Our Approach to Learning

“I accomplished things I never dreamed of doing before such as skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and competition in triathlons. 

I graduated high school, applied to colleges, mended relationships with my family, and began to formulate my dreams. 

Today, I am a junior in college with a double major in political science and urban studies and plan on attending law school.”

Problem Solving
Problem solving is an empowering experience and critical to a child and family’s development as human beings.  Real life problems require real life solutions and that means hands on activities.  In this way, students experience the lesson, then internalize it and finally understand it as they attempt to articulate the learning experience to someone else.  Information acquired in this fashion is not forgotten with time; instead it becomes part of the fabric of one’s personality. Learning becomes real when it touches an individual and is about her life.

Learning always involves solving a problem, hypothetical or real.  What is more useful and interesting to the confused child or adolescent in pain—an abstract scenario, or a solution to a real problem?  The answer to this question is the key to effective education of children with special needs. 

We provide educational experiences for exceptional young women who are experiencing difficulties. We give our students regular opportunities to find, articulate and implement successful solutions to their personal life problems. Our students come to us with real life problems.  They are struggling to find solutions.  As educators, we support our students by challenging them to try a new approach.  This happens in the classroom, during activities, and in group counseling sessions.  We encourage them to take the risk of becoming vulnerable and open.

We teach that the most critical element to successful problem solving often has little to do with skill, intellect or abilities.  Obviously those elements are important but they are not critical to academic or life successes for adolescents.  Two things are: desire and perseverance. More simply stated, it is the willingness to do whatever it takes to identify the problem and then find and implement solutions.  Solving a problem means trying different solutions, or in the case of adolescent dysfunction, trying different behaviors.

MMS SkierEmbrace Recovery
For adolescents and families having difficulty, it means giving up drugs, alcohol, negative peer groups and inappropriate relationships—in fact it means giving up their old lives to start anew.  To most adolescents, giving up their lifestyles and starting new ones is a depressing idea and not readily embraced.  For an adolescent, this is akin to an ego death of sorts, and there is a very real depression and a grieving process often associated with life changes.

We find that metaphoric experiential education and recreational activities provide our students with a safe arena to create and work through life issues.  The inherent drama and adventure associated with adolescence finds an appropriate expression through these activities and counters the depression that so often inhibits emotional growth or causes relapse.  We provide our students with opportunities to successfully initiate their own heroic quest and overcome significant adversity to achieve accomplishment.  This process allows them to build the strength needed to address their emotional issues.

Character Building & Self Esteem
Perseverance through adversity does build character. Success in physically, emotionally and mentally difficult and arduous experiential activities has a significant positive impact on the struggling adolescent.  Success in difficult tedious repetitive tasks such as fence building, splitting firewood, or shoveling manure creates patience, resolve and perseverance. 

Success in reflective cognitive assignments such as life histories creates insight and understanding of self.  Success in assimilating and synthesizing ideas to solve problems creates mental discipline and clarity.  This leads to self-esteem, and esteem is a critical component of all self-determining individuals.  Our students not only change their lives, they learn how to initiate and complete self-change as an appropriate response to problems that life presents.

Prepare for the Future
We have the responsibility to prepare our students to face future changes, challenges and life problems that we can barely imagine, much less foresee.  Some of the more obvious are environmental problems, over-population and disease, depletion of resources and increased distance and conflict between the haves and the have-nots.

The accelerating rate of change and knowledge acquisition increases the likelihood that much of the content knowledge we can teach our students will be obsolete in their lifetimes.  Common to all these difficult scenarios is the importance of the ability of the individual to function within a group. We must build interpersonal and social skill sets that prepare our students for these future challenges.  We must facilitate their group problem solving abilities, increase moral awareness and promote a high level of respect and civility for their fellow humans.

Moral Growth
We engage the moral growth of our students through real life problems and learning opportunities found in the social context of our school community.  The individual student finds inclusion in all social functions by virtue of being at the school, and this helps her to safely develop and find her true self.  But, this inclusion also carries a responsibility to acknowledge and support the importance of the milieu. 

The addition of new students and the departure of the old create the periodic need for the group to reintegrate disparate individual interests, beliefs and values.  The milieu must participate in a cyclical developmental process to ensure that there is a continuity of inclusion and investment of the individual in the school community.

The goal is to maintain a culture where the essential dignity of each student is respected and where the individual will sacrifice for the good of the many, and the many will sacrifice for the learning of the one. This creates a milieu that is safe where the child learns morals and develops an allegiance to true self that recognizes her interdependence on the group in a way that transcends personal self-interest.  This helps the child progress through the narcissism of youth and successfully transition through the despair of the existential crisis of adolescence.  And because of this, the group is uplifted and all benefit.

Each student will experience this process at least twice before completion at Mission Mountain School. She first experiences it as a new student who is struggling and needs the support of the group, and then as an older student that sacrifices self-interest to support the group and the students that are struggling.

The parallel developmental process of the group and the individual requires that the students develop and practice good problem solving skills at an individual and group level.  These skills are taught through our developmental curriculum and start with the identification of a problem, the inventory or taking stock of the situation, reflection and creation of strategies for resolution, practice, reevaluation, reflection and perseverance until the desired goal is reached.  The experience of the milieu prepares the child for the changing cultural landscape that resides in her future. It prepares her to return to a rapidly changing society with the skills to support and contribute to her family, group or community without losing her essential self.


MMS Diamond Anchor