Have questions? We hope you’ll find answers here! This Q & A is divided into three sections: The Basics, Student Learning, and More Details.
First, the Basics:
Where does Prairie Song Academy meet?
For our first two years, we met at First Presbyterian Church in Kirksville. Beginning with our third year, we’ve been able to rent a building exclusively for our use, with most of the costs associated with the building currently being donated. We’re very excited to have our own space beginning in Fall 2023! Our new location is the old Jacob’s Winery, at 26178 Eagle Lane.
When do elementary students attend on site?
Beginning in Fall 2023, elementary students will attend Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on site!
When do secondary students meet on site?
Middle and high school students attend Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on site!
Is Prairie Song Academy a religious school?
No. We are a secular school, and no religious instruction of any kind is included. We respect those of all faith traditions and those of no faith tradition. We teach our students that all people deserve our kindness and love, but we do not do so as part of any particular religious framework. We explore many religions as part of our literature and history curriculum, where we find that this is a common theme among all of them!
What dates will school be in session?
For the 2023-2024 school year, on-site classes will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 15th. We have two weeks of breaks in the fall: October 9-13 and November 20-24. The last day of first semester will be Thursday, Dec. 21st. Second semester will begin on Tuesday, January 23rd. We have two weeks of breaks in the spring: March 11-16 and April 29-May 3. Spring semester ends on Thursday, June 6th.
Why do you have so many weeks of breaks during the school year?
We’ve discovered that both students and guides do much better work when we have predictable rhythms of work and rest for them. When we are in session, we work very hard! Knowing that we have a true rest break coming up within about six weeks allows us to maintain our stamina. We don’t have to use filler activities with students to allow our teachers to get a mental break, and students are more willing to engage in their work with energy and effort. Guiding students as they develop is a true privilege, but the mental load and strain of that work is also very heavy. Regular rest breaks help our guides rest, reset, and refocus, making them more effective as they work with your students!
Is child care available during breaks?
Currently we do not have the staffing to be able to provide child care during breaks; this is something that we are working toward for those families who need it! However, we do help families coordinate and cooperate to solve childcare challenges together! Families are generally able to achieve the child care they need in this way. We encourage our families to be active participants in our Prairie Song community events, so that you get to know one another and are able to help one another out as needed!
Will there be snow days?
If Kirksville R-III cancels school due to inclement weather on one of our on-site days, we will also close that day.
Do you require vaccinations?
We are a family, and we want to protect the most vulnerable among us, which includes immunocompromised Prairie Song members. We also care about the health of our broader community, and want to do all we can to prevent an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. We STRONGLY encourage our families to vaccinate their students, unless that child cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
The State of Missouri’s requirements for immunizations in order for a child to attend school can be found here, or you can download their 2023-2024 school year immunization requirements in PDF form directly here.
Now, on to questions about student learning at Prairie Song:
You have multi-grade classrooms; which grades are in each classroom?
We have four classrooms. Lower elementary is for ages 5-9, or grades K-3. Upper elementary is for ages 9-12, or grades 4-6. There is overlap between the lower and upper elementary classrooms, as students make a gradual transition from one to the other during the year in which they are nine years old. The two classrooms are directly across from one another to facilitate this.
Our junior high classroom houses students aged 12-15, or 7th-9th grades. Our ninth grade students are considered high school students and earn high school credits (and pay high school tuition) as they do additional off-site work each week.
Our high school classroom is for students in 10th-12th grades.
Each of our classrooms has a cap of 15 students for the 2023-2024 school year.
You say your school is Montessori based. What does that mean?
At its most basic, it means that we follow the cardinal Montessori principle: Follow the child. We observe and interact with our students to find out what they need, and then we meet that need. We introduce new academic material when their interest is high whenever possible, because students learn best when they are interested in the topic. We watch to see what socio-emotional skills are needed, and then we teach those specific skills. We individualize students’ curriculum so that they are working at a level that challenges yet does not frustrate them the majority of the time. We do not expect them to follow a prescribed path as they learn elementary academics. In our secondary program, we allow space for students to follow their interests as well, though it looks different than in our elementary program.
We do not have fully-trained Montessori guides, and we do not follow the pure Montessori curriculum. We adapt it as necessary to our circumstances, our students, and our teachers. We do use many of the Montessori manipulative materials for the elementary classroom, particularly in math. We follow Maria Montessori’s educational theory closely, however; we encourage children to be as independent as they can be, and we support them in their development. We provide only the amount of structure students show us they need. We want students to be autonomous and intrinsically-motivated learners.
How do students stay on task in a self-directed learning environment?
Both our elementary and middle school classrooms have a morning work cycle each day that lasts three hours. During this time guides are giving presentations and students are working independently, both on their own and in small groups. We have a variety of strategies to help students make the most of their on-site work time. One is the work plan, which is created by the student in collaboration with their guides for each week. Guides require certain works to be completed, and students choose other work they would like to do. Completing these works involves movement, which helps students stay engaged. Some works offer students a chance for a brain break and self-regulation, which they can use as needed. Elementary and middle school students are required to record the work they do during the work cycle in their work journals. This serves as a method of accountability and organization for the student, communication with the guide who checks in each week, and communication with caregivers; you can look each day to see what your student worked on at school!
Guides also have a variety of classroom management strategies they use to help students maintain their focus, and avoid interrupting other students while they are working. None of these, however, involve rewards or punishment. We work with the child to develop their independence, self-discipline, and resilience.
Do high schoolers also participate in self-directed learning?
Currently they do not direct their learning in the way that our elementary and junior high students do; this is partially a function of their need to earn specific high school credits and also due to the fact that our current high school students did not grow up in a Montessori-based learning environment. As students come up through our system, our high school courses will evolve along with them.
