Founded in 1969, The Free School in Albany, New York is the longest running inner-city independent alternative school in the United States.  We provide a unique alternative to traditional models of education by offering children a self-directed approach to their learning. Students at our school, many whom have slipped through the cracks of today’s regimented test-driven school system, flourish in a nurturing environment that allows them the freedom to chart their own course of learning while fostering emotional growth and inter-personal skills.

At The Free School, students not only learn the traditional academic subjects, but also valuable lessons about responsibility, problem solving, social justice and most importantly, how to relate to each other.  We have always placed great emphasis on student’s emotional well being, fostering loving, caring relationships and developing a community of engaged learners.   It is our focus on community building that encourages students to follow their dreams, contribute positively to society, and become voices for change. 


  • There’s space and time for emotions.

  • Love, empathy, and a passion for life are encouraged.

  • Each learner is treated uniquely, with individual learning styles.

  • Teachers aid learning by supporting inquiry, critical thinking and creativity.

  • Play fosters belonging, cooperation and makes kids happy.

  • The world around us is the greatest teacher of all.

  • Learning happens in a stimulating, inviting, and nurturing environment.

  • Students feel “I can make a difference in my community.”

  • Where smaller class sizes mean better interpersonal relationships.

  • Students and teachers break bread together.

The Free School is a unique and important model of true community based education.

We are a school that believes that kids should be kids.  We do not give standardized tests and homework.  At The Free School kids to learn through play, exploration and our approach fosters creative-minded thinkers

An incubator for innovative schools and child-centered educational practices.  Over the past decade The Free School has directly inspired and helped to start more than a dozen schools and alternative learning spaces across the country and around the world.

The Free School is a progressive model of education that is responsive to a world that is full of learning experiences and styles.

We are part of a long tradition of freedom schools, democratic free schools and anarchist modern schools that aim to put control of education back in the hands of communities instead of the state. There are many school like ours across the country and around the world: Brooklyn Free School, Espacio A, Chicago Free School, Three Rivers Free School, Shikshantar, Village Free School, Patchwork School, Agile Learning Center and many others!

Learn more about democratic free schools and other schools like ours by visiting:

Traditional Subjects | Untraditional Pedagogy


At The Free School traditional academic subjects are taught in small classes with an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning.  Students learn at their own pace without the pressures of grades, homework or standardized state tests.  We emphasize discovery, fostering a sense of curiosity and love for the process of learning.  Instead of following the common core our curriculum is co-created by students, teachers and parents.



True Community-Based Decision Making


Free School students share responsibility with teachers for resolving conflicts and school problems through our student-led council meeting system.  Through this process kids quickly become fluent with the ins and outs of real participatory democracy.  The meetings are run by Robert’s Rules of Order and afford the opportunity to explore matters in great depth if necessary. When the issue is an interpersonal conflict, the meeting becomes a supportive circle where real emotional healing takes place.



Food Is Life, Make It Healthy & Fresh


Our kitchen is a fully functioning classroom where we prepare two hot meals every day.  Students help choose, plan and cook the meals. Through our backyard garden we connect students to the food they eat.  We also love visiting farms and engaging in discussions about nutrition, food justice, farming and sustainability.   



Teach The Children & Let Them Lead


The Free School is an integral part of a vibrant and diverse neighborhood in Albany’s historic South End.  We engage students in volunteering, local events, learning about different cultures and supporting important social justice efforts led by people in our community. 



No Child Left Inside


An important part of The Free School experience is getting outdoors into nature.  Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with all of their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them.  Not only do we regularly go on outings to local parks and go on hikes, but the school also owns a 200 acre tract of woods in Grafton, across the road from the Peace Pagoda, where kids learn wilderness skills and explore.

Another distinct feature of The Free School are the end of year class trips.  Every group of students goes on a big trip in the spring, with our Junior High class embarking on the most ambitious.  Our oldest group undertakes a major 7-10 day trip built around one or more community service projects. In recent years students have traveled to New Orleans to help with post-Katrina cleanup, and Puerto Rico to help clean beaches and learn about coral reef conservation.

The experience represents a rite of passage for them, not only because they have to cope with being far from home in unfamiliar surroundings for an extended period, but also because they have to figure out how to raise all of the funds and organize the trip themselves.



The Story of The Free School


Founded in 1969 by Mary Leue, the Albany Free School is the oldest inner-city independent alternative school in the United States. It all began when Mary’s ten-year-old son became so miserable in one of Albany’s better public schools that he asked his mother if she would teach him at home instead. Soon three of Mark’s also-suffering friends joined in and with that a little school was born. In June, Mary and her four students voted unanimously to continue the school for another year, with another vote establishing the name “The Free School.”


By the fall of 1973 the school was burgeoning with thirty kids, six full-time teachers, and a host of interns and volunteers. Students came from both inner city and uptown neighborhoods and from suburban and rural towns as well, and The Free School continued to steadily grow.

Just last year we celebrated our 45 year anniversary and our enrollment is stronger than ever.  We are so grateful for all the support our community of students, teachers, parents, alumni, neighbors, fellow democratic schools, local businesses and fans from the region and across the world!  It is not an exaggeration to say that without this support our doors would have been closed many years ago.

Rejecting the notion that students need to be bombarded bystandardized curricula and testing in order to learn, hundreds of students from The Free School have gone on to become graduates of four-year colleges, business owners, teachers, talented artists, filmmakers, musicians, leaders in their communities and successful in their chosen careers.

Throughout the 45 years that The Free School has been open it has attracted educators, college students, artists, activists, and so many others from all over the world to visit and learn all that the school has to offer. Some find it such an amazing community to be a part of that they stay for several years, becoming some of our strongest teachers.   Some stay to learn what they need so they can build their own school community elsewhere in the US and across the world.

The students who graduate from The Free School continue to be driven to explore the world around them and shape their education based on what they love. Because they spend their fundamental years in the Free School environment, they are aware of their own inner strength and have the tools to create the education they want with the resources around them.