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Family Handbook

The mission of Rock Tree Sky is to cultivate an inclusive learning community where everyone develops their whole self through directing their learning in relationship with others.

Rock Tree Sky maintains this mission by promoting: 


Community collaboration
  • Learning opportunities are frequently embedded in projects that serve the RTS community and beyond.

  • RTS is a mixed-age community. Though some classes and projects may be offered based on learner skill levels, the majority of the time is spent in a fully age mixed environment.

  • The campus boundaries are permeable to the community. Diverse community members are encouraged to share skills and passions with RTS learners and RTS learners are given concrete opportunities to share energy and creations with the larger community.

  • The insight necessary for effective collaboration is nurtured through adult modeling of compassionate communication, self-regulation, and emotional intelligence. Mentors take developmentally appropriate opportunities to support these same skills in children.                    

Learner Agency 
  • With the support of caring mentors, learners choose their activities, define their goals, and assess their progress.

  • Together, learners and mentors share the responsibility of educating oneself and the community.

  • Mentor Role​:​ ​create a rich environment;​ ​facilitate off campus activities to "expand the classroom walls" into the natural world and community​; ​model

  • engagement by offering activities, projects, and lessons to the community​; assist learners in identifying and navigating obstacles to their natural desire and propensity to learn​.

  • Learner Role:​ ​develop self-direction and time management skills through supported practice in choosing day to day activities

Making meaning
  • RTS has joined the makerspace movement, where students use both new technologies and traditional tools to work on real, and personally meaningful projects.


The following books and websites on education are recommended reading for parents whose children attend Rock Tree Sky.


Free to Learn by Peter Gray
The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
The Yes Brain by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn

Fare of the Freechild Podcast by Akilah S. Richards
Education Reimagined​ h​ttps://
The Alliance for Self-Directed Education​



Rock Tree Sky is open Monday through Friday 9am-3pm

Pick-up and drop-off will happen at the Summit School Campus at 12525 North Ojai Rd. 

Community Agreements

At Rock Tree Sky all learners, mentors, and staff commit to uphold the following three agreements: Take Care of Yourself, Take Care of Each other, and Take Care of the Space. These agreements inform how we show up to Rock Tree Sky. We often point back to these three agreements as a way of holding ourselves and each other accountable to being in a safe and caring community for all. 

  • Closed toe shoes​ are recommended, especially for those intending to work in the wood and metal shops.

  • Clothes your children do not mind getting dirty. A full change of clothes is recommended for our younger learners. Water/mud play, sand pit play, clay, and paint all exist in this space. It's often a good idea to have a back up set of clothes. 

  • Long hair tied up​ for children working with animals or cooking. 

  • Hats/sun protection​. Please apply sunscreen to children before coming to the program.

  • Hate speech is not tolerated on campus. It is also not tolerated when represented on clothing. 

  • Please note, that while we do not implement a traditionally strict or formalized dress code, staff does reserve the right to identify and request a change when attire appears inappropriate for holding the safety of the setting. 

  • Backpack comfortable to take on walks – water bottle, a notebook, pencils, and a reading book should fit in pack

  • A full water bottle every day labeled with child’s name

  • Change of clothes in a zip lock bag labeled with child’s name for K-6 grade learners

  • For older learners: Spiral notebook, pens/pencils and highlighters


Tuesday, September 6th is our first day. We will spend the first week introducing our daily routines, setting community agreements, and engaging in team building activities.


During drop-off time we support gentle separation. You may choose to stay with your child until separation feels appropriate. In that case, we ask that you find a place out of the way and let your child know that you will be right in that spot if you are needed. We support you in remaining entirely available to your child’s needs but not initiating interaction. In other words, be boring :)


If you anticipate wanting to stay with your child or you would like support in separating, please get in touch so we can create a plan together. In line with the self-directed education model, we do not use coercion or physical restraint to force any child to attend the program. While big emotions, tears, and feelings of ambivalence can all be a natural part of separation, children need to be active participants in their choice to attend Rock Tree Sky.


Drop-off time begins at 9:00 am. The school bus available to Summit School students arrives on campus at 9:15 am. Morning circle begins at 9:20 am. Arriving at or before 9:15 am is encouraged to allow time for learners time to greet friends and to put away lunches, jackets, books, etc. before participating in morning circle. Learners are asked not to arrive before 9:00 am because mentors are preparing the space and are unavailable for supervision.


