Junior High Program

The Program

A place of real instances. A place where change is realized. A place for me.

Because adolescents are unique, so too is the program. We find innovative ways to deeply engage the adolescent mind, helping each student to become a creative and adaptive thinker. We create a safe environment for self-exploration, reflection, and identity formation . We immerse students in experiences that instill values, ethics, and responsibility . And, we surround the students with great adult role models .

LEARN - A Rigorous Academic Core – All the knowledge, and more, that each student needs to succeed as they prepare for a challenging institution of higher learning. Students receive a broad-based education in the following academic disciplines: Humanities, Science, Mathematics, Language Arts, Foreign Language, and Technology.

THINK - An Integrated Project-based Curriculum grounded in farm and garden work that takes the core disciplines and makes them meaningful – and interesting – fueling critical-thinking skills. Adolescence is a time when higher-order, cognitive skills develop at a rapid rate. Through land-based project work, students learn to: analyze evidence; use sources critically; detect bias in information sources; argue emphatically; scientifically observe; formulate and test hypotheses; measure; classify; evaluate; problem-solve; collaborate; and communicate.

REASON - Seminars and student groups that demand real-time analysis and reasoning to further each student’s ability to reason and think independently. The Socratic method – a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints that is based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and illuminate ideas – is the mainstay of seminars and book groups.

MATURE – Creation of real microeconomies that are the fertile teaching ground for responsibility, ethics, time management and economics. Students participate in microeconomies in which real products are made, marketed, and sold, fostering independence, responsibility, time management, and ethics. This very real application of economics teaches theory and produces tangible economic results.

GROW – Creative and physical expression as a lens through which identity is explored, creative skills are honed, and changing physiologies are developed and managed. Creative and physical expression give students a real opportunity to try on new roles, reflect, and express their forming identities and feelings. Beyond their use as critical developmental tools, students use the mastery of a variety of hands-on creative techniques to do fine art and better their ideas in the context of academic projects.

INTEGRATE – Community and individual reflection from which flow a healthy confidence in one’s self and meaningful integration into the community as a whole. Injected among academic endeavors are a variety of well-constructed opportunities to communicate, reflect, engage, and resolve community conflicts, including once-a-week community meetings and daily one-on-one, adult-guided conferences to set goals.

Real Work

Initiate challenge. Engage the will.
Celebrate humanity.

Learning by doing – While you’ll generally see adolescents wane in their engagement in work and learning as they enter into puberty, that’s not the case here. Our students are fully engaged and excited to come to school every day.


It’s easy, really. A land-based program offers interesting and natural ways for students to get invested in their work and the interdependency of things. The land-based activities are the vehicle to spawn interest in intellectual subject matter. Beekeeping as the gateway to insect anatomy, reproduction, cell structure, and even language arts via presentations and models. Organic gardening as the gateway to biology, chemistry, and more. And in nature, there is no half-way. The bees either survive or die. As does the garden. So students feel more responsible, more attached to their learning.

How does it work?

1. Knowledge. The students acquire core knowledge and concepts through lessons. Once they have a foundation, they’re ready for work.

2. Question/Challenge. A teacher guides a student-led process in which students plan a project that will deepen their learning across disciplines by centering their focus on significant issues, debates, or questions that have practical, real-life significance in nature.

3. Work. Students begin work on the project. Any one project always has these four aspects:

  • Context. Each project has a real-life context, giving the students a reason to want to learn it (e.g., use algebra to figure out how to reduce energy usage and create a campaign for conservation).
  • Inquiry. Students must use inquiry to explore and discover, constructing something new by applying their knowledge – an idea, an interpretation, a presentation. Inquiry is made individually and also collectively by the group.
  • Choice. Students have many choices in the type of inquiry to conduct. Choice provides individual motivation, a sense of unique identity for the group, and an opportunity for individual interest to be pursued.
  • Thinking, problem-solving, collaborating. Students do more than remember, they learn how to work together using higher-order thinking skills – and they learn to make their ideas clear and cohesive.

4. Demonstration of mastery and understanding (feedback and presentation). Individual and group work is presented, giving students an opportunity to receive peer and teacher feedback. This preparation gives yet another opportunity to stretch and strengthen an array of skills.

Meeting Developmental Needs

Open. Optimistic. Outgoing.

CHOICE: it keeps them coming back - The best science on education shows that when students authentically feel they have some control over their own education, their motivation to learn skyrockets. Being good educators, and with a history of choice being central to the Montessori philosophy, we choose not to ignore the science behind choice. The Junior High program is organized more like a college curriculum than a typical Junior High program. The curriculum is based on six-week cycles, a number of which must be completed in order to complete the program. However, students are given a wide range of latitude in terms of how they choose to complete the order of the curriculum and the projects within the curriculum. For example, in any one cycle, a student might choose to do a humanities project rather than a science-based project (although there are a required number of each) and within that project, working with others, will have a voice in how the project will be shaped and presented. Students also understand, however, that with increasing freedom comes responsibility. While there is a greater degree of choice, it is also expected that students go further in delivering on the choices they’ve made.

SELF EXPRESSION AND COMMUNICATION: it’s good for the developing identity - It’s not uncommon for adolescents to be overwhelmed with emotion—and to struggle with issues of identity. Enter creative and physical self expression; a pivotal part of the Junior High program, creative and physical expression take up an entire day each week. Why? The primary purpose is to give adolescents the time and guidance to explore who they are, to give voice to their feelings, and to provide a pause from academics so that they can better and more fully engage again. Research also shows that physical expression helps to moderate the highs and lows of changing hormonal balances. Equally important, however, is the fact that students come to identify their individual creative abilities and master the skills and techniques to use them, linking these to their daily intellectual work and ideas. Over time, this influences both the students’ ability to think more creatively about complex problems—and to present their ideas in more meaningful and interesting ways.

COMMUNITY: within the program and outside of the program - Because this can be such a tumultuous time for students, the program is designed so that each student has the ability to reflect individually, to reflect on the school community, and to reflect on his or her role in relation to the larger community outside of school. Students keep journals and have regular meetings with adults trained specifically to help adolescents deal with a myriad of issues. Conflicts naturally arise, probably more frequently during this developmental period, so, conflict resolution skills are specifically taught and practiced within the community. On Friday mornings, community council meetings are held in which the community as a whole discusses how things are going. Larger community work is also mandatory, ranging from working with the elderly to environmental cleanup to laying out the program newsletter. Students come to understand and feel valued for their individual contributions to the community, which in turn heightens their sense of engagement in every aspect of the program. The absence of cliques is notable in the program; every student is free to pursue and be motivated by multiple interests.


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Marin Montessori School's Junior High program is based on 900 acres of agricultural land in a campus-like setting in San Rafael.