Independent high school makes home in Sandpoint
By Jillian Chandler | Photo by 7B Real Estate Photography
A new, innovative, immersive high school has made its way to Sandpoint. The vision of founders Michele Burkey, Jessica Prentice and Natalie Britton, Nova High will be opening this fall and will welcome students grades nine through 12.
After moving her family to Sandpoint, Michele resolved to create a Waldorf High School for her children and the community. While this vision lived inside her, it wasn’t able to manifest until she met Natalie and the two of them began to dream and plan. Part of the planning phase included a meeting with Jessica Prentice, who was visiting from California at the time. The trio hit it off immediately.
“As a group, the three of us began studying models and perspectives that pushed the boundaries of what school means and how to think outside the box to create a unique school right now in this very special place,” reflects Natalie. “We spent last summer studying governance models, tuition models, typical and atypical school year and day lengths, curriculum, and so much more.”
Throughout the fall, they began to plan public events, create their website, and make all of the decisions necessary to open the school. They are currently working toward their nonprofit status and looking for spaces to lease for the 2023-2024 school year.
Though the roads leading to Sandpoint have been different for each of Nova High’s three founders, the common thread that attracted them is Sandpoint’s community and stunning natural surroundings. They recognized that Sandpoint attracts individuals “who seek to connect with others and cultivate a shared enthusiasm for the arts, sustainable food, sovereignty, and cooperative living.” Sandpoint has also drawn a considerable crowd of Waldorf enthusiasts who esteem Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical approaches to education.
The founders chose Sandpoint for these reasons and established Nova High as an educational institution to serve families who seek an alternative approach to high school education. This model will offer adolescents the chance to develop, explore their interests, and flourish by following a Waldorf-inspired high school curriculum that is integrated within the broader community in these unique times.Nova High is founded “for the adolescents of today and tomorrow who want to be seen, heard and valued."
“We are inspired by the insights of Rudolf Steiner who repeatedly emphasized that there is no book that can teach you how to teach; that the students in front of you are your teachers,” says Jessica. “By seeing them, listening to them, and having genuine reverence for their life’s path, the teacher will be guided to bring what is needed. Teaching is an art—full of subtlety and nuance—that at its best responds actively to each moment and each student.”
At Nova High, they recognize the following as important and urgent:
• Adolescents need to directly experience the real, physical world for many hours each and every day.
• Adolescents need to experience themselves as creators, not just consumers.
• Adolescents need to learn to think for themselves.
• Adolescents need to be both nourished and challenged—body, mind and soul.
Students at Nova will experience both an exciting and rigorous arts program along with many opportunities to explore the outdoors. The arts curriculum encompasses various subjects such as visual arts, music, theater, and movement (classes like black and white drawing, acrylic and oil painting, hand sculpting in pottery, blacksmithing, choir, and eurythmy). Students participate in both class plays and annual all-school theater productions. The outdoor program will take place primarily off campus on Fridays where students will have opportunities to engage in internships, take part in community service, participate in nature conservation work, conduct field science projects, and enjoy community building via a winter ski program.
Enrollment is now open for all grade levels, ninth through 12th, for the 2023-2024 school year. The first year is likely to be a mixed-age group of teenagers, according to its founders. As the school grows, each class will be capped at 15 students in order to keep the student-to-teacher ratio low and support Nova’s intensive and intimate outdoor trips.
“Our founders take to heart the deep need to develop a school that is responsive to today but also always in renewal moving forward as the school grows,” shares Jessica.
It was also important to its founders that Nova offer Family Individualized Tuition (FIT).
“There is a cap to the tuition and there is a minimum, but in between these numbers is the conversation and collaboration to find the tuition number that is equitable for each family,” says Michele, adding, “This model allows more families to realize they can, in fact, afford an independent high school education for their family.”
At Nova High, they are passionate about creating a school where a rigorous and creative education will be available to all students, whether their parents are doctors or teachers, new business owners or engineers. “We want to welcome a diverse student population, and this is one avenue to engage with that desire,” affirms Michele.
Nova will be solidifying its location this summer as enrollment is finalized. If you are seeking an innovative and inspiring high school experience for your child, look no further than Nova High.