Frequent lateness may leave a child feeling out of sync with the community events as many are announced and or reinforced the morning they are taking place. It is also during this time that learners state their intentions and request mentor support they may need on that day. 



Rock Tree Sky is a unique environment where learners and mentors are in close contact on a regular basis and illness can spread quickly. To ensure the health and safety of all persons on campus please do not bring your child to program if they are exhibiting symptoms of illness. Learners who develop symptoms while at RTS will need to be picked up and taken home.


In keeping with County Health Department requirements, all cases of head lice are reported to staff immediately. In the event of exposure to head lice, children are checked; if there are any lice or nits, the learner must stay home until they are gone. Lice control information is available on the web at ​​.



We love to share the goings on at Rock Tree Sky via pictures. It can be a great way to get a glimpse into your child’s time with us. Because many of us already use Facebook, we periodically post learner pictures here. RTS maintains two different FB accounts. One account is public and we do not post learner pictures here without parental permission. The other is private, meaning the page cannot be viewed or discovered without invitation from an administrator. Only current RTS families are invited to be members of this group. This is where we post learner pictures.

To be added to the private page, please contact Jim, he will invite you to join the group.
Parents are welcome to post pictures taken when visiting RTS on this private page. However, do not post pictures of other people’s children on your personal fb page without parent permission.


Because Rock Tree Sky is a small program without a receptionist and we are committed to modeling full engagement with your children, please contact us only in emergency during program hours. Mentors will check messages during pick-up times to communicate any changes in transportation plans.

Messages can be left for mentors via voicemail, text, or email. If you wish to confer with one of your child’s mentors, please schedule an appointment in advance.

Rock Tree Sky does have an admissions coordinator, Naphtalie. Any messages regarding admissions questions can be directed towards


Ever-changing and ever-faster computer technology continues to challenge mentors, parents, and learners to be mindful about how we communicate with each other. There is a growing expectation that emails, texts, and phone messages will be answered instantly, with a resulting loss of thoughtfulness in response. In keeping with our intention that staff communicate with parents in a caring and compassionate way, the following email, telephone, and text message response policy is in place.


Mentors and staff usually check their messages before the day begins (prior to 8:30am) and at the end of the day (after 3:30pm) but may not be able to respond immediately. Mentors will, however, make every effort to respond to parent email, texts, and phone messages within 24 hours during the week. On non-school days – weekends and holidays – the expectation is that emails, texts, and phone messages will be answered on the first day back (typically a Monday). During the day when mentors are with learners, mentors do not check email messages or texts regularly. As stated in our Conflict Resolution Protocol, email, texts, and phone messages are not the forum for processing conflict. As problems arise, we ask that adults engage in fact-finding in person with the appropriate parties.





Parents are welcome on campus and we ask that you do so using the process outlined in “parent involvement.” We ask that non-parent or family visitors tour campus on our scheduled monthly tour dates. Please email us to get on our tour list. Other visitors must sign in at the office.



RTS maintains a lost-and-found area in Hartmann Hall.
Lost-and-found items are periodically displayed in the parking lot; unclaimed items are given to charity or sold at rummage sales.
All jackets, sweatshirts, and other outer garments, as well as backpacks, lunch boxes or canvas sacks, thermoses, book bags, purses, and other easily misplaced items should be labeled clearly with students’ first and last name.





The Security Deposit, equal to one month of enrollment, is due upon enrollment and will be used as a final fee payment. The Materials Fee is invoiced during the first regular billing cycle.


One-tenth of the yearly fee is billed nine times, on the fifteenth of each month (August – April) with payment due within 30 days from the date of invoice. Fee is payable in advance and continues during student absences.


Rock Tree Sky has developed, with learner input, behavioral boundaries and consequences to keep the community safe. These boundaries are ever being assessed and discussed amongst staff and amongst youth. They are outlined in detail in our policies and procedures handbook.


Behaviors that will result in immediate action, such as a child being sent home to cool off and reflect, completion of an incident report, or a required break from attendance, include but are not limited to the following: physical aggression, hate speech, harassment, drug use, and sexual misconduct. We take these behaviors seriously and will examine appropriate next steps whether these behaviors occur on or off campus. Whenever possible we use restorative justice practices in addition to time away from campus to support our community members.


