MISSOULA — Tucked away on Sussex Avenue in Missoula is a school that perhaps you’ve never heard of before.
Aspire Middle and High School caters to both full time students and home school students who join in for only certain programming.
The entire school has less students than most traditional classrooms have desks.
Executive Director of the program, Annie Graham said, “In our case, community is the most important part of our school.”
Teachers often echo her sentiment, sharing how well they get to know their students with the small class sizes.
Along with a 6 to 1 student-teacher ratio, Aspire prides itself on experiential learning. Think robotics, filmmaking, and outdoor education, which most recently took the kids on an excursion to Fort Missoula to learn about fire safety.
But just because this school is one of a kind, doesn’t mean it’s not feeling the impacts of COVID-19.
“For an experiential school where everything is hands on, we really had to take a look at how we can do that and what we valued about our community and how we could keep that going in an online community,” said Graham.
So they readjusted and developed a website, reevaluated how they held class, and purchased new equipment to enhance the lessons they sometimes have to teach online now.
“We have a STEM class where we’re doing lots of different STEM projects,” said Graham, “And I think it was a challenge because we had to figure out, okay what do students have at home, and how can we change our projects from something like 3D printing, where they clearly need to be with us, to a project that they can do with tape and paper and some scissors.”
Aspire opened its doors four years ago to offer a different option for kids who don’t learn in a traditional setting, and now they’re reinventing the wheel once again, but proving that the change doesn’t have to diminish a students chance to thrive in an educational environment.
“We've had kids come in from different situations where they're really enclosed and they're not very social and they're very quiet and they hide,” said English and Social Studies coordinator Mike Anderson, “And then, you know, second semester they’re with us and we can't get him to stop talking. They have friends.”
You can learn more about Aspire and their unique programming here: https://aspire.learningwithmeaning.org/