Learnlife’s Rites of Passage: How Our Learners Meet the Challenge

We use the transformative power of the rites of passage to help learners develop self-confidence, work with mentors and peers, learn and adapt.
Learnlife’s Rites of Passage: How Our Learners Meet the Challenge

When our learners start at Learnlife, they can be weighed down by self-doubt, uncertainty, confusion. By that inner voice saying you’re not good enough or smart enough or strong enough. Time to change the narrative. From fear of failing to confidence in succeeding.

We do that by helping our learners confront their worries, doubts and fears head-on.

Through our Rites of Passage.

It’s the passage from one of our programs to another -- from Explorer to Creator to Changemaker.

The Rites of Passage Process

Completing Rites of Passage is mandatory for all learners, but the timing is flexible. When a learner feels ready, they can propose that they begin a rite.

Here’s how it works.

Stage 1: Preparation

A rite usually takes five days to two weeks, depending on the learner’s age, maturity and other considerations. The learner takes time out to focus on this rite, away from the Learnlife space and daily life in our community.

The learner selects a mentor who will help them through the rites of passage process. It’s usually someone other than their regular mentor. One of our learning guides, Ana, puts it this way: “It’s an adult with whom they have a strong relationship, whom they trust. It’s someone who will give them the most support and push them the hardest.” For the mentor, the challenge is to strike a balance: support but not coddle the learner, challenge but not overextend the learner.

The mentor and the learner talk about what’s happening in the learner’s life. They discuss what’s blocking a learner’s personal growth such as an inability to make friends, complete a project, participate in activities, work on teams, finish a task on schedule or just get out of bed in the morning. From their conversations, they develop three ideas to address the learner’s biggest blockages. Getting to the very best ideas takes time, thought and effort.

The learner then discusses their three ideas (on a Zoom call) with a panel of their peers, learning guides and others. Learnlife’s rites of passage is kind of like an audition – of the learner’s ideas and the learner. The panel challenges the learner’s thinking, says Georgi, a learning guide. What blockages do these ideas address? How did you arrive at these ideas? Why do you think they will work? Can you develop this idea a little further? The questions are asked in a spirit of friendly inquiry. The panel also talks with the learner and their mentor to discern whether the learner has the temperament, the motivation and the ability to start, carry out and complete a project. The learner’s parents or other adult relatives or friends may offer their thoughts on the learner’s ideas for a project.

After the panel’s questions have been answered and any issues resolved, the panel and the learner agree on which idea the learner will turn into a powerful proposal for carrying out a project. The proposal explains what the learner will do, why they’re doing it, how they will do it and what the end result will be.

Stage 2: The Project

The second stage in a learner’s rite of passage is to work on a project, guided by the proposal and helped by their mentor. One learner wanted to move from Explorer to Creator. She wrote a journal, chronicling her inner fears and insecurities, her self-doubt, her sense of loneliness. It was a cathartic experience. By confronting her fears through writing, she found a new sense of self-confidence. Georgi noted: “When she finished, she told us she was ready to move on. Her Rite of Passage was a very moving experience, for her and for us.”

Another learner also wanted to move from Explorer to Creator. Holding her back were feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. She had difficulty making friends. After discussions with her mentor and a panel, she decided on a drawing project. She drew pictures of herself as she went through her day: happy, sad, tired, frustrated, playful, intent. Her drawings were displayed in Learnlife’s gallery. The project transformed her. “I’m happier now,” she said. “I know who I am.”

As learners go through the Rites of Passage, they have more autonomy in planning their projects – and more responsibility for completing them. That culminates in planning a project to advance to Changemaker. To be sure, learners still have the guidance and support of mentors, panels, parents and others, but it’s more on the learner to take a project from idea to proposal to result. From doing a project that required intensive reading, writing and reflection, a learner realized that he had to take responsibility for himself. “I can no longer be the boy who isn’t accountable,” he told his mentor. “I have to be a man.”

Stage 3: Post-Project

The learner, mentor, panel members and others review the learner’s project: what was accomplished, problems encountered, challenges met, lessons learned and, most important, how the learner has changed. A learner’s insecurities, doubts and fears never go away, but the learner knows how to overcome them, to turn them into positives: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-discipline, accountability, responsibility and more. This is cause for celebration. The panel recognizes the learner’s accomplishment in an informal ceremony. We announce it to our community of learners, learning guides, parents and friends. Our community recognizes that the learner has advanced to a higher status.


There comes the day when learners leave Learnlife to go out in the world, but Learnlife is always with them. Learnlife recognises connections between competencies, skills, core concepts and learning experiences. They can apply their experiences at Learnlife, and the Rites of Passage, in living their lives and pursuing their dreams. Whether they go to college, enroll in apprenticeship programs, study art or music, write a novel or screen play, become teachers, start a business, join a nonprofit organization or pursue other interests, learners will know how to overcome their fears, develop self-confidence, work with mentors and peers, participate in teams and, most important, learn and adapt. Life is a rite of passage, and our learners are ready for the journey.

Learn more about how competencies, skills and concepts fit into the new paradigm of learning.

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