Five Reasons I Love ATI Virtual School
Meet Savannah F. (top middle in the photo above), a 15-year-old freshman at the Academy of Thought and Industry (ATI). ATI is a Montessori-inspired network for middle and high schools, where students have the freedom and support to learn in a way that respects their agency and curiosity. Savannah shares her take on ATI in her own words—why she was drawn to our Virtual School program, and why she wants to continue her journey with us.
1) I get to question everything
At ATI, we’re not just allowed to ask questions; it’s encouraged! The Magic of Why was our main principle for science last semester. We learned how to use scientific terms, perform experiments, create laboratory reports, and of course, ask why!
Our math foundations course was built around the question Is Math Discovered or Created? which allowed us to explore the principles of mathematics to truly understand its meaning and roots.
During the course, I came to the conclusion that while humans have discovered certain mathematical laws—for example, how 2 plus 2 always equals 4, and can always be observed in the natural world—the way we actually use and communicate math is a human invention. For example, the Fibonacci Sequence is a pattern that can be observed in nature, such as in pine cones and sea shells. But the sequence itself is abstract and infinite. We will never see the Fibonnaci Sequence manifested in the natural world in its entirety, which proves it's something humans have constructed in their minds.
My realization about math inspired me to stay curious. It's deeply fulfilling, being in an environment where it’s ok to ask questions and take time to genuinely understand how the world works.
2) I choose which subjects I specialize in
Every year, we spend the first semester laying foundations in core subjects, like language, math, and science. Now that we’ve done that, I’m taking deep dives into the subjects that interest me individually.
This year I’ve been focusing on US History and Biology, alongside other subjects. I enjoy studying because we get to define the way we work. Last week, for example, I chose to create a new lifeform for Biology, drawing on everything I’ve learned so far. This new creature has its own biological characteristics that support its unique physical and behavioral traits. This project was fun, and it helped me consolidate my understanding of the interconnectedness of organisms.
I am also taking a typography course, where I get to work on my graphic design skills. And I’m taking an elective course in baking, so that I can hone my skills and knowledge to make more complicated and intricate cakes! My classmates have also been able to pursue their passions in various areas. Several friends of mine are pursuing the art elective Drawing and Creative Practice where they are guided by an art professional. Many of my friends are also pursuing interests such as photography, music, coding, and creative writing alongside experienced mentors.
3) I’m making a difference in the world
I’ve always been interested in Montessori education, so I started volunteering at a local Montessori school. This has given me insight into how the Montessori classroom setting nurtures childhood development. I worked with children individually, getting to know how they work and think, and learning more about how we can support their growth.
I’m also doing a marketing internship, where I am partnered with a mentor at Higher Ground Education. She, along with the rest of the marketing team has been able to give me insight into how marketing works and how a professional team functions. I get to engage with different team members, attend group meetings, and collaborate on different pieces of work with my mentor.
4) Individual life-coaching has helped me learn more about myself
This year, I’ve been paired with a coach who has helped me discover many things about myself and helped me find ways to become my best self. We discuss everything from details about schoolwork to my mission in life. Through our one-to-one and small-group sessions, I have discovered how I function, and how to improve upon my routines and habits.
Recently, I found that I have a strong relationship with time. I focused a lot on how to get things done, and when I was best suited for the task. This mindset limited me from achieving the things I was capable of accomplishing. I have since been working on how I can improve and acknowledge this mindset and others.
Through coaching I have been also able to create my mission statement and learn how to interact with others best. We meet frequently and I feel that I can tell her anything, from personal information to how I'm doing in school. I know that I can come to her to discuss my path forward.
5) I’m recognized and appreciated for who I am, while I create the person I want to become
As I mentioned, I've had a long-running interest in Montessori education, and I really like the way ATI translates Montessori philosophy to the teen setting. Maria Montessori said, “The adolescent must never be treated as a child, for that is a stage of life that he has surpassed. It is better to treat an adolescent as if he had greater value than he actually shows than as if he had less and let him feel that his merits and self-respect are disregarded.” This basic principle gives us teens the independence we need to be as self-sufficient as possible, while we also prepare for adult life.
Although Montessori is often thought of as a younger child's education, I think ATI has pioneered a new way of delivering student-centered learning in the digital setting. I feel like ATI was built to help me succeed, which is not how I feel about public school. ATI has given me the power, responsibilities, and tools I need to forge my path forward. I'm confident that when I walk away from ATI, I will have learned everything I need, from the practical life skills of how to pay my bills to answering the deep questions like what I want my place to be in the world.