Both students and faculty are overjoyed with the new facility, and the new teachers are excited to participate in being a member of the Mountain School community and teaching its values.
"Somehow they just manage to find people who fit the personality of the school," said Andrew Hess, 17, a senior who has been at Mountain School for the last five years. "I love their character and how outgoing they are and the way they structure the classes," he said of the new teachers. "It makes a big difference to have teachers like Kirsten who have really good educations and really know what they're doing."
"Kirsten" is Kirsten Ostberg, who along with Alison Swain, Julia Bensen, Dan Conzelman and Amber Hughes is a new member of the faculty this year.
Ostberg is teaching science to the fifth and sixth grades and the high school, and math to grades seven and eight. She holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Colgate University and a master's in chemistry from Columbia University. She taught chemistry, conceptual physics and environmental science for three years at the Suffield Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut where she was also an instructor with the Suffield Outdoor Leadership Opportunities program. In the summers, she led educational trips with Wilderness Ventures.
The Mountain School's combination of classroom and practical learning attracted her to work at the school, as did its core values of respect, love of learning, integrity and responsibility, which are posted on signs in every classroom.
Now that she is here, she finds the culture of the school just as exciting.
"The students here really know how to engage with adults and with their teachers," Ostberg said. In her previous three years of teaching she found that "sometimes you really have to pull it out of kids, but here they're used to asking questions when they come to mind, and answering when they're asked a question."
This culture is changing the way she teaches: "I came from a very traditional background of textbook-based teaching. It's more flexible here, more based on hands-on learning," she said. Chemistry, too, can be pretty dry, and teachers tend to spend a lot of time lecturing. "I'm trying not to do that. I want the kids to make their own discoveries," she said. "I'm trying to make it more relevant, more interesting, more accessible."
The students help, she said. "They're great about telling you what they're interested in. It's not always relevant, but they'll tell you."
And the rest of the faculty is "very helpful and supportive," she said.
All the faculty met for a two-week orientation before school started this year, where they discussed the school's mission and values, as well as individual techniques for teaching, which new members of the faculty said was not only practical and helpful, but also inspiring.
The high school science lab is not finished, but will be soon, and when it is, Ostberg will be able to conduct experiments with the kids using instruments connected directly to computers that will graph the results in real time.
The students love the new building, Ostberg said. "Every day they say, 'This is great.'"
Ostberg was a little nervous, she said, about teaching math around a Harkness table the conference style table that the philanthropist and oil baron Edward Harkness developed for Phillips Exeter Academy in 1930. But there are only six students in her class, so everyone can see the board as well as each other. "It's great for problem solving in a group," she said.
The Harkness tables also work well for the two new humanities teachers, Swain and Benson.
Swain, who teaches seventh and eighth grade English and high school humanities, holds a BA in American Studies from Williams College in Massachusetts and a master's in Education from the University of Washington. She taught middle school English and history for three years at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, Ga., which, with more than 2,800 students in the metro Atlanta area, is the largest independent school in the continental United States. She also coached the high school girls' tennis team there and spent her summers as a whitewater rafting guide on the Ocoee River, which flows through Georgia and Tennessee.
"It's very different in terms of numbers," Swain said of the Mountain School, which has 100 students. "TMS allows for much more creativity and much more one on one teaching. The students are much more engaged with what they're doing in school they feel much more ownership of themselves and their classes."
She added: "The kids here expect a close relationship with you. It helps me to be a better teacher and helps me to be more of a mentor," as she has done as a tennis coach, but not in an academic setting.
At Woodward, Swain would rearrange the desks in her classroom over and over to try to encourage more discussion. Mountain School's Harkness tables solve that difficulty, she said.
In her high school humanities class one day, the students were divided into two groups, formally debating whether the human species originally evolved in Africa or in several different regions independently. The technique teaches children, she said, "to work collaboratively and be responsible for really knowing the material." It also encourages them to reevaluate their opinions based on the arguments of their peers, and teaches them to pick out the assumptions of historians whose work they read. "And it's fun," she said.
At the end of class, the debate had swayed the group seven to two in favor of the multi-regionalist theory.
Bensen, who teaches humanities to grades five and six, and history to grades seven and eight, studied history at William College, where she received her BA in 2001, and education at Harvard University, where she got her master's last year. In between, she taught first and second grades at Aspen Country Day and, in 2004, taught environmental education and English in Lenk, Switzerland.
"These guys have been in school together for years and they already were very tight knit," she said of her students. "In my first couple of days they were really welcoming and made me feel like part of the group right away."
She added: "The sense of community and the size of the classrooms are unique. What really says it most for me is when I sit in the morning meeting with everyone together and everyone presenting on interesting topics" school trips, current events, sports.
"All the classrooms are right here, and the staff and the kids are so close knit. It's the most fun place I've ever worked."
One of the changes for Mountain School moving into its new digs at the old Scott Fly Rod building at Lawson Hill is that it had space for the Telluride Montessori School to move in as well, and the two schools have now formally merged.
The Montessori school also has a new teacher Hughes, who went to a Montessori school herself where she returned after high school to assist an old favorite teacher of hers. She received a BA in Early Childhood Education from the University of Kansas, and an American Montessori Society certification at the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies in Bolder.
So far, she said, she has been impressed with the Mountain School practice of having first and second graders read to the Montessori students. "It really motivates them. The younger ones see the older ones reading and they want to do it, and the older ones really want to learn well so they can show it to the younger ones," she said.
Conzelman was hired as the new Winter Sports Coordinator and Physical Education teacher. He graduated from Colorado College with a degree in English and taught elementary school in Boulder and at the Vail Mountain School (which is not affiliated with the Telluride Mountain School).
Among the new amenities in the Mountain School's new building are an art room with a kiln and a music room with a recording studio and an editing room, where Mark Galbo of the Telluride Rock and Roll Academy teaches music to the first graders and up.
The music program teaches kids to create, Galbo said, by having them record their performances and put them onto a podcast for their iPods, or make a music video to go along with their recordings. Mostly, along with teaching kids to play and use equipment, that involved leaving them alone. "If I've been talking to a kid for more than two minutes, I know I'm going on too long," he said.
"When I grew up, you could study something and become an expert," Galbo said. "You can't do that anymore. There's Google and the Web, and you can learn about something right before you need it, and then move on to something else. So the most valuable thing we can do for children is teach them to love the process of discovery because that's how they'll become impassioned for their whole lifetime. Whatever they learn today could be toast tomorrow, so you really better make them good learners."
Art teacher Craig Wasserman, who is also dean of students and the seventh grade homeroom teacher, said the new space in the art room allows students a much larger variety of choice for what or how to create including not just pottery to be fired in the new kiln, but space to spray stencils, or sculpt, or anything else. "We never had our own table before," he said.
"It's almost better that it happened this way, because now these kids have a firm grounding in the fundamentals of drawing and a little painting, and now they can do whatever they want."
For more information on the Telluride Mountain School and its curriculum, visit www.telluridemtnschool.org.