The Yew School, a New Private School in Pocahontas County
The Yew School, a new private school in Pocahontas County, opened its doors in mid-August at the Yew Mountain Center near Hillsboro. Shane Groves, the Math and Science teacher, tells us about the school, which currently has 9 students in attendance, mostly in grades 6 through 8.
“It’s a non-profit private middle school,” said Groves. “We started in mid-August, and I believe we are going to go all the way to June, so we’ll end up having a fairly normal school year. The kids are here from 8 till 4, so fairly normal hours. We have such low numbers that we are able to have them over lunch and do more activities outside. So it’s less time dealing with large crowds, and more time just having a good time and experimenting with learning.”
What’s the general philosophy of the school?
“I think the general philosophy was just to get kids outside learning in a way that’s more spirited, more real. I am just excited to be outside every day and taking a new look at teaching and get to experiment and have more fun. Kids these days want to move around, they want to chat and have a lot of fun. Being inside all day long, it just gets so cramped, and it is hard to stay focused, it is hard to stay centered. And, here in Pocahontas County the nature of the school is built around the county and the area, which is so vast and beautiful. So, we are just trying to take kind of the spirit of the area and put it with how we feel kids should be learning, and how kids should be learning, which is moving around.”
We have two different four periods; each are an hour and a half. So, I’ll take younger students in the morning and teach Math and Science for an hour and a half, and then we flip-flop. So, then the History and English teacher will send over the higher-grade students and I’ll teach them Math and Science.”
Shane, what are the qualifications of the teachers?
“I am a certified Math Teacher, so I could walk right into a middle or high school classroom and start teaching. Our humanities teacher, he’s been a teacher in different private schools. The Dean, Erica (Marks) has been a Science Teacher as well, so we all have an education background.”
To learn more about the Yew School, we talked with Erica Marks, the Dean of Academics.
“I am Erica Marks, the Yew School just started this year, but it’s been an idea in the making for many years. It’s been a long-held dream to do a middle school that’s experiential and outdoor focused.”
“It’s our first year of the Yew School, and we have 9 students. It’s a wonderful mix of students. They are coming from home school backgrounds and they’re coming from public school backgrounds;”
“We are experiential and it’s project-based. So, combining kids of different ages in small groups, so when you have a project that they are all working on together collaboratively, it allows students with different abilities to plug in at their levels. Right now, we have thematic units that we’re covering. And, that is how we organized out year.”
“The first unit we are starting with is a unit on bread, and so we are looking at it like from a cultural perspective, and looking at world cultures and how civilizations have organized themselves even around bread; the biology and the chemistry that goes into bread; and looking at it locally, we’ll visit the McNeel Mill; and we’ll visit a local baker; and the kids will be making bread. The first day of school they built a fire and they made bread on the fire. So it’s really participatory and inquiry based. So we have the flexibility so that if a student is doing this kind of hands on learning and questions arise, we can take time in the day to kind of pursue that kind of inquiry and see where it leads them.”
We asked Erica if this school seemed to attract any certain kind of parent or kids?
“We have such a mixed bag with our student families right now. We have a lot of diverse backgrounds, and the one thing they have in common is they all want their children to be excited about learning. And we just know that for some kids, a traditional way of sitting down at a desk with paper and pencil or behind a screen, is just not suiting their learning styles. And so, this is just giving an option to meet a different kind of student, who maybe has a higher activity level, or just needs to be outside, maybe isn’t such a linear thinker. And I don’t really see any sort of ‘kind’ of parent. You know, I think if we sat down to have a political conversation, sparks might fly among our student body. But we’re talking about the essential things. We’re talking about bread, literally breaking bread together. That transcends some of these other things that get in our way, creating divides that might not be as consequential as maybe you hear on the media.”
“We are still enrolling. If someone wants to come and try it out they can spend a day with us and see what it is like.”
If any parents are interested in learning more about the Yew School, here is the website for the school – https://www.yewmountain.org/yewschool.