The Transylvania Times -

Mountain Sun: School Creates Community Of Engaged Learners

 

August 21, 2017

Courtesy Photo

MSCS students explore the biodiversity in their backyards.

Mountain Sun Community School allows children to discover who they are as learners, creators and citizens of the world.

Through challenging and experiential academic content as well as strong emphases on creative expression and outdoor education, Mountain Sun creates a unique educational environment where each person discovers what it means to belong.

At Mountain Sun, each child is guided through academic experience by their teachers who value the whole child as an individual. When teachers are seen as guides, the students have the freedom within boundaries to create an academic experience that is completely their own. The opportunity to choose their daily works, creative explorations and service learning projects puts learning in their hands, manifesting a community that loves to learn together.

Ronna Strilaeff, a mother of three Mountain Sun students writes, "I appreciate how the teachers see my whole child. They see their gifts and give them opportunities to shine. They also see their struggles and give them opportunities to grow into something the child feels proud of."

The multi-age classrooms at MSCS follow a three-year curriculum cycle so that children across the grades are often studying similar subjects but in developmentally distinct ways. Skills and objectives are taught, discovered and addressed through lenses which inspire the child to expand on her interests through depth and attention. These themes are addressed on appropriate developmental levels with flexibility to identify and select details that appeal to and motivate each group of children.

Kimberly Austin, mother of two Mountain Sun students writes, "My two daughters have vastly different learning and social needs with their vastly different personalities and learning styles and challenges. MS teachers, classrooms and structures are able to accommodate them both without one or the other feeling different."

In the multi-age classrooms, there are age groups of three: 3-6 year olds in the Primary Classes, the Owls and the Otters; first-third grade in the Lower Elementary, the Acorn class; fourth-sixth in the Upper Elementary, the Monarch class; and seventh-eighth, the Middle School class known as the Coyotes.

Lead Monarch teacher Becky Langerman writes, "When a child approaches Year A on an upper elementary level, she will be building on her knowledge from earlier presentations and experiences – year A in her lower elementary level. This will allow her to own her lessons and further her discoveries. Each year the presentations of lessons in the lower and upper elementary classrooms will look unique with attention to class make-up, current events and community needs. The threads and themes will remain constant with the details being discovered by the children."

This cycle allows the child to build information up from the base to the top, and it also allows students to be grouped by their pace and ability, not just their grade or age. Children are thus able to find their appropriate level of challenge, either by doing work above their grade level if they are excelling or getting the support they need if they're struggling.

Strilaeff wrote, "My child who was behind in reading now feels strong and confident with books and enjoys reading. It is clear that he never felt less than or ashamed for his struggles. All of my kids have maintained a strong love of learning and seek out projects on their own. The summer had hardly begun before they were talking about what books they would be reading once school started again as well as what science and community service projects they look forward to initiating."

Aside from creating a sense of community through the love of learning, MSCS has a strong familial foundation. Parents are often volunteering their time in classrooms or helping out at bake sales and field trips.

The school creates deep rooted love of others. With gathering circles every morning in each classroom, students share what they are feeling, excited for and wanting to work on. There is an opportunity for meditation, self-reflection and peer accountability. Mindfulness is manifested through the respect for oneself, others and his surrounding environments.

Once a week MSCS hosts Community Centering, a gathering that begins with the school song, "We Come From Mountain Sun," followed by community news from executive director, Michael Brown. Then students from each classroom share what they have been up to that week and what they are looking forward to in the next weeks.

Students are encouraged to spend time outside of the classroom in the forests and mountains that surround the school, both on campus at the Brevard Music Center and farther out in the Bracken Preserve and Pisgah National Forest. From outdoor education classes to backpacking trips, MSCS students are often outside of the classroom as much as they are inside it. Through these excursions through the woods or down to the lakes on campus, students learn a variety of real-life skills, including resilience and collaboration, and a respectful appreciation for the outdoors.

MSCS hosts a variety of fundraising events, like Transylvania Adventure Games coming on March 17, 2018, and the popular Tot Trade Consignment sales in the fall and spring. There are also frequent community events like class potlucks and picnics, Parents' Nights Out, and the chili cook-off and dance party. Students have daily opportunities to be in touch with their friends in other classes, allowing them to maintain bonds and friendships across grades and ages.

Dilshad Posnock, mother of two Mountain Sun students and the chair on the board says, "When we enrolled our first child at Mountain Sun we had recently moved to the area. Very quickly our family found an incredible community at the school, where great emphasis is placed on parent-teacher and family-to-family interaction.

"As parents we are always welcomed and encouraged to take part in as many daily school activities as possible. As a result I feel like I know my children's school environment and routine intimately and feel a strong connection with teachers, friends and other parents at the school. Mountain Sun provides a true second home for our children and its families have become some of our closest friends."

(Mountain Sun Community School is an independent, nonprofit school serving preschool through middle school and utilizes Montessori and other methods to provide a unique, inspired education for each child. Mountain Sun Community School is currently enrolling students for the 2017-18 academic year. For more information, visit http://www.mountainsunschool.org or call (828) 885-2555.)

 
 

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