Compass School

Westminster, VT

Compass School’s unusual model accommodates both independent and public school students for its sparsely populated rural communities in Vermont. The school is open admissions and this arrangement works well for them. Upon graduation, students enjoy a high level of college acceptance.

The school draws on the best guidance from the Coalition of Essential Schools, and a key concept is: student-as-worker, teacher as coach. With extensive project-based learning, field trips, and other non-traditional activities, students tend to learn fewer subjects but in depth, rather than more material covered superficially.

Opening in September 1999, Compass opened with 53 students in grades 7-9, and plans to add a grade each year. The first class graduated in June 2003. The school de-emphasizes tests, instead opting for a portfolio system for evaluations. These have become powerful learning experiences not only for students but for instructors and community members who serve as evaluators. Initially the system was piloted; now all students now participate. As described on the Compass School website:

It has been inspiring to see the many layers of impact in portfolios, from deep student reflection and self-awareness to forming a unique community of support among roundtable participants to bringing in community members to see the school and value our students to honoring this important rite of passage and having parents grant their child this step into independent adulthood.

Over the course of its history, the school has evolved and reoriented some areas to become more effective, while affirming its commitment to its core principles. Students work with teachers over the summer on planning and shaping the school program. Student leadership is a vibrant element of the school. Over time, the school has expanded its health program, hired a school counselor, and instituted a program that provides computer access to every student. The school is a beacon of innovation and student-centered learning in its region.

Compass is located where the hills of southern Vermont slope down to the Connecticut River.