Glacier Lake School graduates four students
ST. IGNATIUS – At Glacier Lake School, teachers don’t decide whether students are ready to graduate; instead, students create a thesis that details their values, community contributions, and plans for the future, and classmates decide whether graduates are ready to move on to the next phase of their lives.
This graduation process is in line with the private school’s self-directed democratic educational model. The model has been used in other locations around the world for years, but Glacier Lake School was the first to use it in the state of Montana when it was founded in 2014. Students choose their coursework and make democratic-style decisions about how to run the school. The school accepts students in ages from preschool through high school.
Gabriel Moxness Myard, Jade Smith, Conner Ferril, and Kemberly Gibson graduated from the school this spring. They completed a number of reflections on their identities and future plans, wrote theses, and were approved by their classmates. While students don’t have to earn a specific letter grade or finish required courses to move on from Glacier Lake School, students face a different kind of challenge before they graduate.
“It’s a really difficult thing asking a 17 or 18-year-old to talk about their personal values,” said co-founder and staff member Ben Kestner. “It involves a lot of soul searching.”
Students at the school also faced challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic this year. While the school doesn’t have required classes like public schools, the courses that students opted into like math and Spanish continued to meet through video conference. Students had opportunities to maintain social connections with one another and with other democratic schools around the country via video chat.
Kestner said the school created a variety of plans for safely continuing education this fall, depending on the status of the pandemic at that time. He said if in-person school does resume, Glacier Lake School’s unique model will allow more social distancing and learning outside to curb the spread of the virus.
The school has grown significantly since it was founded. In the first year, the school had 12 students, and the 2019-2020 school year ended with 30. That’s the maximum capacity for the school as it is currently staffed.
Kestner said the school is looking forward to the future, for graduates and enrolled students. “We believe that no two kids are the same, so why should schools be the same?” he said.