When issues arise, mentors model compassionate communication, engaging in fact finding, stating observations, feelings, needs, and requests. The steps involved in our conflict resolution practice are posted throughout the campus and can also be found here


We also use the structure of the “all program meeting” in which any community member may call a meeting of the entire program to address an issue that may need to be supported by the setting or revisiting of a norm. For example, a learner may feel unsafe on the playground due to a missing norm about where different games can be played. The community will discuss an issue at an all school meeting and form a culture committee made up of all interested parties. Anyone on the culture committee may put forth a motion to resolve the issue and if the motion passes with a majority, it is adopted and recorded, and, if relevant, will be communicated to parents.


Resources to learn more about compassionate communication from the Center for Non-Violent Communication:


It is hard to overestimate the impact our relationship to technology has on our well-being and that of others. Technology has the potential to alleviate hardship and support creativity. On the other hand, it has the potential to contribute to depression, disconnection, and destruction. What is undeniable is that it is and increasingly will be an integral part of our children’s lives. For these reasons, it is imperative that learners have the opportunity to practice responsible technology use and that our community has the opportunity to set norms that support the relationships we would like to have.


We do not have many pre-set technology rules. Rather, using our core guidelines of taking care of ourselves and each other, we will each year, and perhaps many times throughout the year, visit the issue of technology in all program meetings and culture committee meetings. Our hope is to think critically as a group and come up with conscious practices around technology use that serve to connect and enrich our lives. We will share the agreements we come up with via email and we ask that all adults in the community model appropriate device usage on campus.


The only preset expectations we have regarding technology use is that all age restricted material not be accessed on campus on any device without prior parent approval. As we are a mixed-age campus, it is possible that a child of any age may be within ear or eye shot without another person’s knowledge. It is thus imperative not to casually view material intended for older audiences. While learners are allowed to engage in weekly allocated hours for game-time, first person shooter games are ​not​ permitted. In the case of rated R movies or documentaries viewed for educational purposes, parent permission must first be obtained. We support this standard by placing website access controls on all computers provided by Rock Tree Sky.


Because RTS is not broken into specific classes and our daily program size sometimes exceeds 80 learners with a variety of dietary restrictions, we encourage Birthday treats to remain at home. We also understand this is an important offering for some families in which case we ask any treats offered to the community be home made. They can be distributed at the end of the day when parents are present to monitor their children’s intake.


Effective communication is the basis of a harmonious community and in turn society. As it is RTS’ intent to foster the skills to live in harmony with one another, we practice the following conflict resolution protocol.


One of mentors’ primary roles is to nurture learners’ social and emotional growth by supporting them in resolving interpersonal conflicts. At Rock Tree Sky, we see conflict as an opportunity to learn about oneself, others, and relationships. All RTS mentors are trained in and use various strategies for effective communication such as “compassionate communication,” “active listening,” “I statements,” the council process, and others.

As physical and emotional safety are foundational in any successful community, mentors are always available to address interpersonal needs. However, there will be times when an incident occurs that an adult is unaware of. Learners are asked to seek help when needed, just as they would a more practical issue.

Parents can support their children and the community by responding thoughtfully to their child’s report of interpersonal conflict at RTS. Sometimes a child might be sharing the issue simply to be heard. Before jumping in to “fix” the problem, validate their feelings, then ask them if they need help. If the answer is no, we support you in trusting your child. If your child’s answer is yes, or if you have a gut feeling that your child is in need of assistance but unable to request it, ask them what mentor they are in communication with regarding the issue. If the answer is “no one,” encourage them to talk to a mentor they trust. Please know that we will do all we can to support your child and involved community members to gain understanding about the issue and restore a sense of safety.

Important to note in regards to resolving issues of conflict: Mentors do not necessarily intervene when conflict is observed. It is our intention to allow learners the opportunity to engage in problem solving. Neither do mentors necessarily offer or enforce solutions that are adult created. Again, mentors seek to support youth in conflict resolution that is satisfying for them.

If appropriate, a learner or group of learners may call a culture committee meeting and see if the issue would be best addressed by passing a resolution, or social agreement, for the whole community to support and enforce. An example could be a conflict started regarding language use that a particular learner finds offensive. If a learner feels their requests are not respected by a given individual, they may want to call a meeting to discuss language use as a community norm. Perhaps the community would like to pass a motion the learner proposes banning certain language from campus. Or perhaps other suggestions arise from

the group meeting as to how these learners can co-exist peacefully. This is another mode of self-advocacy important to RTS culture.





