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Aubrey Brumfield, left, and Stacy Eggers V meet at the gate between the 2- to 4-year-old and 3- to 6-year-old playgrounds on the Mountain Pathways campus in Boone. Submitted photo

Originally published: 2013-05-04 17:00:08
Last modified: 2013-05-07 13:24:22

Mountain Pathways reaches milestone

For 25 years, a humble school on Howard's Creek Road has been working not just to teach but to shape and mold children on the path to lifelong learning.

Mountain Pathways, a Montessori school in Boone, is celebrating its milestone year with a gala later this month and with reflection on how the school has adapted and grown while sticking to its core mission.

"We are working on the whole child," said teacher and Director Glenn Grizzard. "It's not just an academic thing. It's not just a social thing. We're letting everything grow into an independent, little person."

Mountain Pathways was formed in fall 1987 by a few local families who shared a vision for an alternative learning environment. The school grew steadily and by 1993 had adopted the Montessori curriculum, which stresses self-reliance, freedom of choice and personal accountability by students.

The Montessori program is different than traditional public schools in several ways. Five classrooms at Mountain Pathways serve students in age groups, rather than specific grade levels. Students self-direct their learning by choosing from materials that are specifically designed to isolate certain skills. Standardized tests are nearly nonexistent, and students spend long recesses outdoors, examining the natural world.

The century-old approach has gained attention in recent years, as the founders of Google and Amazon attended Montessori schools.

"I don't know if we're making any little Google guys around here, but we're making some independent kids that know how to think and know how to contribute back to their society," Grizzard said.

Today, a staff of 13 serves between 70 and 80 students each year from one and a half to 12 years old, he said.

Jeanne Supin of Boone, like many parents, learned about the school by word of mouth. Knowing nothing about the Montessori program, she enrolled her daughter at the school, but worried she would have difficulty adjusting.

"That night, I was putting her to bed, and she said, 'Mommy, I love my new school so much I want to go there until I grow up,'" Supin said. "As I parent, I remember vividly, and that was it."

Her daughter remained at the school for the next 10 years, and Supin herself was involved as chairwoman and member of the board of directors.

Supin was present during what she considered two key events in the school's history.

Mountain Pathways was one of the first in the state to apply to become a charter school, but after a heated and difficult process, the school opted not to choose the charter route. Ultimately, the requirements for testing and other facets were too philosophically different from what the school desired, she said.

As a result, the school also gave up a chance to be tuition-free, and today parents work hard to keep the tuition in check and raise scholarships for those who cannot who need assistance.

The second milestone, Supin said, was growth. In the 1990s, the school added to its original building and in 2003 purchased a house next door to hold the elementary programs. Today, interest in the school is high enough that it must turn children away.

Mountain Pathways isn't done yet. Grizzard said plans to add another classroom are now in the infant stages. And the school will continue to work on expanding and enhancing the education it provides as it starts on its next 25 years.

But for now, it's time for staff, parents and alumni of the school to celebrate what the school has meant to them.

Former Mountain Pathways student Laurie Kirkpatrick, 21, now an Appalachian State University student, still returns to the school on occasion as a substitute teacher.

She said learning from Montessori-trained teachers helped her become a self-motivated learner, a skill she continued to use even after transitioning to public school for high school.

"They treated us like adults, which is a big part of the Montessori method, just to teach you that you are responsible for your actions and, from when you are young, to teach you to be self-motivated and independent and really teach you how to use your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills," she said.