The Hillsboro School offers a unique approach to education.
When Wendy and John Poczatek’s sixth grade daughter showed interest in stop-motion animation, her teachers at The Hillsboro School encouraged her to explore it “without fear of failure,” Wendy says. A month later, she could teach a classmate how to make a movie, and made several short movies of her own. It reinforced their decision six years ago to enroll both of their daughters at the school, a place where the focus on learning and passion displayed were immediately evident. “The environment at Hillsboro is unique in that it inspires curiosity, creativity and compassion among every person in the community,” Wendy says. “Students have so many opportunities to practice and experience what they are learning. I’m convinced that passion is contagious among this community of lifelong learners.”
Nestled on 30 acres off Elvira Road in Helena, The Hillsboro School Bober Lake Campus has a garden, woods and beautiful lake, which provide all kinds of unique opportunities for students, according to co-founder Dr. Melinda Bray says. “For example, students help plan the garden each season and take care of it; they develop trails, and make markers to identify flowers and trees,” she says. “Additionally, they take care of two rabbits, and we have an apiary. With parents’ permission students can learn to take care of our bees. It truly is an idyllic place to wander, wonder and be.”
The school uses a Montessori curriculum while also allowing students the option to participate in LEGO club, robotics teams, gardening and many other long-standing activities. Students can volunteer in activities such as Cahaba River clean-up and monthly help at The Christian Service Mission. The school also offers Hands-On Hillsboro Enrichment Camps, which consist of one-week camps allowing students to focus on a specific topic including woodwork, or T-shirt designs. The camps are also opened to the community, including students that homeschool during three weeks in September and March, according to Bray.
The school first opened in July 2017 and accepts children ages toddler through 12th grade.
Co-founder and business director Connie Edwards says the school currently has 25 students enrolled. Additionally, there are four full-time teachers, one full-time teacher aide and three part-time teachers.
Since attending the school, Poczatek’s two children, ages 10 and 12, have enjoyed the ability to learn while also being outside. “Our girls love nature, and the campus is a nature lover’s dream,” Poczatek said. “They spend so much time outdoors at school. They hike regularly with their class, work in the school garden, run, jog, walk on campus trails, explore and build in the wooded play area, and experiment, observe and learn in outdoor classrooms.”
Dorothy Ewing enrolled her pre-school son at the school after learning more about the curriculum. “I was not looking for a 4K program, but when I found Hillsboro School, I knew I had to be a part of the school and community,” Ewing says. “My son moves around all of the time and I liked that he has the freedom to move at school and not be stuck in a chair or desk all day. That was a concern when I was thinking about him having to sit still in a traditional school.”
Other factors for Ewing’s decision to enroll her child included class size and a more detailed focus on her son being able to excel at his own pace. She says faculty and staff take the time with her son, which is something she appreciates when sending him to school each day. “It is like I am sending him to school and the people teaching him are family,” she says. “They are patient, knowledgeable and they want my son to succeed. The kids are excited about learning and they can follow their own path to keep that fire going. There is no grade or age restriction to keep him from learning something he is ready for and interested in. There is no limit to how far he can go.”
The school begins Spanish immersion at the toddler level, where time together with the teacher is spent only speaking in Spanish. This language approach continues from toddler age through high school, according to Bray. The language of music is also an important aspect at the school, where the school collaborates with a certified Suzuki piano teacher and Early Childhood Education (ECE) instructor who works with students across age groups.
The school also has hands-on STEAM classes for elementary through high school students, which support science, art and math.
Bray says the student-to-teacher ratio is intentionally low, allowing the children to be well-known and understood by their teachers. The school schedule is a unique feature of the school. While the school meets 180 days, students go to school until the end of May, have six weeks off for the summer and return mid-July. There are also three week breaks in September, December and March for the students to recharge.
Poczatek said she has always felt like her children are truly “known” by their teachers, an aspect she has appreciated the most about the school. “We love how the adults in the community model respect each other whether they share identical or opposing beliefs,” Poczatek said. “The students are taught to practice respectful debate and conflict resolution even as preschoolers. Families support each other through joyful and painful times, and we are often on each other’s pick-up list. I often hear people describe a longing to find their tribe or village where they belong. That is what we found here at The Hillsboro School.”
For more information about the school or tuition rates, visit thehillsboroschool.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (205) 864-7330.