Cover Stories

Adventure Bound: The College School

There are certain preconceived notions about school that many of us have from our own experiences. Lesson plans are rigid, teachers deliver long lectures and learning takes place inside a classroom. The College School believes those ideas are all better left in the past. The independent school in Webster Groves offers students in preschool through grade eight an experiential education that inspires a lifelong love of learning.

The school’s mission is to engage and empower students. Head of school Carl Pelofsky explains that an important part of that is offering students some control over how they learn. “We give them the ability to make decisions that are important to them and their education,” he says. “A lot of schools have checklists to meet, but we are concerned with deep engagement. Students are encouraged to pursue their own interests. The best days are the ones where teachers have to deviate from the lesson plan because something has sparked students’ curiosity, taking things in an exciting new direction.”

One of the major ways the school engages students is taking lessons out of the classroom for authentic hands-on learning opportunities. Rather than lectures, The College School believes that experiential education is the best method for learning. “Adventure education gets kids out of their comfort zones, and they become real problem-solvers on their own,” Pelofsky says. “It starts with our youngest students, who get to spend time outdoors in the woods. Outside the classroom, the teacher is there to keep everyone safe and help guide, but students are empowered to make decisions. It cultivates curiosity and thoughtfulness beyond school. It’s preparation for the rest of their lives.”

The school’s Webster Groves campus includes gardens and a simulated river and is adjacent to local parks and biking trails, and its LaBarque Campus in Pacific, Missouri, offers 28 acres for students to learn and explore. The school also has a number of annual trips. Sixth-grade students have the opportunity to hike, kayak and camp in individual tents. “It’s all perfectly safe and supervised, but the students feel accomplished and confident having done it,” Pelofsky notes. Seventh graders have a biking expedition on the Katy Trail that also includes camping, and eighth graders go on a field ecology trip where they get hands-on science experience.

Getting out of the classroom has been more important than ever this year. Pelofsky says The College School’s experiential approach has made it uniquely suited to handle safety during the pandemic. “Everyone is safer outdoors, and our students and staff are very comfortable having lessons outside,” he explains. “Different cohorts of students have been using our LaBarque Campus every school day, and we’re still going on the same trips. The only difference is we’re limiting the distance so we’re able to return to St. Louis within one day in case of emergency.”

The College School is committed to ensuring an engaging, experiential education is available to the entire community. Pelofsky notes that many families may not even explore independent schools due to tuition concerns. “We have a lot of assistance available for families with limited resources,” he says. “We work hard to bring in students of all backgrounds. We want our school to reflect the greater St. Louis community.”

The College School empowers students to engage deeply with a curriculum built on experiential learning. The independent school serves students in prekindergarten through grade eight. Pictured on the cover: A student kayaks as part of the sixth-grade wilderness experience. For more information, call 314.962.9355 or visit thecollegeschool.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo courtesy of The College School

Pictured at top: The College School takes learning out into the community and its 28-acre LaBarque Campus.
Photo courtesy of The College School

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