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Kids lead at new school

ST IGNATIUS – A new school without grades or homework or even teachers is about to open later this month. The school – Glacier Lake – is located on Wild Rose Lane in the home of school founders Ben Kestner and Lisa Pavlock, but it’s not exactly home schooling. 

“The kids begin the day by expressing what they are interested in,” Kestner said. “It’s hard to predict what a day might be like but there will be a lot of activity. It’s non-political, non-religious self-directed learning.”

A child’s answer to “what do you want to learn today” could be anything from the quadratic equation to how to figure property values in a Monopoly game. The learning philosophy is based on the Sudbury method growing in popularity across the country.

“It’s not something we came up with,” Kestner said. “This is the first school in Montana but there are 30 others across the U.S. The idea is that children learn when they are curious. Kids can hate math and not want to learn it, but then, one day something with them clicks and they want to learn it. When they are excited and passionate, they learn quicker.”

Their involvement in this method was inspired when they saw a change towards learning in the couple’s 6-year-old daughter as she started school. 

“We thought there has to be a different way,” Pavlock said.

They both have experience in education. Kestner — originally from England with a London based accent — taught as a music teacher for several years before becoming a principal in a middle school. He taught in England, Germany and Belgium. Pavlock taught language classes in Belgium, Germany and the U.S. She currently coaches basketball. While in Belgium, they developed the idea for the new school.

“We decided to move to the U.S. because they allow for more alternative schooling,” Kestner said. “We chose Montana because Lisa has family here and we love the area.” 

Kestner explained that education around the world needs updating. 

“The modern schooling system we know today was designed 150 years ago to educate the population for an industrial age,” she said. “We have moved on now to a very different world and the problem is schools haven’t changed much. We’ve gotten into a system that puts learning into categories and time constraints.” 

This new method gives kids freedom to learn in a way they were born to learn, Kestner explained. “Kids have a natural curiosity that they’ve had for thousands of years. We want to give kids a chance to take back that natural curiosity.”

But they aren’t against traditional schools.

“This isn’t a better way,” Pavlock said. “It’s just a different way. We hope to work hand-in-hand with the local schools because each kid is different and needs different things.”

Getting people to wrap their minds around a different way of educating children can be a challenge. 

“People assume that the kids in these schools are free to do whatever they want, including something dangerous,” Kestner said. But they do have rules, and they have involvement in those rules. 

“We believe that one of the best ways for young people to learn the principles of democracy is through direct involvement in decisions for themselves and their community.” 

When rules are broken, the situation will be discussed, and everyone has an equal vote. They also know that they can’t break the law. “They really don’t just run around doing anything they want all day,” Kestner said.

In the new school, the role of teacher is changed to “the guide on the side,” but they are not called teachers.

“The staff members are facilitators helping kids find resources and providing opportunities,” Pavlock said. “They can provide workshops and help kids develop new interests.”

Funding currently comes from tuition but they hope to change that by gaining a nonprofit status in the future, which will allow them to apply for grants.

“We want to make this alternative available for all kids,” Kestner said. 

Glacier Lake School is currently taking applications for admission and enrolling kids in the school’s summer camps. More information is available at or (406) 745-2345.

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