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Boss Babes: Bozeman educators 'opt out' of traditional classroom with new school

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Posted at 6:18 AM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 14:06:56-04

In the heart of a pandemic with nearly all schools shut down, two local women decided it was still possible to join forces to form the Opt Out School.

MTN's Holly Brantley explains in this edition of "Boss Babes".

Jessica Dehn and Michaella Croskey say they are fearless when it comes to giving kids a better education. That’s why they decided 2020 was indeed the perfect time to unite to form Bozeman’s Opt Out School.

They say it’s all about giving every child the opportunity to learn and thrive.

“We see students as heroes so our job is to help them along their heroes’ journey,” said Dehn. "We are taking kindergarteners and grade-schoolers and helping them find their calling”

It’s a school and, yes, a business created by the two women.

“In this model, the learning is put on the student,” explained Croskey.

Croskey describes herself as a public school teacher gone rogue. She loved education but says it just wasn’t the right fit. But she saw an opportunity as the lockdown took hold in 2020. With a group of ten and what she called her Magic School Bus, she launched a small school ‘Opt Out’ to give students individualized learning at their own pace.

“We focused on spending time outdoors because that was what was possible last year,” she said. “We live in such a beautiful place and I think the more we can focus on educating our children by spending time outdoors the better.”

Meanwhile, also in 2020, Jessica decided to buy a building and open Explore Montessori Academy for K-5th grade. But she was ready for more.

“I just have seen all kinds of children realize they have a voice even though they’re young, they are not less than adults and they have ideas,” said Dehn. She explained she wanted to expand the opportunity for students.

Each on their own paths with dreams to grow. Then, fate stepped in: their realtor introduced the two. Soon after they decided to join forces to form Opt Out.

It was created from the Acton Academy Model with elements of private education, outdoor learning, Montessori and Waldorf methods and more rolled into one.

“It’s not the teacher standing up in front of the room rolling out lessons and being responsible for the child’s learning,” said Croskey. “It’s supporting a child and that’s where more of the coaching comes in, so that would be the largest difference.”

Right now the school is for kindergarten through 8th graders.

“We are just trying to just prepare the students for a world that we don’t know what it looks like yet,” said Croskey. “We don’t know about the job industry or how that is going to change. It doesn’t make sense to do education the way we’ve always done it. We raise humans that are adaptable problem solvers."

Indeed, they say success amid a pandemic took problem-solving skills of their own and the ability to see beyond the present circumstances. That’s the spirit they hope to instill in the lifelong learners who will be a part of their Opt Out school.

“I’ve seen that light come on in a child’s eyes and that just makes me get the chills,” said Dehn. “I can’t help but want to provide that for as many children as possible.”

School starts September 7.

They hope to eventually offer high school programs.

Meanwhile, both have families.

Michaella Is a momma-to-be. Jessica has three kids and also owns Dino Drop In.