Principia: The Future of Tradition

Tucked away in Town & Country, a suburb of St. Louis, is a private K-12 school called Principia (@PrincipiaSchool). This school’s university-like campus consists of optional student dorms, numerous sports fields, a high ropes course and rock wall, and recently redesigned school buildings that lean into a newly selected set of values for the school. Within the last five years, there has been an overhaul of administrative talent that has led to a shift in culture and curriculum to better meet the needs of the 21st-century student.

This hasn’t always been the case. As a private religious institution change has been hard-won and the balancing act of the traditional and the innovative has provided challenges for new perspectives and talent. Through compromises, time and visioning, the school has matured into a community that holds collaboration, project-based learning, place-based education, social-emotional learning, and student work as key tenants of success.

This school redesign has included a massive office transformation, increasing transparency and tearing down walls to reduce the degree of separation between students, admin, and the outside world, as well as moving libraries and media labs out of the basement and into the light of day. These changes are also rooted in a spirit of collaboration, reflected by the inclusion of flexible spaces, the removal of individual teacher offices and a unique juxtaposition of cross-subject classrooms. All of the innovations in culture were bolstered by a dedication to continuous professional development (PD) which came through revisited PD commitments and intentional programming.

The school also has a robust media lab, with professional-grade video/broadcasting equipment, enabling a handful of student-run publications and projects.

Despite the absence of a dedicated makerspace, the school has taken project-based learning and design in stride, incorporating PBL into the physics curriculum through boat construction (which they later race), as well as race cars. They have also implemented the UNs sustainable goals as a major focus of their current curriculum.

Through dedicated network building, Principia has established relationships with other private schools in St. Louis. Together, these schools work collaboratively on projects to create better school environments through the construction of outdoor benches, pathways, and more. They’ve even created a recent relationship with the St. Louis Art Museum to display student-produced art in the museum, a motivator for exceptional student work.

On the day of my visit, the students were hosting a schoolwide competition called Surf n Turf, an event based upon various feats of performance, swimming, sports, dance, and more. The school’s four different dorms/houses competed against one another for the title, and despite the spirit of competition, there was a tangible feeling of whole school pride that ensued with each activity.

There’s something exceptional about the ability to work within the confines of traditionalism to create something that works for the community and the school … this is the path that Principia is on. Highlighting the future alongside the past and working hard to keep learners at the center.

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Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Director at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

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