The private Sage School in Hailey started its second year of operation with an expanded program and nearly double enrollment. The school also moved to a new location, housed now at the old Hailey Nursery building on Aviation Drive.
Founded in 2009 by longtime Blaine County educators Harry Weekes and Barge Levy, the school continues what the founders call "experiential education," offering its 21 students opportunities to learn and apply that knowledge in real-life situations.
"We're trying to do in this system things that you couldn't sell politically or factually to the people in charge," Levy said.
Levy, with 44 years of teaching experience, was referring to a traditional educational setting, a system he left in 2009 after founding the Blaine County School District's alternative high school and serving as its director for 16 years.
Though he's half the brainpower behind the founding of the Sage School, he now describes himself as "just a teacher."
Weekes, who taught for 17 years at The Community School in Sun Valley, is "head of school," a position synonymous with principal.
Weekes is also a teacher. Joining him and Levy is a staff of five: Chris McAvoy, Alice Bynum, Amanda Poitevin, Lexie Praggastis and Ginna Anderson. The seven teachers give the Sage School a student-teacher ratio of 3-1.
"It's almost as close to private tutoring as you can get," Weekes said.
The school offers a more traditional setting for teaching math, language arts and literature, but teaches science, social studies and history through project-based learning, a system that allows students to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-life situations.
But even math is more than just numbers and equations at the Sage School.
"It's the math you would encounter when you graduate from college and have to have a car loan," Weekes said.
Tuition is $12,000 per student, but Weekes and Levy expect to raise $40,000 this year in scholarship funds to help pay tuition costs for students who otherwise couldn't afford it.
New middle school
The Sage School offered only high school studies in its first year and had an enrollment of 11. This year the school is offering middle school studies, allowing expansion to 21 students. Eleven are enrolled in middle school and nine in high school.
Middle school students are embarking this year on a project called an "autobiographical unit," in which studies in genealogy are combined with anatomy and physiology.
Weekes said the project is designed to give students a "better understanding of self."
"They start out looking at their personal body—who am I—and then they go to genealogy to understand where they came from," he said.
The project will include studying yoga, a trip to a genealogy research center in Utah, a circus visit in Boise to see people who have mastered exceptional body skills and an excursion to a cadaver laboratory in Twin Falls.
High school students will be studying the history of agriculture, which Weekes described as "feeding people and all that that entails, including the economics and the business plan."
"It's not just gardening, it's really learning what's the market—what can you grow," he said. "Should we be growing lettuce? Should we grow tomatoes?"
Weekes said a major asset to the project is the 2,400-square-foot greenhouse that is part of the nursery facility, which will allow students to grow and study their own crops.
"What's exciting is we had a local restaurant contact us to grow things for her business," Weekes said. "All of a sudden we have this greenhouse, so we might be able to grow a small business."
Both Weekes and Levy said they made the right decisions more than a year ago to leave their more traditional school settings to pioneer a new way of teaching.
"I absolutely think I made the right choice," Weeks said, "It was a hard choice—it would have been easy if I didn't like The Community School, but I do. It was more philosophical, but it was the right thing to do."
"I'm really happy with the choice I made," Levy said. "It's just a very comfortable place to be. I don't see any bullying or name calling."
Levy said students at the Sage School quickly get over the grade-level or peer-group stratification typically seen in traditional school settings. Younger and older students work shoulder-to-shoulder and accept each other for who they are and the knowledge they can bring to a project.
"It's just a wonderful experience for them," Levy said. "I've had parents come in and say they've noticed a change in the kids' attitudes. They say the kids are talking about what they're doing and are actually excited about what we're doing here."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org