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.