FreeFlight aims to encourage students to explore their curiosity and interests while building their self-esteem and critical-thinking skills.

Living in the competitive environment that is Silicon Valley, Los Altos residents and parents Priya Dharan and Anusuya Rao noticed how many students in the area were singularly focused on college admissions – obsessing over test scores and GPAs rather than the skills necessary to succeed in the real world.

“Sitting here in the valley … we all sense this pressure to succeed and have this very narrow definition of success,” Dharan said. “We’re just running at such a fast pace that you have no time to pause and think about what might be good to do.”

Rao added, “In the Bay Area especially, we get so caught up in the grind that we forget the more important parts of life that are needed. How about continuing on after high school?”

Inspired by local Bay Area nonprofit A Future for Every Child (AFEC), Dharan and Rao were adamant that a program redefining success was essential to the Los Altos community. Similar to AFEC’s initiative in India dubbed Launchpad to Adulthood, which supports orphaned children transitioning into independent living, Dharan and Rao said they wanted to design a curriculum that targets practical life skills for students not currently taught in school.

“I found, as a parent, that (these skills were) lacking for my kids, and there was no place that focused on stuff like this,” Rao said. “So, we got together with a bunch of other like-minded parents and felt a strong need to create a club that focused on life skills and soft skills, and even role models who are off the beaten path.”

With this idea in mind, Dharan and Rao, along with AFEC’s founder Gita Gopel, quickly organized a steering committee and developed their program – FreeFlight – set to launch next month.

Filling a need

Launchpad for Life’s flagship self-discovery program, FreeFlight serves local middle and high school students and their parents. Described on its website as a nurturing environment, the program aims to encourage students to explore their curiosity and interests while building their self-esteem and critical-thinking skills. The parent-child affinity club aims to empower young students and expose them to alternative avenues.

FreeFlight officially begins Sept. 11, meeting in person once a month until June. While it is open to high school students and their parents, the program targets middle schoolers and their parents. The curriculum will span multiple years and build on past content, according to the founders. However, the sessions are designed to be standalone to ensure new students can join in future years. While the curriculum focuses on life skills – including topics such as financial independence and clear communications – Dharan and Rao said the topics are flexible and will be tailored to fit the audience’s changing needs.

Students and parents will be separated into two groups to ensure comfort and transparency but will be led through the same activities, they added. Meetings may consist of mindfulness exercises, topic-related activities, speaker Q&As, role-play scenarios and reflections. Trained youth moderators, typically high school or young college students, will lead the student group while other adult volunteers will lead the parents.

After holding three initial sessions throughout the summer, Rao said the students who attended really “wanted to be there,” including one who returned early from a Yosemite trip to participate. Rao said she was quite pleased by the early positive feedback and participant validation that there was a real need for this type of program.

FreeFlight is slated to meet 3-4:30 p.m. the second Saturday of each month at outdoor locations in Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Early-bird registration ends Sunday. The annual membership fee is $400 for both parent and child, and $200 for additional siblings.

For more information on FreeFlight, prospective members may attend the informational meeting with speaker Swati Mohan scheduled 2-3 p.m. Saturday in Los Altos. Find details at