Teton Valley Community School

Teton Science Schools is merging its Victor, Idaho (pictured), and Jackson campuses under one name, Mountain Academy. Head of School Michelle Heaton said that allows more collaborative opportunities like having the Jackson students work in the garden at the Victor location.

Same school, new name.

Teton Science Schools announced Thursday that it would unite its prekindergarten through 12th grade education under one moniker: Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools. The new name covers the Jackson campus, formerly Journeys School, and the Victor, Idaho, location, which was called the Teton Valley Community School.

“We could not be more proud to introduce our school as Mountain Academy,” board Chairwoman Kristie Wade said in a press release. “This name — and the informed, intentional process that helped us get here — are a reflection of who we are and what we do.”

It also represents the integration of the campuses into one school, a process that started in 2018.

“What we found was that families on both sides of the pass value the same things,” Head of School Michelle Heaton said. “Our parents are looking for authentic learning experiences, committed teachers and real-world connections.”

Heaton said Teton Science Schools administrators didn’t take the renaming lightly. Over seven months they worked with Campbell and Company and CBWhite, a pair of consulting and market research firms, to devise the name and refine how the school relates its philosophy to the outside world.

The first step was ascertaining what parents who send their children to Mountain Academy wanted. Administrators surveyed parents and found they appreciated some core values, including joy, character and individuality, Heaton said.

“Then we talked about how do we build on this foundation to name the school,” she said.

After determining the list of values, they convened a working group, had community engagement sessions and sent out a second survey that tested the waters on what parents wanted in a name. An array of staff members, parents, board members and alumni settled on including “mountain” in the name because it is “so central to where we are,” Heaton said.

To some, a name may simply be that, but for the Teton Science Schools community, it represents an ethos and an extension of the place-based education the network of schools offers. The private institution’s model relies heavily on the community — ecological and social — to create experiential, inquiry-based education for students.

Integrating the Victor and Jackson campuses adheres to that model, and administrators believe it will add to the student experience.

“Especially middle school students — and upper elementary — they want a larger social cohort,” Heaton said. “In a place-based model, they are ready to have a larger sense of place.”

Linking the campuses creates new opportunities for students, like a trip to Washington, D.C., eighth grade students took last year. Not all the collaborative opportunities are so grandiose, however. Second and third graders have pen pals at their sister campus, sending letters that travel up and over Teton Pass, and students from Jackson head to Victor to work in the garden that sits on the Idaho location.

The rebranding also presents new prospects for teacher development and retention, Heaton said. It widens the teacher pool by uniting the schools and gives educators more colleagues to work with.

Heaton and her staff also want to tap into other aspects of Teton Science Schools. The umbrella organization has a graduate school program in place-based education, and students from that program have already started working in the classrooms at the newly minted Mountain Academy.

“It’s very hard to innovate in isolation,” she said. “This creates more professional pathways through the organization.”

Merging the campuses does have at least one side effect: People have known the pair of schools as separate entities for years. The Victor campus has its own identity as a neighborhood school parents can walk their kids to and avoid any pretense of hustle and bustle.

And the Jackson campus has its own personality as the mother ship of the Teton Science Schools operation, a mini metropolis set into Coyote Canyon that welcomes not only school-age kids but visitors from far and wide. As Heaton tells it, the rebranding won’t leave those identities behind, just add to them.

“It’s been important for people to know that we will continue to honor the work of both schools,” Heaton said. “We’re making sure the legacy of those schools still exist, and that we’re not reinventing that.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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