Once upon a time, in a place called Golden, there was a school room in a temporary building, nestled against the foothills of a large mountain range. The little building had windows that filtered in natural light, a raised stage area in the center creating multiple work areas along with tables, chairs, a few desks against the walls and a beautiful space out back.

Every day one teacher and 34 students ages nine to twelve learned together. Students spent their time reading, writing, and doing arithmetic and all subjects were integrated. Reading and writing often took three hours each day because the children loved the quiet and concentration so much. There were no bells, no “periods” and no transitions to other teachers, except for math.

Because it was multi-age, a fourth grader could be in a sixth grader’s math class and vice versa. Students felt comfortable where ever they were and did not feel that learning was a competitive feat. They were not in competition with one other, only themselves, if at all. They moved between math groups as needed.

There were 19 different spelling lists and students tested one another, entering their own grades. Individual and class projects were the norm—one was always in the works like designing and building a mountain shelter and living in it, or a play or presentation or an experiment. There were also many field trips.

Students came and went on a weekly basis, bringing back stories and reports about how a biological lab works, or on solar energy, or what veterinarians or accountants do. In one year alone, students took 49 different field trips!

Each semester entailed a class project along with outdoor activities like sledding—directly behind the schoolhouse in an open space among little hills that led up to the mountains. During the winter, these were the “great white zoom areas,” perfect for a garbage bag and a bottom; an instant sled everyone could have—what a sight to see!

Colorful happy faces piled onto black garbage bags atop a hill behind the school, racing to the bottom, looking like magic carpet riders on clouds—their shreiks of laughter and glee peppering the air, wafting through a heavy lace of snowfall. On these days the students and their teacher were in heaven.

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Read the rest of the story in the online magazine, VIVAcini: