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A Firm Foundation

Nearly ten years ago, during the 2008-2009 school year, BMS’s enrollment dropped to less than 20 students. Big questions about the sustainability of a small, parent-run school in a rural community came up, along with a sense of possibility as our Board of Directors imagined ways that we could see the school through this part of its story, which was already more than twenty years old.

 

With open hearts and minds, our Board began the process of identifying some reasons for the drop in enrollment and subsequently began the creative process of developing our current educational model. Exhilarating meetings and passionate debates about education, kids, and community were balanced with grounding, homemade potlucks and meals as we all took turns hosting the group in our homes throughout that winter. Our current educational model and organizational structure grew from a place of friendship, shared vision, and common purpose.

 

With the help of Radford University School of Education Professor Kristan Morrison, in the late winter and early spring of 2009 our group sifted through months of dialogue and reflection and identified the key elements of contemplative progressive education. We began drawing out the philosophical and practical aspects of these models, which would provide the inspiration for the next part of Blue Mountain School’s story as it began with the 2009-2010 school year.

 

The contemplative progressive model felt like a familiar one, even though at that time there was only one other school that we could find in the country that explicitly practiced mindfulness with elementary students; contemplative studies in education were just beginning to appear in higher education at that time. This aspect of our model felt like the right balance to the BMS community’s historical belief in progressive education and respect for family, community, and nature as great teachers, colleagues and partners.

 

Excited about our new model and organizational structure, our enrollment increased for the 2009-2010 school year to 46 students, only 8 salaried staff members, and a budget of $119,000. With nearly 60 students enrolled in the 2017-2018, 15 salaried staff, and a budget of nearly $300,000, we are celebrating the growth of our school community and an increase in financial stability.  

 

Now mindfulness in elementary schools is commonplace, and progressive education is again attracting more attention as our country’s schools seek methods that serve a wider range of students. The field of education continues to evolve, and so does Blue Mountain School. But our foundation, first laid in 1981 when BMS began, strengthened throughout its history, and established in its current form as a contemplative progressive school, will remain. Staying true to our foundation is the simple key to our continued growth and sustainability, as this piece of our first welcome letter to families in August 2009 suggests:

 

When sitting, just sit.

When eating, just eat.

When walking, just walk.

When talking, just talk.

When listening, just listen.

When looking, just look.

When touching, just touch.

When thinking, just think.

When playing, just play.

And enjoy the feeling of each moment and each day.

 

Narayan Liebenson, “When Singing, Just Sing: Life as Meditation”


(from Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn's The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting)

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