Our Learning Model


Our learning model puts the six, core elements of place-based education principles at the center of the school experience. Supporting our model is:

  1. Differentiated Pathways that align with our domains of learning and core skills.
  2.  Habits of Success where leadership and self-awareness proficiencies play an equivalent role to other knowledge and skills proficiencies -- the whole child matters.
  3. Learner-centered learning as the core integrating methodology to support our project-based concepts
  4. Mastery as a proficiency-based assessment system where advancement is based on demonstration of mastery rather than time period

What is Place-Based Education?


Place-based education allows us to connect our learning with and through communities while increasing student and teacher engagement and student outcomes. The term “place” is defined by the ecological, cultural, and economic components and how our communities function therein. 

How do we look at communities? We do so by placing the core elements of place-based education principals at the center of the work that we do at MRS

  • Local-to-global connections & community as classroom
    Our communities are our classrooms as we create “learner ecosystems” within the local-to-global context.
  • Learner-centered
    Our learner-centered school allows students to develop agency and voice and choice.
  • Inquiry and design
    By understanding what is in our communities (through observations, data collection, questioning, predictions, etc.), we begin to understand our impact and how we can contribute toward making our community a better place.
  • Interdisciplinary (project-based learning)
    Engaging projects and meaningful student experiences are central to the work that we do at MRS.

MRS Proficiencies & Domains of Learning

Through collaboration with the Teton Science School and the TSS Place Network, we have developed and aligned our domains of learning with the following proficiencies (synonymous with competencies).

Our innovative place-based approach, proficiency-based assessment and project-based learning align with the learning model to ensure collaboration, fidelity, and quality as a TSS Place Network School.

Our Domains of Learning

Domains of Learning Chart.png


  • Leadership & Self Awareness
    We strive to cultivate an environment that fosters effective communication and collaboration, lifelong learning, meaningful relationships, self-awareness and advocacy. Class sizes are kept small and we strive to integrate multi-age learning opportunities. Differentiated lessons tailored for the various learning styles/needs also help to promote these skills.

  • Language & Literacy
    Strong foundational skills in speaking and listening, reading and writing, and analysis and interpretation are critical to the work that we do at Mountain River School. Students are exposed to further language interpretation and world language during our weekly Spanish classes.

  • Science
    Students are exposed to rich science processes and practices through their exposure to life science, environmental science, and physical science, which are embedded within our project-based, interdisciplinary learning "exploratories".

  • Mathematics
    Students are exposed to foundational mathematical concepts and skills including: factors and ratios; geometry; measurement, data, and statistics; number systems; operations and algebra; and mathematical practices through differentiated, self-paced instruction.

  • Health & Wellness
    We strive to create a healthy school environment, which promotes physical and social-emotional health and wellness and healthy living. Our students are exposed to an abundance of outdoor time to promote movement and exercise as well as outdoor intelligence, safe and smart technology usage (in the Forests program), and healthy food choices.

  • Creative Expression
    Art integration and creative expression is embedded into all aspects of our learning at MRS. Students are taught about artistic application, creation, critique, performance, and presentation. Their craft is refined during art-specific lessons, maker-space exploration, classroom projects, design-thinking & building-block room challenges, and outdoor studies.

  • Community & Culture
    Our global studies explorations review the areas of civics, economics, geography & environments, historical perspectives, and sense of place. These units are embedded within our project-based, interdisciplinary learning "exploratories".

MRS Values

Mountain River School believe in the following core values:

  • Communication: We believe that open communication leads to collaborative practice.
  • Authenticity: We lead an honest and heart-centered life.
  • Mindfulness: We build awareness of mind, body, and heart.
  • Inclusivity: We strive to understand diverse perspectives.
  • Creativity: We foster a culture of imaginative thought and risk-taking.
  • Stewardship: We care for people and place.


Quote Summary

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In the Meadows program, children learn through whole group lessons, small group lessons, collaborative projects, and independent work. Students are able to learn at their own pace across all domains of learning. Children in this program have time for creative play, movement, building friendships, and exploring the natural world. Academic studies are engaging and brought to life through arts integration and place-based projects.


The Forests begin and end their days with Base Camp. This is an opportunity for students to engage in check-ins, meditation, reflection, and open dialogue. Our mornings revolve around a more traditional approach, with literacy and math at the forefront. We engage in differentiated lessons in reading, writing, and math, which allows students to move at their own pace toward mastering concepts and developing a sense of ownership over their learning. Our afternoons consist of learner-centered, project-based work that drives our interdisciplinary approach to education. These projects incorporate multiple concepts and often align with numerous domains. Our projects immerse students in inquiry that allows them to contemplate real-world problems and solutions.


Integrated Arts

Arts integration is a holistic approach to teaching and is embedded through the daily practice of connecting an art form to another subject matter. It is based on the constructivist learning belief that education is experiential, evolving, collaborative, problem-solving and reflective. Arts Integration allows students to engage in solving problems through the creative process of identification, exploration, design, and creation (trying it out and making it better), which leads to the development of Lois Hetland’s “Studio Habits.” These habits consist of developing craft, engaging and persisting, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, stretching and exploring. Each child makes sense of what they are learning by finding meaning and demonstrating their understanding by visually constructing an art piece that illustrates student growth in both the art form and another subject matter. Arts integration is personally authentic and easily differentiated which honors children’s passion for learning and inspiring curiosity. MRS’s art program consists of skill builders art block, community projects, integrations and a makerspace.



Quote Summary

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MRS has adopted the Singaporean math curriculum for our students, which is aligned with the Common Core Standards. While its focus is on mastery, Singapore math offers a multiple modality instruction, which benefits all students including visual and auditory learners who need a range of concrete, pictorial, and abstract presentation to acquire such mastery.

