At Monte del Sol we believe and observe that all learning is relational. When students experience and understand how academic work connects to their surroundings and to real people and activities, these subjects come alive.
We use our local community as context whenever possible and we encourage and provide connection in varied and meaningful ways: for example, students have collected oral histories from Spanish-speaking elders at La Residencia; they have helped teachers in science classes at elementary schools; many participate in our growing sustainability and outdoor education programs and all are given the opportunity to learn and connect through the school's flagship Mentorship program.
To create a successful mentorship we begin by asking students about their interests, dreams and passions and then find an adult in the community who shares their passion and who is willing to become a mentor to that young person for the school year. Then we bring the student and mentor together to pursue a project of mutual design and to delve deeply into the subject. Students meet a minimum of two hours a week with their mentors between September and May. Many choose to meet for longer and some students stay with the same mentor over several school years.
The results of this program have been stunning. Students have directed plays, produced films, composed songs, designed furniture, built bicycles, written books, explored quantum mechanics, studied polymer chemistry, designed lasers, tended bee hives, designed clothes, trained service dogs, broken horses, and much, much more. Each week, we have about 150 students participating in mentorships with skilled and generous mentors around Santa Fe.
In most cases, students claim to have learned a huge amount in their mentorship projects and in most cases mentors claim the same. That is clearly in evidence at the annual Mentor Appreciation Evening in February and especially during the three-day Mentorship Festival in April where students showcase their work at the Lensic Theater to their peers, their parents, mentors and special guests. Students participating in a food-related mentorship offer the delicious fruits of their labor in A Taste of Monte del Sol during the Festival period.
Monte del Sol incorporates mentorship into the academic curriculum and students are required to get a minimum of two high school credits (one per year) for completing and passing their mentorship. In addition to the weekly sessions with their mentors, each student is asked to reflect on their learning through a final portfolio of work that is a combination of a 20-page written essay, a photographic or video/power point presentation and/or performance reflecting what they learned, how they learned it, and how it was different from classroom learning. After each presentation or performance the student also participates in a lively question and answer session with the judges, their peers and others in the audience.
The school requires a minimum of two years of mentorship during high school, though we recommend four high school years of mentorship. Many of our 11th and 12th graders do a mentorship for additional elective credit as well as to continue learning from a trusted mentor in their field of interest. We often hear from graduates who continue to follow the passion nurtured during their mentorship at Monte del Sol and who stay in touch with their mentor. One entire Monte del Sol family became avid beekeepers inspired by their son's beekeeping mentorship. Middle School students may choose to do a mentorship as an extra curricular activity but do not receive high school credit.