Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Mountain School set to open

Curriculum promotes sustainability and teaches through hands-on approach

Express Staff Writer

Kayla Chaffey enjoys a Mountain School moment with clove (the bunny) & Goverdani (the cow). The new ?green school? comes complete with a curriculum consisting of organic gardening and animal husbandry education.

With spring in the air and the Wood River Valley getting greener by the day, the opening of The Mountain School, a new environmentally conscious private school north of Bellevue, has a fitting background to work with.

The Waldorf-affiliated school is set to open in the fall. It will offer its "hands-on" educational experience for children 4 to 6 years old. The school will also offer after-school programs for 7- to 12-year-old children and a variety of summer programs, beginning in May.

"The bottom-line is we are trying to work with children through movement and sensory integration," said Katherine Woods, head of the school and teacher of all programs. The school offers, "hands-on, real life, concrete learning experiences. Everything they're learning about they see in real life, whether it's on the farm, in the garden or wilderness, or in the kitchen."

On campus, the school has chickens, a milk cow, Pygora goats, rabbits and honeybees. Both in the classroom and on the farm students will have the opportunity to be immersed in a multitude of real life endeavors. Whether it's feeding animals, helping with chores or growing plants using biodynamic gardening methods—students will learn by doing, Woods said.

Biodynamic gardening is built on the premise that the more self-sufficient a farm is, the healthier it will be—a premise that in many ways is the foundation of the Waldorf educational system.

According to the Association of Waldorf School of North America's Web site, Waldorf education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent. Waldorf teachers "strive to transform education in to an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head."

"The organic farm shows the interdependence of all things," Woods said. "By teaching children about food, shelter and clothing we help them gain a true, deep sense of self."

The school's 450-square-foot greenhouse is built with sustainability in mind. The greenhouse and the main school building are fitted with solar heated, circulating water floors and wood-chip and concrete composite blocked walls. The greenhouse is sunk several feet into the ground, adding natural climate control. Ketchum-based Living Architecture designed the building pro bono.

The Mountain School is currently taking applications for its inaugural year. Due to zoning restrictions the campus can host only 20 students at any given time. The school offers tuition on a sliding scale, and has established a financial aid committee to ensure "that no child will be turned away for financial reasons," Woods said.

The paramount factor "is that the parents are committed to their child's education." Woods said. "One of the original visions of Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf education) is that every class should have a true socioeconomic balance."

The Mountain School wants to encourage children to "approach life with beauty and reverence," said School Administrator Patti Lousen. "We want to ensure that they are going to be inspired by what they learn."

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