While high school learning is not self-directed, it does include a significant element of student choice. Most assignments given in literature and composition and in history allow students significant choice in specific topic and/or type of writing, while still developing a common base of knowledge so that they can participate in frequent small-group and whole-class discussions. Learning is also experiential to the greatest degree possible. High school students direct the pace of their math instruction; they have a specified path set out, sometimes choosing between curricula to find the best fit for them, and they then work at their own pace through algebra I, geometry, algebra II, and pre-calculus. For courses beyond this, we encourage dual enrollment at Truman or MACC.
What do “on-site” and “off-site” days mean?
We offer a unique hybrid of on-site an off-site instruction for our students. Three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we will meet on-site for learning activities. The other two days a week students will learn independently or with their caregiver at their homes (or other location the family decides upon). For more information about what their learning will look like on-site and off-site, see our Curriculum page.
Can you educate children who have special needs?
Sometimes. It depends on the type of needs the child has. Many students with ADHD will thrive in our classrooms, because they have freedom of movement and significant choice in their work, enabling them to cater to their interests. Most students with dyslexia will also thrive, because our language program includes explicit phonics instruction, and we do not hold dyslexic children back from challenging academic material, regardless of their reading level. Some autistic students also do very well with us. We will always seek to meet the demonstrated needs of our students, and work in partnership with their families to achieve the best outcomes for the child. However, there are needs that we cannot meet in such a small school. We do not have paraprofessionals, and cannot offer a child constant attention or care. Some mild behavioral challenges can be accommodated, but we do not have the resources to address more significant behavioral challenges that disrupt the learning environment. Please contact our Head of School to discuss any special needs your child has to see if our school would be a good fit for them. We do not wish to turn any interested students away, but we also take the education of our students very seriously, and will not commit to taking on a student we are not sure we can serve well.
Is there any virtual instruction on off-site days?
No. We do not offer any virtual instruction through Prairie Song Academy. Elementary families design their own off-site instruction (we’re happy to assist with this!) and junior and high school students have either hard copies of work or access their work via Canvas. It is all work that they can complete independently. For elementary families, we can recommend virtual classes to be utilized for off-site learning if desired.
How do you grade students?
We don’t, unless they are earning high school credits…and even then, we give only a grade for the semester, which is collaboratively determined at the end of the semester by the student and their guides for each subject. Grades are supposed to be a measure of student progress, showing when a student has mastered a topic, but in practice, they do not do this, and they cannot be made truly objective. Grades encourage a student to work for the grade itself rather than work to master a topic. They encourage students to attempt only subjects in which they can excel, and discourage them from trying new things that involve failure at first. Because we want students to view failure as an integral and valuable part of the learning experience, we do not grade them in any subjects. We do, however, monitor their progress at school and communicate it to the caregivers. We simply use informal assessments and observation to do this. All students have a narrative progress report for each semester, but these reports do not include letter grades for elementary or junior high students.
Do you offer gifted education?
Yes, but not in the way you might expect if you’re coming from a traditional school. Pull-out programs are usually offered in traditional schools so that gifted students have the opportunity to work at their own academic level and engage in challenging projects. At Prairie Song, we offer this type of instruction to ALL students. Each child is working on an individualized curriculum, at the level they need, every day. Each child is encouraged to work on challenging projects, every day. There is no need for a separate pull-out program to accomplish this. This also has the benefit of eliminating competition for scarce access to the best instruction. Further, it promotes stronger relationships among students in the classroom. Students are able to accelerate their learning in a given subject as it is appropriate for them.
And finally, a few more details:
Do you offer scholarships?
Because we value a truly diverse student body, we have chosen to implement a sliding scale for tuition for every student rather than offer scholarships. Drawing on the experience of other independent schools, we know that offering financial aid creates a dynamic in which there are students from families who can easily afford full tuition, and there are some students on scholarship, but there are no students in the middle, and we miss out on many excellent students. We have designed our sliding scale to be as equitable as possible, in accordance with our mission (find out more about our mission and our values here). You can find our sliding scale on our Tuition page. If you find yourself in circumstances that make your tuition impossible to pay, please contact us.
Do you require standardized testing?
No. As an independent school in Missouri, there is no requirement for standardized testing of any kind. We measure student progress in a variety of ways, and communicate that to caregivers frequently. We may offer standardized testing, but it will never be more than once per year, never before third grade, and always in consultation with caregivers.
We also do not require any type of testing as part of our admissions process.
Can caregivers volunteer in the classroom?
Absolutely! We always welcome volunteers. We do require a simple background check prior to volunteering; just let a guide know that you are interested to initiate that!
What is your student-to-teacher ratio?
Our maximum student-to-teacher ratio for the 2023-2024 school year is 1:8 for elementary classrooms; for junior high and high school, it will generally be a max of 1:8 but may sometimes be 1:15. We try to have two guides in each classroom at all times; staff illness will sometimes mean that we only have one. No classroom will have more than 15 students in it.
Are Prairie Song teachers certified?
The State of Missouri does not require state certification for teachers at private schools. Two of our teachers were previously certified when teaching for Missouri public schools, and all lead guides have formal training in education. Find out more about all of our teachers’ qualifications on our Meet the Team page.
Is Prairie Song Academy accredited?
No, not yet. We are a new school, and new schools are not eligible for accreditation. We will become provisional members of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (a member of the National Association of Independent Schools) after three years in operation, and then can begin the three-year-long accreditation process.
U.S. colleges and universities do not require graduation from an accredited high school for admissions or scholarships, so this will not adversely affect your student.
Do you have a dress code?
Yes. We ask that all students wear clothes on our on-site learning days. We do not allow t-shirts or other clothing that have words or phrases that are demeaning or hateful toward others.