Mission: Great River School, an urban Montessori learning environment, prepares students for their unique roles as responsible and engaged citizens of the world.

Vision: Great River School integrates academic and social experiences in an environment of civility and trust. The Montessori philosophy and the International Baccalaureate diploma program inform the curriculum and pedagogy, inspiring deep questioning and peaceful action.

A tuition-free public charter, Great River School fosters self-expression in a supportive environment that values critical thinking and the richness and strength of a diverse community.

Great River School encourages students to seek new challenges and explore their abilities. Instruction through travel, practical learning, the arts, and micro-economic ventures provide relevant skills to meet the world with compassion and a sense of responsibility.

Essential Outcomes at Great River school:

Why do students succeed here?

We have a program that emphasizes personal responsibility, work, and respect for self and others. The idea of interdependence - that we are all necessary, required, and rely on each other for support - is essential to our school and work 

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What do we do? 

We take overnight trips to build trust and interdependence. We hold weekly community meetings to practice listening and solving conflict. We do schoolwork, emphasizing the concept of a growth mindset to ourselves and our learning. We aim to build an attitude of lifelong learning

What does community mean at Great River?

Community means a commitment to shared responsibility, expecting discomfort, expecting to learn by letting go of something we want personally in order for the group to benefit. Community means respecting the contributions of every individual, and seeing everyone as necessary and essential. Community doesn’t mean everyone is your favorite friend. Community means everyone is dignified, respected, and understands how to show up respecting others.

What skills are built here? 

We learn skills of resilience, understanding, and ability to work in a group. We build the experiences and capacity to try new things, and be open to experiences that are uncomfortable. We learn personal responsibility through chores, through work plans, and through relationships where we matter to each other. 

What is my kid going to learn at Great River? 

Academic skills, yes. We participate in the teaching of state standards and beyond. We also administer the standard MCA assessments that all public schools are mandated to carry out. 

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We also focus first and foremost on interdependence and the development of respect for self, others, work, and the environment. Personal responsibility and growth mindset attitudes are the foundation of our student’s academic success.

What is the focus of the curriculum?

We are a public school that uses materials for students to learn the concepts that allow them to play a meaningful role in the world. Montessori materials, Montessori trained teachers, hands-on curriculum and materials, and in adolescence a focus on personal responsibility, individual work plans, and *all students* engaging in the IB curriculum in 11th and 12th grade. This opens opportunities for students regardless of their perceived aptitude or potential. We don’t have academic tracks that separate students into low and high performing groups.

All students engage in college-level coursework because we support individuals to meet challenges and rise to the expectations. Students who would do IB at a conventional school do well here. Students who would have never done IB at another school do well here. It isn’t an easy path, and it is an engaging path. Students engage in work and succeed. 

What does a typical day look like? 

Typically,

  • elementary students have a 3 hour work period, a beautiful lunch, recess, and an afternoon work period. Specialist time is once per week in the afternoon

  • Adolescents have a block schedule that is designed to engage them in a variety of independent work, group work, and hands-on experiences that challenge them toward independence while meeting their developmental needs to be social and engage in meaningful work. 

What is the data? 

Great River has excellent outcomes for students. 

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  • Our students demonstrate a clear ability to engage in work at a high level. Reading achievement and growth are above the state average. Mathematics growth for students is above the state average

  • We focus on meeting students needs, and the restorative measures we take in response to breaking our agreements include re-committing to social norms and restoring one’s place in the group with dignity. 

  • Our outcomes for students include higher rates of belonging, reports above national and state average of having friends that can be trusted, and reports above state and national average of knowing adults that can be trusted and will speak up for you. Our students - whether they report “liking” it or not - know they are cared about and cared for, and that their presence here matters. 

LGBTQ+ students are highly visible here  - why does it look different than other schools? 

We practice respect for self and others, and that translates to an environment where students are able to expect to be treated with dignity. All people deserve respect and dignity, and especially for their identity and personhood. We have active ally groups and affinity clubs for students around gender and sexuality identity Specifically, our student government has been active for 10 years in policy creation, and our school policies have been informed by best practices. For instance, providing gender inclusive restrooms is research-based best practice: reduces anxiety for students, reduces incidence of vandalism, and reduces the amount of school time spent in the restroom. 

Why so many white kids here? 

We do not want to be a part of a segregated school system. We are increasingly troubled by these patterns. We actively seek to recruit lottery applicants from neighborhoods and families that are underrepresented at GRS as compared to the demographics of our neighborhoods. That means active and intensive recruiting of our Black, Brown, and Indigenous neighbors in our surrounding North End, Frogtown, and Hamline-Midway neighborhoods.  We know our program works for students of all racial backgrounds. , and we are especially motivated to see our work benefit students who are currently statistically underserved at other school districts.

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We also talk directly about race, racism, and institutional oppression in our classes and our curriculum. We talk in the elementary about the ideas of racial bias that have been untrue in the past. We study in our academic curriculum the ways institutions practiced racism and shaped our current economics, geography, and social state. We dedicate a full day each spring to inviting in activists, speakers, and community leaders who write, talk, and think about making the world a more peaceful and equitable place where the color of our skin is respected, important, and not a factor in predicting academic outcomes.  

We ask that families be ready and willing to talk openly about race, bias, fairness, and justice at home. 

How well do you serve students of the global majority, including Black & Indigenous students? 

Outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and Global majority are better at Great River than typical MN schools. The gap in access and equity for academic achievement in MN and St Paul can be tied almost directly to racial demographics. Black students, Latino Students, and Immigrant students are not offered the same opportunities and do not achieve the same level of success as white students in the state. We want to combat this problem. We believe the data shows our program does combat this problem. 

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Great River School does not intend or want to be a school for any one racial background, or any one income or belief system. We have students here from all political, racial, and economic backgrounds. We have programs that work well for students who are black, brown and white. 

Our programs support Black, Latinx, immigrant, and typically underserved students to achieve more here than at a typical school district. Our outcomes are high for students because we support students regardless of their past performance or standardized percentile score to aim for success, and work until they achieve their personal goals. 

What about serving students with IEPs? What about serving students newly immigrated or learning English? 

Yes we have programs for students with IEP’s, who are English-learners, and have specific needs for accomodations. Our programs are excellent, and address specific needs.We are a small school district, and find that the only needs that are better met at a larger district would be students who have a classroom dedicated to meeting an extreme and intensive behavioral or medical need. We work with families and students most commonly to address solutions to learning disabilities, anxiety, and ASD. 

What supports for families? 

We offer a parent engagement group, parent education nights, and a program that builds independence and respect in students

What’s asked of families?

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We ask families to participate in any way they can in building community. This means attending conferences, volunteering 20 hours per school year, and supporting the non-profit organization of the school if possible. Specifically, at home, families are asked to be in constant communication with students regarding their personal goals and responsibilities, as they relate to their education. We also ask families to think the best of their teachers and the school, and assume the best intentions, even in challenging situations. We ask families to be prepared to engage with discomfort, and be willing to learn from it. 

Test Scores, Demographics & Staffing Profile

You can use the Minnesota Department of Education's website to access statistical and other information on Great River School

Peacemaker MN Partner School

Great River School is a partner in the PeaceMaker Minnesota network of schools dedicated to the reduction of bullying and the teaching of social and emotional skills.

Articles about Great River