Student calls his new school ‘a complete experiment’

Ethan Ellis gave up his traditional high school experience — dances, rallies and athletic events. He wanted something different, a personalized learning experience to shape his education.

“I was scared,” Ellis said. “I did worry about getting the same experience as my friends.”

After an application and interview process, he was accepted to the first year of  “unschool” — a place with no teachers, grades, classrooms or tuition. Instead, the school features projects, coaches and the design-thinking process.

Ethan Ellis1
Ethan Ellis

One Stone, a student-run service organization, created the new school and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation donated $2.1 million to help it launch, along with other private donors.

The first day of school was surreal for the sophomore. Ellis wasn’t handed textbooks or syllabuses. All he could think about was the three-year commitment he made to the school.

“You could see the fear and uncertainty with the students and coaches,” Ellis said.

After the first week everything sank in, he realized he was responsible for his own learning and no one was going to hand him his education. Ellis is taking four classes — algebra through Brigham Young University online, Spanish and biology through One Stone coaches, and a class he designed called Outdoor Leadership.

“It’s not adults telling the kids what to do, it’s inspiring students to say what they want to learn and then making it happen,” said Neva Geisler, the
community engagement director at One Stone.

Every five weeks, Ellis shows his learning through projects for each subject. No exams are taken. Projects incorporate literature, history, math and science. In online classes, he has to show mastery before moving on to more difficult lessons. Once projects are presented to his coaches, Ellis decides to continue with the subject or move onto a different subject.

Instead of grades, Ellis has a digital portfolio that shows what he’s done. Ellis will take college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT to gain college acceptance.

Ethan Ellis

“I have taken pride that I’m doing something different,” Ellis said. “I’m not following the status quo.”

The school is undergoing an accreditation with the Northwest Association of Independent Schools.

For the past year, a team of One Stone high school students and staff conducted research, including two 24-hour think challenges, and traveled across the country from the Silicon Valley to Boston to study next-generation learning approaches. The team talked to founders of micro-schools and education experts.

“This is a complete experiment,” Ellis said.

One Stone has 32 sophomores — and will add a grade a year over the next two school years. School is Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. One Stone is year-round with students serving internships in the summer.

There is a waiting list for next school year.

Note: One Stone and Idaho Education News are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.