Miami Valley School

 Miami Valley School

Miami Valley School believes students learn by participating in an activity.

Eric Spangler

Lekha Choudary learned a lot about ancient Egypt this year. But the one piece of information that might stick best in the Miami Valley School sixth-grader’s mind is the concept behind the ancient Egyptians’ mummification techniques.

That’s because Choudary and her sixth-grade classmates got some hands-on experience with mummification—don’t worry, there were no dead bodies involved. “We mummified apples yesterday,” she says. “It was pretty cool.”

After a week of completing projects like mummifying apples the students then headed to Miami University for another week of learning about ancient Egypt. It’s all part of the Miami Valley School’s philosophy of teaching students to learn by doing, says Susan Strong, the school’s director of enrollment.

“We call it the immersion method,” she says. “And the immersion method is that we believe everything is done best by doing. And so that’s kind of what the foundation is that we go by, everything that we do.”

That philosophy is apparently working well for students at the only independent preK-12 college prep school in Dayton since 100 percent of its graduates attend four-year colleges and universities, says Strong.

The immersion method teaches students not just the traditional academic concepts of reading, writing and arithmetic, but how to create art, research, play instruments, speak Mandarin, collaborate and explain projects to others, she says. The immersion method starts in the early childhood school through the middle school with two-week, mini-immersion projects, says Strong.

Once students reach the high school level the immersion method really kicks in with students studying a single field that interests them for the entire month of January. “That immersion piece started about 30 years ago with our teachers who said, ‘Let’s take them out of Dayton and let’s start to focus on how they can have a bigger view of the world,’” she says.

Immersion projects include learning to sail in the Bahamas, traveling to Ghana and Peru, learning to write in Vermont or even learning to code and build robots on campus, says Strong. “One girl wanted to study more Mandarin so she went to China on her own,” she says.

High school students must pick what they want to study during the immersion period from a list of several choices, says Anne Griffith, a science teacher and chairwoman of the school’s Immersion Committee. Even the process of writing an essay to explain the reason for a certain choice is a teaching moment. “We have them apply, which sort of mirrors that college application process starting as freshman,” says Griffith.

Although there are plenty of opportunities to study abroad during the immersion period there’s also plenty to learn on campus during the entire school year. One of the more popular places to learn on campus is the Zorniger Environmental Laboratory’s greenhouse and gardens.

Not only do students learn about seeds, plants and food in the environmental lab, they also provide a community service. Students recently carted out nearly 600 potted tomato, pepper and basil plants that they grew for the city’s food bank, says Patti DeLotell, the school’s environmental lab director. 

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