Hybrid school academy expands

·5 min read

Jul. 15—A school academy that includes online learning combined with in-person outdoor educational experiences is expanding its reach.

Montana Hybrid Academy plans to begin serving ages 10 and up to the high school level starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The school opened in January 2021 and has since added Minnesota and Pennsylvania locations.

"We just saw the community we built in the middle school program and it's an amazing community of students who support each other. We wanted to expand that to the high school space while also incorporating the ability for them to take on different projects they are interested in," said academy director and founder Paz Chentnik.

Academically, high school core courses will include language arts, history, math, science, Spanish and computer classes, the latter of which will cover contemporary topics such as cryptocurrency. Grading is competency based.

High school students will be paired with a counselor to look at programs that might benefit them in reaching post-secondary goals such as work study and dual enrollment through Flathead Valley Community College's Running Start program, take on an apprenticeship, or build a business.

Overall, Chentnik said the hybrid model lends itself to flexibility in scheduling and location. Assignments are completed during the school day and there is no homework in efforts to encourage students to spend time with family and friends, help with chores around the house, attend extracurriculars or pursue hobbies.

These were all reasons why parent Allison Rennie, of Kalispell, thought the academy would be a good fit for two of her four children who enrolled when it opened. They will continue attending in the fall at the middle school and high school level.

"For my daughter, she will be the one in high school, the schedule allows her to have time to run her business [Grace Ranch] and work with her animals," she said.

Through a mentorship, Rennie said her daughter is looking forward to continuing to develop and grow the business.

Rennie has experience with a variety of schooling formats — public, private and homeschooling where she served as the teacher and was part of a local homeschool cooperative. Her eldest child did a mix of private and public schooling. The second eldest, was home schooled up until high school and will be a senior at Glacier High School in the fall.

Apart from being an outdoorsy family that enjoys traveling, the Rennie's were drawn to the student-driven approach.

"Paz is so good about getting feedback from students and constantly tweaking things, which I really like as a parent and my kids like that because they have a voice in their education," Rennie said.

"We always believe they learn best when they're learning about what they want," she later added. "That has been our home schooling philosophy."

What Rennie didn't anticipate was how community could be built through an online program with students and staff from different states and countries.

"I think probably the most surprising part was how it was built to be a community. I was skeptical several days of them being online, but they have developed great friendships in and out of the state and country," she said. "It's great to expand their world outside of the valley."

OUTDOOR EDUCATION is as much of a focus as the online component.

"Our middle school and high school operate on a one-room classroom model and focuses on experiential learning, basically learning through doing and experience versus a traditional lecture style," Chentnik said.

In addition to expanding into high school education, the bushcraft days are being opened to non-academy students as space allows.

"We want to make this an opportunity for all kids in the valley," Chentnik said and noted there is no shortage of knowledgeable people in the valley who are passionate about the outdoors and want to pass on skills and traditions.

Chentnik said she decided to open it up to the public because of the benefits she saw in students building self-confidence as they gained new outdoor skills.

This past school year, students learned how to make fishing lures and gill nets and then went fishing. Another day was spent learning how to build a drop spindle to then use to spin wool into yarn before using a spinning wheel.

"The piece that's really important to us with this next generation is knowing they can actually provide for themselves and are not required to feel trapped in that they can only order what Amazon can deliver or what's available at the store," Chentnik said.

"They have a lot of pride in their creations," she said.

Chentnik said students were also active in the community when they worked with Lone Pine State Park rangers and AmeriCorps to clear trails and refinish picnic tables.

Chentnik said the purpose of the bushcraft days is to combine learning with fun and games.

"We have specific outcomes we want students to grasp where students learn something but still incorporate games and we want students to walk away from each class with a project of some sort," she said.

For the bushcraft days the academy is implementing a badge system where students can earn badges for demonstrating skills they've learned through school.

ACADEMY ENROLLMENT is limited to 36 students for the 2022-23 school year. For the bushcraft days, there will be about 18 spaces offered to non-academy students ages 10 through 17.

Chentnik started the school in January 2021 in response to seeing how traditional brick-and-mortar schools and families struggled to adapt to the changing Covid-19 pandemic, which meant negotiating online learning full-time during closures and quarantines, with parents often stepping into the role of co-teacher.

Chentnik holds a degree in international studies and has Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification with experience in virtual and world schools having spent several years living abroad with her family.

For more information visit www.montanahybridacademy.com.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.