Dragons in school 

Darragh Mahns, 4, has a blond Mohawk, is adept at maneuvering a scooter down an uneven sidewalk, and at the Missoula Community School (MCS), he is a Dragon. The Dragons, like the Race Cow Rockets, Cheetahs, Fairy Flies, Rainbow Horses and Buzzy Bees, are MCS peer groups, loosely equivalent to traditional education’s grades or classes. Instead of grouping children according to age—“Irrational,” says Director Grace McNamee—MCS, which offers holistic, “progressive” education, clusters children according to social and academic ability.

Though fulltime tuition runs $495 each month, and though the public school system predicts declining enrollment, little by little, grade by grade, MCS, 3 years old, is growing. On Saturday, with balloons, strawberries and animal cookies, the school held an open house at its new and roomier location, 201 S. Fifth W., which will be its home beginning September.

“What I like best about progressive education is it’s child-led,” says Dragon and Cheetah parent Amy Mahns. MCS’ children are actively engaged in the democratic process. They vote on their group names as well as on a topic of study, which instructors use as an entree for the teaching of music and math and art.

Mahns began school shopping when her daughter, Isabell, was 4. She visited Lowell School despite the news that Britney Spears, wearing a “sexy milk moustache,” looked down on the children from a poster pinned to the cafeteria wall. She couldn’t visualize Isabell in the environment she encountered.

“They seemed like a bunch of kids bouncing off the walls looking for boundaries,” she says.

Back at the open house, traffic, says McNamee, is a little slow—30 or so parents halfway through the two-hour open house. But she’s seen a couple new parents.

McNamee wishes that Montana had more educational options within the public school system, she says. Wishes notwithstanding, MCS attracts parents who expect individualized education—more than a one-size-fits-all approach, says Mahns—as well as parents who were dissatisfied with their own public school education.

“I never remember wanting to be at school,” says Mahns.

Dragon Darragh, however, can’t wait to roar into the classroom on a full-time basis.

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