Students at Mountain River School are presented with differentiated mathematics instruction and mastery is achievable at their individual pace. While homework is not required at MRS, many students choose to work on mathematics materials at home. Mathematics instruction may also be supplemented to support further problem solving and interdisciplinary work.

Our upper grade students are offered multiple resources to aid in the ownership of learning. This may include: workbook instruction; peer collaboration; supplemental work focusing on task-specific instruction; and design-challenge rotations, etc.



Lucy Calkins Units of Study for teaching reading provides a comprehensive, cross-grade curriculum for our students at MRS. While it supports explicit instruction in reading skills and strategies, it also acts as a catalyst for goal setting, progress monitoring, and feedback. Our teachers seek to offer developmentally appropriate reading materials for their students, which deepen comprehension and fluency and further a love of reading and exploration of genres! Teachers may utilize reading workshop models, differentiated instructional resources, supplemental materials and strategies to aid in student learning.

MRS uses Fountas and Pinnell assessment measures to identify instructional and independent reading levels. Aimsweb Plus reading assessment (parent-optional) is available as an additional evaluation measure, as appropriate.

Lucy Calkins Units of Study for teaching writing explores explicit writing instruction in the areas of opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing, for example. These units aid in overall assessment, student self-monitoring, and growth. As writing extends beyond these practices, you may also see students writing as part of integrative art projects, outdoor nature journaling, pen-pal correspondence, etc. Studies of writing mechanics and grammar are also integrated in student lessons.

Our literacy instruction allows students to progress at their own pace, with ongoing teacher support and guidance, and are aligned with our literacy and language domains. 


Exploratory: Project-based Learning

Our project-based learning comes alive through our exploratory lessons -- our integrated units of study. As our place-based principles are at the core of what we do, students will engage in interdisciplinary & learner-centered work where the outdoors and local communities serve as an extension of our classrooms. We strive to create meaningful, inquiry-based teaching practices, explore design-thinking measures, and extend learning through the various local-to-global contexts. Lessons, aligned to our domains and proficiencies, may look like the following:

  • Studying the evolution of human survival needs by creating historical personas and learning bushcraft and survival skills (Forests)
  • Observing, following, and identifying the unique characteristics of animal tracks and the local mammals that reside in our community (Forests)
  • Mapping community parcels, learning how to read maps, and orienteering (Forests)
  • Learning VT geology through rock studies with local geologists; featuring collection in Stowe library (Meadows)
  • Have you ever wanted to design your own classroom space? Students work with area architects and schools for design inspiration and classroom creations! (Meadows)
  • Who are our community heroes? Exploring what makes our unique town so special through our leadership roles. (Rivers)

Movement & Outdoor Time

As the outdoors and movement is an extension of our classroom at MRS, we spend a great deal of time creating, exploring, and collaborating with one another. It provides a catalyst for spontaneity and creative expression, as well as team-building!

Indoors, we have access to our movement room, which includes a rock climbing wall and monkey bars.

We go out in all weather, and are often found in the “Warren” and “Mini Warren” working on our restaurants, houses, or doctor’s office, collecting all aspects from the natural world to build these creative play spaces! When the weather blows our houses down, we rebuild! When the snow blocks our entryway, we dig!

Students have access to the large Meadow adjacent to the school and to the West Branch river, which is many times used for lessons and to explore.



As we emphasize the importance of sense of community, our MRS community gathers for celebrations throughout the year for celebrations such as Potlucks, Birthday memories, Explorer Day Hike, Harvest Festival Fundraiser, Winter Solstice Lantern Walk, Green-up Day, Tuition Assistance Fundraiser and May Day to name a few.


Community Meeting

Each Wednesday, our parent community is invited to join us for our all-school community meeting where we gather to practice meditation or share stories and announcements. We have been known to break into games, music, and/or dancing! Following community meeting, we join our committee groups for brainstorming work.



Students participate in multi-age committees each week with an assigned teacher, in which their voice and opinions help drive the work that is done to support the MRS community at large. For example, students on the school store committee designed Patagonia wear to sell in the winter months. Our social committee helped to organize our Green-up day and May Day celebration! Some of the student committees are the Photography committee, Social committee, School store committee, Outdoor committee and Maker-space committee.



We find that music is just one of the many ways that brings out joy and happiness and acts as a natural stress reducer. It helps to improve visual, verbal, and communication skills, and through self-expression, it helps build self-confidence in our students. Exposure to musical experiences is a step toward a lifelong love and involvement with music.

Students at MRS collaborate with local musician, Lesley Grant, who accompanies us on many of our school celebrations including our Winter Solstice lantern walk and for May Day gatherings. Music may be integrated into our lessons and students are also afforded the opportunity to take private music lessons at school, during the day. Currently, we offer guitar, ukulele, violin, and drums.



Students at MRS love to put on productions, whether it be through student-led talent shows, spontaneous plays, or organized theatrical productions, there is a high level of interest and talent! Students have worked with area director, Taryn Noelle, and produced, “The Secret Garden,” while our Meadows students worked with Waterway Stage Collaborative and Very Merry Theater to produce a short play on threatened/endangered species in Vermont.


Winter Thursday

Between the months of January-March on Thursday afternoons, MRS students will spend time at the East Coast’s renowned Stowe Mountain Resort for snowboarding/alpine skiing or at Trapp Family Lodge for nordic skiing, all for a minimal cost. Teachers and parents join the students and gather into highly supervised groups for optimum learning experiences. In addition, the school is located on the town’s recreation pathCould/should this be a link to the Rec path website?, which gives us the opportunity to spend time sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing outside our front door!