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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)


What We Learned: Lunas

This year we learned about....

  • Hopes and Dreams
  • Letters to Standing Rock
  • Glossary of Nonviolence
  • Arawak book
  • Columbus Day studies of Arawak people
  • History with Howard Zinn
  • Native Foods
  • Cooking: green chile-corn pudding, maple-whipped sweet potatoes, greens: collards, spinach, water cress, spiced black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes, boiled maple syrup
  • Evaporation
  • Grains
  • Herpetology

  • Species profiles and poster presentations on five-lined skink, spring peeper, green snake, eastern box turtle, green frog, rattlesnake, hellbender
  • Coyote School: tree identification, choosing a tree, tree sketches (leaves, bark, silhouette), stream explorations (salamanders)
  • Berlese funnel
  • Microscopes
  • “The Hermit’s Story” by Rick Bass
  • “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving
  • Spelling and Vocabulary
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
  • September and October Almanacs
  • Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”
  • Nature sketches, nature journaling, and insects from Suzanne Stryk

  • Writing poetry: pantoums, aubades, haikus, rhyming couplets, Herpepoetry, persona poems, shape poems
  • Reading poetry
  • National Poetry Month
  • Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day
  • Rhythm, meter, voice in poetry
  • “The Raven” and Halloween poetry
  • “The Complete Misanthropist”
  • Memorized and performed ballads: “The Elfin Knight,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Bonnie Barbara Allen,” “The Mermaid,” “The Gardener”
  • Students Teaching
  • Films: Metropolis (German Expressionism), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German Expressionism), Gandhi (biography film), How Plants Think and Communicate (science and nature), Spirited Away
  • Caligari film drawings
  • Creating self-portraits for heritage project
  • Ornithology from ornithologists from VA Tech
  • Bottom Creek Gorge: saw 200-foot high waterfalls, “The Kettles,” virgin hemlocks
  • Buffalo Mountain: saw the rare plant three-toothed cinquefoil, climbed mountain

  • Octopus Week: poems, videos, article “Deep Intellect”
  • The water cycle
  • Sylvia Earle speech about the oceans
  • Prochlorococcus
  • Our connection to the ocean
  • Making watercolor greeting cards
  • Multiplication tables
  • Sequences
  • Long division
  • Fractions
  • Ekphrasis for the artworks of Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, M.C. Escher, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Henri Rousseau
  • Singing with the Golden Black Koalas and Kari
  • Holding a fundraiser at the Farmer’s Market
  • Making origami cranes and peace crane strings

And we celebrated...

  • Christmas and Winter: snow cones, Rudoloph, popcorn, snacks, Secret Santa
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Day: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have a Dream Speech” and writing our own “I Have a Dream” speeches
  • Give Big Day: volunteered, work day, tree hugging
  • Special Person’s Tea: made chocolate-covered strawberries, made tea, served guests, performed “I Like You as You Are"
  • International Women’s Day: “A Day Without a Woman”… (we were in the newspaper!)


What We Learned: Golden-Black Koalas


These are the things we could write books about:

  • Koalas!
  • Double-digit subtraction
  • Monarch butterflies
  • "Said" is dead (using descriptive words)
  • Riddles
  • Paper flowers
  • Homophones
  • Creativity
  • Finger knitting
  • Prayer flags
  • Rube Goldberg machines
  • Polywogs
  • Group art
  • Singing

  • Mother's Day gifts
  • Measurement
  • Selu -- Life on a '30s farm
  • Reading
  • Friendship
  • Making board games
  • Area
  • The Monster Project

  • Tadpoles
  • Character Studies
  • Descriptive words
  • Zoos
  • Baking cookies
  • Dancing

  • Mindfulness
  • Animal adaptation
  • Times tables
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Letters to Santa
  • Dissecting a Monarch chrysalis
  • Self regulation
  • Harriet Tubman
  • U.S. maps

  • Meditation
  • Animal classification
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • U.S states
  • April the giraffe
  • Writing
  • World maps
  • Poetry
  • Addition
  • Creativity labs
  • Goal setting
  • Raising Monarch butterflies
  • Working together
  • Writing time
  • Reading Aloud
  • Dragon in the Sock Drawer
  • Multiplication
  • Frogs


  • Perimeter
  • Dioramas
  • Vertibrates
  • Experts
  • Valentines
  • Habitats
  • Double-digit addition with carrying
  • Christmas presents
  • Planting flowers
  • Invertibrates
  • Speaking out
  • Handwriting
  • Family heritage
  • Self portraits
  • Special person's tea parties
  • Field trips


What We Learned: Rainbow Jellybean Wormsnakes

This year we learned...

  • A mountain weighs the same as a teaspoon of a neutron star
  • There is ice on Mars
  • To be calm
  • Cheese has protein
  • Seeds fall from flowers
  • My teachers are nice
  • About space

  • Baking soda and vinegar react
  • You can be kind even if you're rough
  • Plants help the earth
  • Autumn is called Fall
  • How to spell
  • When my friends' birthdays are
  • To read

  • To add
  • About different planets
  • To spell
  • BookShares
  • KidScience

  • To get clues from pictures, beginning sounds, and letter chunks as we read
  • Sight words
  • To put finger spaces between words
  • To try using lowercase letters
  • Capital letters go at the beginning of sentences and important words
  • Patterns - color, number, shapes
  • Estimating
  • Haunted House Project
  • Space Shuttle Project

  • Problem solving
  • Counting by 2s, 5s, 10s
  • Finding the "middle point" of numbers
  • Combining numbers
  • Breaking apart numbers
  • Shapes - 2D and 3D
  • Measurement
  • Surveys and graphs
  • Gardening Project



What We Learned: Flying Rainbow Turtles

What we learned this year, in our own words...

  • How to take care of friends
  • How to take care of our classroom
  • How to take care of Haven

  • What Haven eats
  • Not touching Haven’s head
  • Be with friends
  • Eating, playing, dancing
  • How to hug friends

  • How to be patient
  • How to be a dinosaur
  • How to be a scientist
  • Paleontologist!
  • Playing Jurassic World

  • We find animals that we dig we want to keep them, but we have to let them go
  • Jumping on your knees
  • How to put on my shoes
  • Drawing different stuff

  • How to open yogurt with scissors
  • How to give journals to friends
  • How to draw dinosaurs
  • Playing on the playground

  • Climbing trees
  • And smelling flowers
  • How to let go of the Monkey Bars
  • How to Jump from the Monkey Bars
  • Putting books away

  • I can hang upside down and climb all the way to the top of the Monkey bars
  • I went down every step of the ladder because I’m big now
  • How to sit at circle
  • Criss Cross Applesauce
  • To write the names of family
  • Magnet tiles stick together

  • Not to swing wood really fast
  • It’s good to be mindful and calm and peace
  • To be calm and quiet
  • Not to eat so fast

  • Yoga
  • I learned about flowers and birds
  • Learning the colors of the rainbow
  • Rainbow Song
  • Changing different colors



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