At the Niagara Alternative Learning Alliance there’s no homework, no tests and kids as young as eight are being taught questionable scientific subjects such as epigenetics.
“It’s all about the kids. We don’t do tests and we don’t do homework, right? Because we don’t want the kids to be on their core brain,” Lori Davidson, co-founder of the pod, said in an interview last week.
“Today we are going to be talking about epigenetics and how the chemicals released in your brain are based on your thoughts,” Davidson said.
Epigenetics is a relatively new science based on understanding the changing behaviour of genes under certain conditions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
It has been criticized as being susceptible to quackery and pseudoscience and in 2020, Dr. Allison Bernstein told McGill University's Office for Science and Society that “this field is too new at this point for there to be any evidence-based recommendations.”
Nevertheless, Davidson spoke about the power of the placebo and thinking over one's biology.
“Fear is the number one disease that can turn your genes on and off. Fear is a true killer so we can’t let the kids be scared,” she said.
“A lot of kids have a fear-based response to math. They’re reacting as if there’s a tiger in the room and if you’re reacting as if there’s a tiger in the room you can’t learn.”
“And if you’re trying to learn off a computer, it’s releasing too much serotonin, which means your brain won’t work.”
Davidson explained an exercise she had for the children to help them with their mental health.
“The younger kids are going to draw sad faces and then happy faces and then what makes them happy because they want to turn sad thoughts into positive thoughts,” Davidson said.
She gave a further example.
“ ‘Oh, I hate doing laundry.’ Change it into, ‘I’m thankful that I have laundry to do,’ because you want to release good chemicals in your body because that keeps you healthy,” she said.
After a question from The Lake Report regarding the status of COVID-19 testing at the pod, the founders refused to answer and asked to be withheld from the publication and further interviews.
This week they reaffirmed their unwillingness to engage in interviews or conversation regarding the operation in the old Virgil school.
The “learning pod” allows more that 50 children and adults to mix without wearing masks. After inquiries by The Lake Report last week about the school's curriculum, practices and policies, the Ontario education ministry, Region of Niagara and Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake all said they were investigating the school.
Previously, Davidson laid out what a regular day would look like for the pod children.
“They normally play outside until about 9:30, the littles, anyway, because they have more energy to burn off. But, yeah, there is structure,” she said.
When a reporter visited last week, some kids were in classes, some outside, some in the halls and one was having a nap on a couch.
“We do the homeschooling based on the Ontario curriculum and we get that out of the way in the morning and the rest of the day is all skill development,” co-founder Monica McCourt said.
Davidson said the kids also have the freedom to choose what they would like to learn.
“If a child wants to play piano all day, oh, we’ve got music educators, let’s do that. We have guitar, one of our educators speaks three different languages, three of them speak Spanish, we’ve got four French teachers,” she said.
“So, it’s basically whatever you want.”
Davidson said the pod teaches “specialty lessons” every day between 1 and 3 p.m. and provided an example.
“We taught them how to make vinegar the very first day,” she said.
“Because, you know, what did everybody panic about during the initial pandemic was no hand sanitizers. Like, calm down guys, it’s just vinegar and calm down, we can make it with fruit,” she said.
A 2014 study by the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health determined vinegar, while capable of killing germs, is not strong enough to be a true substitute for manufactured sanitizers.
Davidson said if a child needed help with speech development then the money paid by parents, which goes into what Davidson refers to as “the collective,” would be used to hire a professional.
“We’ll figure it out, because that’s what the collective does. We take care of that child together,” she said.
Davidson said she sometimes teaches one lesson to children ranging from eight to 13 and last Monday was preparing to teach them epigenetics.
She said she used to run a restaurant and made no claims to The Lake Report about having teaching credentials.
“I have to base a lesson which all of them can understand and then I give them work at the level that they will understand,” she said.
“So, it’s about empowerment too, so we’re teaching kids how to feel powerful and be in control of their own destiny so they’re not scared of things,” she said.
“We teach epigenetics to the kids, we teach quantum physics to a four-year-old. It’s not hard to do, right?”
Davidson said many of the parents who are dropping kids off at the pod have shown an interest in learning from them as well.
“A lot of adults don’t know this stuff either and that’s why we have a lot of adults coming in and they’re like, ‘Oh, we want to learn this stuff too, we don’t know any of it,' ” she said.
Davidson said they were also teaching the kids “foraging lessons.”
“We’re just going to drop the kids off at Malcomson Eco Park and they’re going to learn how to forage there,” she said.
Davidson said adults had volunteered their time to teach the kids outdoor survival lessons.
All of these “skills-based lessons” serve to teach the kids what Davidson deems “the old knowledge.”
“Our grandparents are passing away and they have information that we don’t have about how to grow your own food, how to mend a hole in your pants, how to fix your car,” McCourt said.
“So many kids, they just don’t know. They have no clue how to do any of this and a lot of adults our age don’t know how to do it either,” she said.
“We’re trying to bring that back to the education system for children and teach them the basics, because they’re not getting this from the government.”
McCourt said she was going to teach the kids small engine repair by having them take apart a weed whacker.
Davidson referred to two women as the “crystal sisters,” and said they teach the kids yoga and “geology” every morning.
She also said one of her influences is South African politician Michael Tellinger for creating a free community in South Africa.
Tellinger is the authour of several books, such as “Slave Species of the Gods: The Secret History of the Anunnaki and their Mission on Earth,” which posits a claim that human beings are the result of genetic engineering by an alien species known as the Anunnaki, who used us as slaves on Earth and left us here, according to the book's description on Amazon.com.
“The resumes that we have from the people that are coming in here are just phenomenal,” Davidson said.
The Lake Report acquired the informal resume of one of the teachers at the pod, Désirée Key.
Key is learned in four languages and has a B.A. from Brock University in applied linguistics and Spanish.
“As a teenager, I quit high school, travelled around Europe for a year, and then enrolled in an experimental high school in Germany,” she told The Lake Report in an email.
Key is also a sound and usui reiki master teacher, a “gentle yet powerful form of energy healing,” she said.
According to the Cancer Research Institute of the United Kingdom and many other sources, “there is no scientific evidence to show that reiki can prevent, treat or cure cancer, or any other disease.”