Explore Academy

Explore Academy, a new private school in Bozeman, is set to open no later than Sept. 8.

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Jessica Dehn had been thinking for a few years about what kind of school she might want to run.

After four and a half years directing a childcare center, Dehn put together the pieces in June to focus on launching a new school. In September, just three months later, she plans to open Explore Academy.

“In reality it’s been in my heart, and I’ve had a desire to do something like this for a long time,” Dehn said.

The private school is set to open no later than Sept. 8, and the building is being renovated to accommodate coronavirus-related protocols. The school will serve infants to 6 year olds with a Montessori style while first through sixth graders will follow the Acton Academy model.

Dehn, Explore Academy’s owner, believes the new project will be a success as it combines specific teaching styles with small class sizes and a space designed to avoid spreading COVID-19.

“We have a great option that has very high quality educational aspects,” Dehn said, “in addition to the safety aspects that are part of the building design.”

After opening Dino Drop-In more than four years ago, Dehn received positive feedback from parents. Some wondered if she would expand her business and she considered different options. So when a nearby building on North 22nd Avenue became available, Dehn jumped at the opportunity.

Having everything come together in a few months was actually more time Dehn has had compared to other similar business projects she’s overseen.

Since June, she’s worked on putting together a 10-teacher staff for the maximum enrollment of about 54 children. The school plans to implement policies to remain open even if a stay-at-home order is implemented the way it was in March.

One of Dehn’s first moves was involving Nancy McNabb, who has 37 years of experience in Montessori-style teaching and is now a consultant for the school. While McNabb said there are 12 Montessori schools in Bozeman, she thinks there’s room for one more.

“How we feel is kids don’t stop learning just because there’s a pandemic,” McNabb said. “(Parents) need an option for their kids to learn in a safe structured learning environment.”

Rather than having to reconstruct space for virus guidelines, Explore Academy has the advantage of creating its space from scratch. Dehn said air will be circulated more often, toys are rotated for cleaning and up to four entrances could be used so kids in different groups don’t mix. Temperature checks upon arrival are also in the school’s plans.

During the stay-at-home order in March, Dino Drop-In remained open and Dehn said if a similar situation occurs, the new school would likely remain open, too.

“The critical piece for parents in this valley is do they really want their 5-year-old in kindergarten online?” Dehn said. “We’re giving the option of an in-person experience.”

Both the Montessori and Acton Academy models are similar in how they are “child-led” approaches, Dehn said. They both tailor the experience toward students’ interests and allow for mixed-age learning. Teachers operate under the assumption each child is a “genius,” both Dehn and McNabb said, and they attempt unlocking each one’s passions.

“It’s like a one-room schoolhouse for the 21st century,” Dehn said of the Acton Academy model.

Dehn’s own children, a 6 and 8 year old, will attend. She believes the experience will pay off for them and everyone else who joins.

“I think it will really reignite their love for learning and drive for school,” Dehn said.

More information can be found at explore-academy.com.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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