cupola Academy …When You Wonder, Learning Follows Naturally

The Pedemonti family shares their experience with this intellectually rich atmosphere that promotes a growth mindset, encourages lifelong learning, and more.

Three siblings sitting against a rock while hiking

The Pedemonti family never imagined that they would one day be homeschooling their three children. They also didn’t expect to live through a global pandemic, where circumstances would fundamentally change how they decided to best educate their children. After Covid settled, Megan Pedemonti wanted to find a more hybrid-learning situation for her 11-year-old twin sons and 7-year-old daughter. She found exactly what she was looking for in Cupola Academy

Cupola Academy provides families, like the Pedemontis, the opportunity to homeschool their children, but to also have the support of a “school” where the natural curiosity of children can flourish. Cupola is designed for families who are seeking an intellectually rich atmosphere that promotes growth mindset, encourages lifelong learning and emphasizes social and environmental justice. Children attend Cupola two days a week, where they learn in a collaborative group setting with their peers. Cupola offers instruction for children ranging from ages four through 18.

Learning occurs collaboratively, where small groups learn with others their age, as well as partnering at times with younger students where they act as mentors. Cupola offers field trips to local educational attractions, as well as the opportunity to do volunteer projects off-campus. “After our initial visit, my kids loved it,” says Pedemonti. “They enjoy being with their peers. They love working on different projects and Cupola challenges them in a way that I never would be able to at home.” 

At Cupola, administrators focus on Partnership Education where they work with families to create a holistic and individualized educational path. Whereas in traditional public education, parents follow the curriculum created by the school district, Cupola works with families to discover what works best for their kids and family. “They take into account what your kids are interested in, how they learn, what they want to learn, and then they also introduce them to other things,” says Pedemonti. “They’re also presenting and offering new opportunities to homeschooling parents that we may not have been aware of. Cupola makes you feel extremely supported as a homeschooling parent.” 

collage image of three students participating in various learning activities at Cupola Academy

Cupola Academy is currently operating out of Riverbend Environmental Education Center in Gladwyne until they find a permanent location. It’s an environment that suits Pedemonti’s daughter perfectly. “My daughter really likes being outside in nature, and is very into science and plants,” says Pedemonti. “So they work with her on those types of things.” Her daughter is working now on a pond study where they are observing the pH level of the pond and the changes within the pond. Pedemonti’s sons also do a lot of project-based learning and are currently working on a project for a Lego Robotics competition. 

“When people question me about homeschooling, I always call it a hybrid situation, because I personally look at Cupola like a personalized private school,” she says. “Cupola has resources that I would never have access to myself as a homeschool parent.” Facilitators (known in traditional schools as instructors or teachers) have an open line of communication with parents about what their children are learning. “They are always available by email or if you want to set up a time to meet with them,” says Pedemonti. “Cupola also has a private website for parents that lists everything that their kids do, pictures from their day, along with an events calendar and other information.” 

The day-to-day operations of Cupola Academy are run by husband and wife co-directors, Michael Hilbert and Julia Bergson-Shilcock. It was Bergson-Shilcock’s family who pioneered the “self-directed education” movement more than 45 years ago. Julia and Mike founded Cupola Academy to ensure that the core philosophies of the original founders could serve a new generation. Cupola is steadfast in its philosophy of making the world a better place by providing a nourishing environment for changemakers. The philosophy of Cupola is inspired by the work of John Holt, who is seen as the grandfather of the “unschooling” movement. Unschooling starts with the belief that all people are naturally curious, but that traditional schooling can significantly zap that curiosity with forced curriculum, department-led agendas, and a focus on grades and testing. Cupola’s approach to education provides a framework for natural curiosity to flourish, while also being free from grades and testing. 

While children go to Cupola two days a week for instruction, the facilitators also collaborate with parents (if they choose) on how to structure their time on non-Cupola days. “I’ve asked facilitators for help when my kids are really into something I’m teaching them at home, but I just can’t get it to the next step,” says Pedemonti. “They’ll either give advice on what the next step is or they’ll say we have the resources and we can integrate it into what we are doing here. It’s a constant collaboration.”

Homeschooling can sometimes make parents feel isolated, which Cupola also recognizes. “It helps to have reassurances from the facilitators at Cupola that as homeschooling parents you’re doing the right thing and that you’re on the right path,” says Pedemonti. “I know through Cupola I have some place I can go and ask questions and get the help and support I need—that’s invaluable. I think that to me as a parent is the best thing.”

As a former elementary school teacher, Pedemonti thinks all kids could thrive learning how her children are learning. “Homeschooling is not the mainstream thing to do,” says Pedemonti. “But it works for our family. We are so lucky to have a partnership with Cupola where it’s a community of families who are doing what we are doing for our kids. It’s a win for me as a homeschooling parent and a win for my children.” 

three siblings taking a hike on the Riverbend campus of Cupola Academy

Read more about Cupola Academy on Main Line Parent!

This story, written by Tara Behan-Marmur, supports the Main Line Parent and Philadelphia Family communities.

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