The school year is divided into four learning cycles of eight weeks each. In each discipline, the study and work of a cycle is organized around a central theme or problem for exploration, while opportunities are sought for meaningful interdisciplinary integration. The end of a cycle presents students with the opportunity for closure, reflection and adjustment of practice. It also provides a framework for regular formative assessment by way of “cycle reports”, which are comprehensive narratives, written collaboratively by middle school guides, and addressing all aspects of a student’s school experience. Immersion Weeks For one week between each cycle, students take part an “immersion” week, during which the regular schedule of classes and work is suspended. During this time, students participate in a large-scale, immersive project or activity which may incorporate creative expression, community service, foreign language, or other academic investigations of particular interest to the students. Immersion weeks provide unique opportunities for in-depth explorations of content not included in the written curriculum, as well as for valuable partnerships with individuals and organizations in the larger Charlottesville community. Experiential Learning/Leadership Opportunities Through experiential and hands-on learning, the students of Mountaintop Montessori Middle School apply academic, practical and interpersonal skills to real life situations and tangible problems in need of solving. Academic studies often revolve around very real challenges faced by the class, the school, and the larger community. Additionally, at the start of each school year, students interview and are hired into influential leadership positions responsible for making decisions that will affect themselves and the class as a whole. These positions may be related to entrepreneurial endeavors, gardening and animal care, and community life, to name a few. Independent & Collaborative Work In all elements of their school life, students engage in a mindfully planned balance of independent and collaborative work. Independent work addresses the adolescent’s need to explore her own interests and ideas and to work according to her individual abilities and pace, while collaborative experiences serve her need to make meaningful social contributions and to find a role within the larger group. Students frequently share the fruits of both independent and collaborative work with the class as a whole, allowing for practice with public speaking, group discussion, and debate. Creative Expression Opportunities for creative expression are both integrated into the other disciplines, and an area of study in their own right. Through creative writing, music, drama, movement, visual arts, cooking, and expressive uses of technology, students explore avenues through which to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas with a larger audience. Students are given the opportunity to enroll at the start of each cycle in one of four creative workshops which they will attend one morning a week for those eight weeks. 53