In order to be a resilient, nurturing community, we must have honest, compassionate communication, particularly when concerns arise regarding what we value most - our children. We ask all members of our community to consider the following when met with a concern or conflict.


Step One ​– Fact-finding, and clarifying situations before taking action can often resolve an issue before it develops into a real conflict. Sometimes a concern is based on limited information, a misunderstanding, or a rumor. If a learner or parent has a concern, we ask that the first step taken is to SPEAK WITH THE PARTIES INVOLVED WITH AN OPEN MIND; ASK QUESTIONS and CLARIFY before passing judgment or sharing information with others. This approach can often resolve concerns before they become conflicts.


Step Two ​– Direct communication with the other party: When a genuine concern or conflict arises, THE FIRST ATTEMPT AT RESOLUTION MUST BE DIRECTLY WITH THE OTHER PARTY. We ask that learners and parents do this before speaking to uninvolved parties. Barring extreme circumstances, in the case of a conflict with a mentor, speak directly to the mentor involved, do not first report the conflict to directors. It is every mentor’s intention and training to address concerns with openness, kindness, and responsibility. If otherwise uninvolved parents or community members are brought into the issue before attempting to resolve it directly, it can create a sense of “sides” or social alliances which can escalate conflict as opposed to honest one-on-one communication which tends to de-escalate conflict. It is important that communication be made by setting up a face to face meeting with the other party. PLEASE DO NOT



Step Three ​– Mediation: If Step One and Two do not result in satisfactory resolution, learners and parents should seek help with mediation from directors. Again, please set up a face to face meeting during non-program hours to bring up issues of concern with a director. From this initial meeting, a plan will be made to further mediate the problem.





Parents/learners are responsible for providing a healthy snack and lunch. Please make sure that learners have a water bottle as well.


Parents are asked to bring healthful food to school events. To avoid excess use of paper and plastic products, please bring the necessary plates and utensils for your family’s use.


A child’s physical and emotional health is related to diet and for this reason we ask families to take care in choosing the snacks and lunches they send with their children to program. Additionally, because of the addictive and highly alluring quality of sweet food, it can become a cause for conflict between a child who has a sweet food and another who doesn’t. For these reasons we ask that candy, sodas, and other highly processed, high-sugar foods not be packed in your child’s lunch.

For learners who have parent permission to go off campus and purchase food, we request that sugary foods not be brought back on campus.


Lunch is a time for connection and rest for the community. Mentors request learners to be respectful of this intention and not run or shout in the eating areas during lunchtime. Learners are required to stay at lunch tables a minimum of 15 minutes with lunch boxes open so that they have ample time to decide how much their body needs on that day. RTS asks that young learners not share their lunch so that parents may monitor their children’s diet more accurately.


In an effort to curb consumption of plastics and cut down the amount of trash generated on campus, please pack snack and lunch items in reusable containers clearly marked with your child’s name. Any trash generated by snacks and lunch brought from home, should be taken home.



Physical and emotional safety are foundational for a learning environment where children feel free to explore and stretch their abilities. We support safety through our low student/facilitator ratio of 14:1, our conflict resolution approach, our structures for community self-governance, our tool safety protocols, and our emergency safety procedures. For full details of the Emergency Preparedness Plan, please see our emergency handbook available in the office.

We have numerous systems, protocols, and trainings to ensure the safety of your children. These systems are rigorously reviewed periodically and whenever an incident occurs. All that said, accidents can happen and it is our hope to build rapport and trust with one another such that if a true accident happens we support one another in minimizing trauma, maximizing healing, and improving systems to avoid future accidents.

We also support safety by giving children the opportunity to practice physical and emotional safety skills on their own. This means that while staff is available to students at all times and aware of the whereabouts of children, we intentionally allow children to venture beyond our direct line of sight. This gives children the opportunity and responsibility to practice those safety skills we model throughout our time together. Older students may be permitted, with parent written approval and at the discretion of staff, to take short excursions off campus in groups together unaccompanied by adults.


Carpooling is encouraged. Please reference the carpool map to make arrangements directly with fellow parents.

