The Schoolhouse – An Experiential, Interest-Based Education


{Disclaimer: We are working with The Schoolhouse Learning Center to bring you this post.}

 As moms, we hope our kids grow up to be happy (or at least content) and successful (whatever that means for them). For our family, The Schoolhouse Learning Center, an independent K-8 school, has gone a long way in supporting these goals.Climbing fun at The Schoolhouse

My intention as a mom has always been to allow my children to discover and explore their specific talents, and feel appreciated for just being themselves. Some days I do this better than others, but on my less-than-great days, it helps to know that the teachers and staff at The Schoolhouse have these same interests at heart. Our family has been through some rocky times over the past several years. During these times, I have often been heard to say that I believe my kids are thriving in large part because they’ve been at The Schoolhouse, where they feel like a valued part of the community. It’s definitely their home-away-from-home.

But these are only my personal reasons for sending my children to The Schoolhouse for seven years and counting.

Academically, kids are truly met where they are, while at the same time being encouraged to be brave in their learning.

My boys (now ages 9 and 11) have been doing research projects since kindergarten. Historically, students moving from The Schoolhouse to public school are found to be ahead of their grade level.

The Schoolhouse’s educational approach encourages inquiry, personal choice, and depth over breadth.

Each year, teachers choose two areas, one scientific and one cultural, that will be the focus of research and learning throughout the year. This year, the focus in science was oceans.

To begin the research and display process, students from all the elementary classrooms gathered together to brainstorm anything they could think of having to do with oceans. They ended up with well over 100 ideas from which each child chose his or her research topic. The research was done over the period of a month and culminated in an all-school open house where the kids had the opportunity to share what they learned with their parents and friends. This process is repeated twice yearly, for the science and culture displays.

Another part of the science unit focused on the life-cycle of fish. To do this, the combined 2nd and 3rd grade classroom received a delivery of over 100 trout eggs. Students observed the process as the eggs hatched and grew into tiny fish. Finally, all the elementary students participated in a trip to the LaPlatte River to release the fish babies into the wild.

The Schoolhouse's annual school play
The annual school play

A culminating event in this year’s study of oceans was a field trip for students in grades 2-5 to the Seacoast Science Center in NH. There, the students examined tide pools, learned about sea animal rescue, and even had the chance to sleep over in the museum (my boys chose to sleep next to the sharks!) It was an experience they will never forget.

Another wonderful program at The Schoolhouse is Farm, Food, and Forest. In partnership with Bread and Butter Farm, the students spend time each week working on the farm, learning and exploring in the forest, or helping to cook local food in The Schoolhouse kitchen. Classes rotate each week, so all students have ample time in each of the three areas. My kids have come home thrilled to tell me about their time spent rolling hay bales, identifying animal scat, or gathering and learning to properly chop the ingredients to make a soup (which becomes lunch for the school community that day.)

One of the things I love most about The Schoolhouse is the importance of community, both within the school and in the larger community outside the school.

This is a thread that runs throughout The Schoolhouse experience. One example, from the kindergarten classroom, is the penny drive. Each year, students in this class collect donations of pennies for a gift to the community. My older son was in kindergarten the year Hurricane Irene hit Vermont, and the students chose to donate the money they raised to help renovate a historic covered bridge. Other gifts have included a pear tree for the school grounds and a roof for the school tree house.

Each year ends with an all-school closing ceremony. While attending this year, I heard a wonderful story: a 6-year-old 1st grader has been an elementary student at the school for two years. His older brother attended for two years before him, so this child has been a part of the community for four years. As the school year wound to a close, his parents gave him an option: a trip to Disneyland or attending The Schoolhouse for another year. It was his choice completely. He chose to continue at The Schoolhouse.

I have tried to share some of the reasons I so dearly love this school and community, but can only scratch the surface with my words here. I am always happy to share more when asked, and of course, the school is available for visits or further inquiries.

Below are thoughts from other parents about their children’s experiences at The Schoolhouse:

Our son is an outside-the-box thinker. Before we found The Schoolhouse, he didn’t feel seen or fully understood at school. Now, he knows his teachers “get him,” by encouraging him to ask questions and think critically. He is not only seen but celebrated.

We love the Farm Food Forest program. It puts students into direct relationships with local food systems and the natural world. We all talk about the importance of sustainability; SH immerses our son in it every week.  

We also love this community. Parents are always welcome and present, and the wonderful teachers have created an environment of trust and belonging, where everyone is respected.” ~ Ronda Olinsky-Paul

“The Schoolhouse is a fantastic place for a gifted child. The multi-age setting and mixed-grade classrooms make it the ideal place for differentiated instruction and social interaction – in fact, each and every kid in this school benefits from individualized planning and one-on-one instruction during the course of the day. Every kid is seen – no matter at what level – and met where they are, regardless how traditional or asynchronous their progress may be. We consider ourselves extraordinarily lucky to have landed here and would highly recommend it.” ~ Jen Albers

“I’ve often heard that The Schoolhouse attracts families with gifted children, and I suppose that’s true. On a whim, I perused the websites of several schools that bill themselves as schools for gifted learners, and I realized this: the special “gifted” curriculum offered by these schools is simply the day-to-day standard for Schoolhouse – and has been for 40 years.

Instead of being for gifted children, The Schoolhouse itself is the gift, and they share their passion for creative learning with all comers.

Schoolhouse parents playing with children.

My daughter has loved being in the elementary school, learning through hands-on projects with themes that span the entire school year. She’s really able to dive deeply into subjects and integrate all of the academic skills that would normally be isolated as disconnected learning in math, history, science, language arts, etc. And the connections she makes across topics is sometimes astonishing!

My son just graduated from middle school. His years at The Schoolhouse have been transformative, and I have no doubt he’ll succeed as he moves on to public high school. Not only is he academically prepared (over-prepared, in fact), he’s socially and emotionally ready. The Schoolhouse has always emphasized the mind AND the heart. At the middle school level, when tweens and young teens are coping with so many changes, that kind of integrated approach really begins to bear fruit.” ~ Annie Mollo


If the testaments above speak to you, check out The Schoolhouse in South Burlington by calling (802) 658-4164 or visit online at  


Guest Author: Natanya Lara

Originally from the Hudson Valley of New York, Natanya spent a decade traveling and living from New Zealand to New Mexico and in between. After moving back East, Natanya settled in Vermont with her two always energetic, often loving, and sometimes exasperating boys. She recognizes that her children have been the catalyst for her own growth, leading her to the deeply meaningful work she does now. Natanya is an Energy Healer, working with children and adults to relieve stress and anxiety, and to create a less overwhelming, more aligned life experience. Learn more about her work at


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