Our school is located in the heart of Missoula, MT on South Avenue. We began as a homeschool cooperative in 2015, with 12 students in middle and high school. We have since grown to 25 students and plan to continue our growth slowly over the next few years, as we search for a larger campus and establish our school culture. Aspire is unique in that it was formed by a group of students who really wanted a school of their own, that focused on what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to learn it.
In the spring of 2017, these students met to discuss a move to a new building, curriculum choices and their vision for their upcoming school year. These early meetings were chaotic, because even though the students knew what they wanted, they had so heavily relied on adult help in the past that they didn’t understand how to put their ideas into action.
Over the course of the spring and summer, the students became better and better at running their meetings and accomplishing their goals. We didn’t have much of a budget, so students donated furniture and supplies from home. We also found the University of Montana’s surplus property sale, and received discounts from home resource. Over the course of our first year, we made our new building home. One of our parents built our giant green screen for movie productions, and we carved out a little area for working on survival skills.
Why We’re Different
Every Friday, students come to school to run the school. The day starts out with committee meetings, where our four committees make decisions about the daily operation of our school and our plans for the future. Our committee system, developed by our students at the end of their first year, allows smaller groups of students to focus on accomplishing specific goals, which can then be brought to the larger group for a vote. We have a committee that sets the rules, one that develops curriculum and activities, one that focuses on fundraising and volunteer work and one that works on our strategic plan. Each committee is assisted by an adult mentor and lead by a student, who speaks on the committee’s behalf at our all school meeting. This is often referred to as a “democratic” model of education, as students have a direct say in what they will learn and how they will learn it.
The Big Idea
Why do students learn what they learn in a traditional high school? We’re not entirely sure and neither are our students. Academics are an important part of life, but academics that don’t make sense to students just feel like a waste of their time. At Aspire, we strive to find ways to connect academic content to the lives and real world experiences of students. Often, this makes our class experiences challenging, because students are asked to apply their knowledge and justify the meaning behind their experiences, instead of just memorizing course content. Our program is experiential and place based, meaning that students “get their hands dirty” and experience learning in the context of our local community. This is not to say that we don’t sit down and put pencil to paper at times. Our students have a goal to do well on the ACTs and to develop study skills that will help them succeed in college, so we target and practice those skills that will help them accomplish their goals.