Before driving for a program activity parents must submit a copy of their driver’s license, complete a live scan and a copy of their insurance coverage to the office.

If your child is legally required to use a booster seat, please leave one at the program on field trip days, clearly labeled with your child’s name. For local field trips planned the day of, Rock Tree Sky has several booster seats children will use.


Ojai Unified School District will be providing bus service to the Summit/RTS campus for Summit student’s days at Rock Tree Sky.

We are sorry we cannot offer the current bus service to non-Summit families. 


The bus will pick up students at the skate park in parking lot in Downtown Ojai M-F at 9 am and arrive at RTS at 9:15. You are asked to please arrive 5 minutes early and masks are currently required. The bus will onboard students by the gate to the school district office parking lot. The bus will return to the same spot at approximately 4:05pm daily after picking up kids at RTS at 3:50. The name of the bus driver is Chris. The link to the official info is below.


As a part of the enrollment agreement parents are asked to complete an informal field trip permission slip. This allows groups to take local field trips in Upper Ojai at any time. There is also an option to approve field trips within all of Ojai and Santa Paula as our adventures sometimes take us further. For field trips outside those cities, we will send home a permission form stating date, time and particulars of the planned field trip. This form must be signed and returned to a mentor before the trip. Learners may not participate in out-of-town trips without written parental permission.



All drivers are expected to drive within the posted speed limits and ensure that children are wearing seat belts. Children are expected to be courteous and safe while riding in staff- or parent-driven cars or RTS vehicles. If student behavior becomes distracting to the driver, the driver should pull over, stop the car, and address the situation immediately. Please report any misconduct to the mentor in charge. Learners are expected to help clean vehicles after field trips.


Camping and outdoor activities are a wonderful opportunity to build connections amongst learners and between families. We have one camping opportunity at the beginning of the year and one at the end. Whole families are welcome to camp and learners who feel ready may camp without parent company.

Timely RSVP for camping is critical for us to reserve the needed space at our chosen campsite. Learners who will be camping without parents will either need to be sent with their own food or parents will need to contribute to a community fund to provide food for the group.





After the first few weeks of the program, we welcome parent volunteers during program hours! By participating in the community, we model our own enthusiasm for learning and sharing our skills. We understand that some families will not be able to participate during program hours and are appreciative of the many ways that parents add to the community.

Here are the guidelines for parent participation:

  • Parents can participate by offering a project or activity to students. Offered

    activities can be anything from a complex, multi-day project, to simply reading

    books or singing songs with children.

  • We also ask for regular supervising assistance at the outdoor component of the

    program. This volunteer position consists simply of being an extra set of eyes to

    track the location of students on the beautiful, expansive property.

  • There are also numerous campus care jobs that we appreciate support in


  • Keep in mind that Rock Tree Sky is a self-directed, collaborative learning

    community. This means that students (including your own child) may choose to participate or not in any of the offerings of the day. We request that parents not pressure any student into any activity.

  • There are many fun, unique tools and activities on offer every day. You may want to jump in! While modeling your own curiosity and enthusiasm is great, we ask that you keep in mind that the space and materials are first and foremost for the

children. When space is limited, please always defer an opportunity to play or use the materials to the students.

We recognize that some parents travel far distances to come to Rock Tree Sky and returning home is not feasible in the time during program hours. We also recognize that some children may feel more comfortable knowing their parents are nearby. We are working to update our office space so that parents may use it as a co-working facility. If a parent regularly uses the space or internet, we ask that you contribute to the cost of providing internet access. A suggested donation for a full day of use is $5 which you can leave in the locked cash box in the office.

Once a month there is a community building opportunity for parents and sometimes learners as well. There may be an “open makerspace night” a camping trip or simply a get together and discussion of the joys and challenges of raising our children outside of what seem to be mainstream cultural norms. We encourage you to attend these get-togethers, as a strong sense of community is crucial to create meaning and satisfaction and for us to build rapport with one another that is needed to get through challenges together.

Parent and learner feedback is an essential component to the continued growth of our program. While not all feedback can be acted on, we still welcome fresh ideas for program-wide improvement. Mentors regularly ask younger learners for informal feedback and older learners are given opportunities in the year to give feedback to their mentors. Parents are solicited for feedback periodically via an online survey.

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