Smart Start visits Mountain Sun

At Smart Start we feel it is vital to cultivate connections, most especially within the education faction of our community. Our mission is rooted within supporting and nurturing partnerships in efforts to achieve our vision of (all) children and families thriving in Transylvania County. No two schools are ever the same and we take pleasure in exploring various models of learning and teaching.

We recently paid a visit to Mountain Sun Community School's enchanting campus. Nestled among trees and streams, the integrated classrooms and outdoor spaces encourage inquiry and mindful learning.The peace resonating within the school was palpable and it was a reminder how learning remains dynamic, rather than fixed, upon any one model or fashion.

On what inspires Mountain Sun:

Our primary purpose as a school is to prepare our children to be engaged learners and compassionate, responsible citizens of the world. We nurture curiosity and passion for learning at the same time we cultivate each child’s sense of care for each other and the world. Ultimately, the pursuit of knowledge and discovery in this manner leads a child to utilize their gifts to become positive contributors to their communities. This is what we mean when we refer to “holistic education.” At Mountain Sun, we serve the whole child’s developmental needs: cognitively, naturally, creatively, emotionally, and socially.
Mountain Sun Community School’s mission is to cultivate each student’s natural curiosity and love of learning through a challenging academic curriculum grounded in mutual respect and a sense of belonging. We recognize each student’s unique potential and nurture their passions and abilities through a balance of direct instruction, collaborative and independent study, hands-on experiences in and out of the classroom, and service learning. https://mountainsunschool.org/why-mountain-sun/

Prior to our visit we posed a few questions to the Mountain Sun Community School staff in efforts to get a greater grasp on what makes them, well, them in regards to their background, motivation and unique experiences.
(Many thanks to all who answered our probing questions and for being so welcoming to showing us around the school!)

Please give a quick overview of your career thus far surrounding early childhood education.

Annie Burgess, Lead Teacher in the Otter Class (ages 3-6)

After college, my first teaching job was at a public school in Martinez, GA. I taught Kindergarten for three years and served as an Early Intervention Specialist my fourth year. My mentor teacher was a Pre-K teacher and her passion and enthusiasm shaped me into the teacher I am today. I completed a Master’s degree in Teaching through the Arts and during this time I learned more about alternative methods of education to include Multiple Intelligences, Montessori, Waldorf, and Sudbury Valley Schools. I worked at a small Montessori School in Clemson SC as a primary teacher (ages 3-6) before moving to Brevard and accepting my current position as a lead teacher in a primary class at Mountain Sun Community School.  

What have been your greatest accomplishments/successes in life?

Nick Pearl, Assistant Teacher in the Owl Class (ages 3-6)

One of the greatest lessons I learned early in my educational career is "anything that gets in the way of the work, is the work." That being said, I would say that at this point in my career and life, becoming a Master Trainer in Non-Violent Communication and Conflict Resolution has been quite an accomplishment. I learned so many skills and strategies from both facilitating the trainings and listening to the stories of the participants, and I use them on a daily basis in my professional and personal life. At Mountain Sun Community School, those skills allow me to focus on the impediments of the learning process for each child, be it conflicts with peers, family, teachers, the work, or within themselves, while also providing a roadmap for managing future challenges.

What do you find most compelling or important about working with children or in education?

Kim Skeen, Assistant Teacher in the Monarch Class (4th-6th grade) and Art Teacher

I find working in education compelling because I have the opportunity everyday to inspire students to engage in their own learning process. I feel that this is a very important step in preparing students to be lifelong learners and will in turn help them to hopefully become adults who are engaged, curious, and want to solve problems.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

McNeill Mann, Natural Education Coordinator

In my role as the Natural Education Coordinator, I have the pleasure of guiding and responding to the children’s interest in exploring the natural world. Nature is a dynamic teacher, always presenting new treasures and challenges. Our school is surrounded by woods and creeks and natural areas to play in and explore, and all of the classes spend time outdoors everyday, in all sorts of weather. I look forward to the moments of connection that come from sharing nature, whether it is during a game of Eagle Eye with the younger students or a backpacking trip with the older students. Each context has the power to bring people together in camaraderie and to connect them to the gifts that time in nature offers. I hope that these connections inspire the children to have life-long meaningful relationships with the natural world and to take action to protect it.

What is your favorite book and why?

MacKenzie Henry, Assistant Teacher in the Otter Class (ages 3-6)

My favorite book is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. On the surface, it’s an artfully illustrated story with intriguing images and a wonderful read-aloud tale (it even won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award). I love the message it shares about urban renewal and the power of an individual (a child named Liam) to redeem a space through patience, hard work, and hope. When I read it with my children or in our class, one of my favorite things to do is look at the first and last pages to compare the physical changes to the cityscape which Brown illustrated so creatively.

What makes your school special, unique or what do you love most about it?

Michael Brown, Ph.D., Executive Director

There are so many things to love about Mountain Sun, and, of course, the things I appreciate most are the joys and challenges of the children. We hope that our children feel ownership for their school and education and the wonderful freedom, power, and responsibility that comes with that. It makes me abundantly happy to walk through our campus and hear and see children at their work: thinking hard, talking together, playing outside, meeting challenges, creating our community together. Their laughter (and the occasional tear or two) is truly our most important teacher.