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Freedom, expression, and understanding – all things that teachers want their students to experience. There are many restrictions in life, rules that say what you can and cannot do. It becomes a standardized ideal that life is about conformity, to do things the way everybody else is doing it.

However, Laurie Tweedle and Kim Wallace, teachers at Texas Online Preparatory School (TOPS), found a productive and enjoyable way for their students to be engaged and willing to express their thoughts and feelings that show exactly who they are.

Tiger’s Den is a social time for TOPS middle school students two mornings a week, which gives them a mental break from structured school courses. It is an expressive platform where the students get to have social interaction with their peers, as well as a place to make new friends.

“It just gives them some time to hang out and not have to be so serious for a minute before they get started with their school day,” stated Laurie.

The students share about the theme of the day, such as “Did you ever stick up for someone?” and “15 things that make you feel good about you.” They can write, sing, draw, play an instrument, or anything else they want to do that connects to the theme, giving them an opportunity to use their skills and talents for discussion.

It is a place where there is no judgment and no criticism, and only positive individuals who are open-minded. “Tiger’s Den is a safe environment for students in our online setting,” said Laurie. “They get some social interaction, make new friends, and get to know their peers.”

Zackary McGowan, an eighth grader at TOPS, says he enjoys that Tiger’s Den gives him the opportunity to interact with his peers and allows him to express himself without criticism. Zack’s favorite form of expression is singing a variety of his favorite songs.

Tiger’s Den is an outlet for self-expression and a way to build relationships. “I believe it has a positive impact on the students,” Laurie said. “The ones that come and get involved love Tiger’s Den!”

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