Welcome to Boise’s ‘unschool,’ where the teens are in charge (sort of)

Michael Reagan, creative director for Two Birds, an advertising agency part of One Stone, mentors Hayden Irish with a project., Two Birds allows students to work with real-world clients on web, advertising and branding projects.
Michael Reagan, creative director for Two Birds, an advertising agency part of One Stone, mentors Hayden Irish with a project., Two Birds allows students to work with real-world clients on web, advertising and branding projects.

More than a half-dozen high school students sit at a table working on posters for a project to help the siblings of babies in neonatal intensive care units.

The plan: Dish up ice cream to those kids who often have to stay in waiting rooms because they can’t go in the units where their tiny brothers or sisters are fighting for their lives.

These high school students also want to give the kids books with games, pages to color, and information and photos that answer their questions about neonatal care.

“It’s so they have something to do,” said Bella Archibald, a 17-year-old high school junior.

From inception to execution, this project was the work of students — with minimal adult involvement. And in this school, the experience is the class.

Welcome to One Stone, an unconventional program for 10th- through 12th-graders aimed at developing 21st century skills such as collaboration, teamwork and leadership for Archibald and 200 other Treasure Valley students.

32 Number of 10th-graders in One Stone’s planned high school

Since 2008, the program has been an after-school alternative offered by the nonprofit without cost. Students get the chance to develop businesses; work in the school-based ad agency, where they are with real-world clients developing branding and web pages; and initiate service-learning projects such as the one for siblings of sick babies.

[Story: What will the One Stone School look like?]

But come fall, founder Teresa Poppen, of Eagle, will scale up her project to a full-fledged high school. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation says it is giving her $2.1 million to help launch the school.

One Stone will be free and be supported by grants and donations, which Poppen declines to discuss. As a private school, One Stone will not get state money and not be required to administer state achievement tests.

One Stone will open with 32 sophomores — staff are meeting with parents and prospective students over the summer — and add a grade a year over the next two school years.

Poppen doesn’t have an education background. She came out of software marketing with the former Compaq Computer Corp. She became convinced that students would learn best in education that ignited their passions. So she lets them set their direction, then gives them room to work.

“It’s a unique way to empower kids by giving them the keys to the car,” Poppen said. “They can decide what they are passionate about, and then do it.”

We don’t like to be sitting in classrooms

Simone Migliori, 17, One Stone student, on how the school should look


In a program called Two Birds — One Stone’s answer to an advertising and marketing agency — Boise High School student Peter Eberle works with a coach to design a project for Trailhead, a Boise organization that gives startup businesses a place to grow.

He and other students met with Trailhead representatives to design a permanent way to showcase Trailhead’s founders.

Eberle is putting finishing touches on a design that will include founders’ names burned into round pieces of wood.

Meeting with real-world clients was intimidating at first, Eberle said. He didn’t have all the answers for what to do. Over time, he became more confident.

“I know what I am talking about,” he said.

Along the way, he’s absorbed lots of information on design and other aspects of putting together a project. “You can’t stop learning this stuff,” he said.

Trailhead chose One Stone for the project because its leaders are supportive of the school’s mission to develop leadership skills in young people, said Raino Zoller, Trailhead’s executive director.

Trailhead is “getting a different view from what you may get from a traditional firm,” he said. “Kids are very creative.”


One Stone is making student voices a big part of education, something that isn’t always a large part of traditional school, said Roger Quarles, Albertson Foundation executive director.

“We see potentially a tremendous upside to this approach,” he said. “Kids are going to have their voices in their learning.”

We don’t want to have to wait until they are out of high school.

Teresa Poppen, One Stone founder, on summer internships for students

One Stone is student-run, without teachers, classes or grades.

The school relies on “design thinking,” an approach to problem-solving that begins with an understanding of concerns, seeks out untried ideas to meet problems and evaluates the success of the project.

One Stone leaders have dubbed their new venture an “unschool” because it doesn’t follow traditional education practices. One Stone won’t have a teaching staff; it will have coaches to guide students through project-based learning. For nailing down education basics such as algebra or calculus, students will spend time with online instruction.

Underpinning One Stone is a culture where students make the major decisions. Two-thirds of the school’s board of directors are students. Students sit on the budget committee, making decisions under the tutelage of the school’s financial director. One student group, which code named itself “spaghetti” thanks to a hungry member, spent a year under wraps, quietly contributing ideas to what the new high school should look like.

One idea: Spaces that are open, with few walls or other restrictions. The school will be moving from 7025 W. Emerald St. to a warehouse space near Downtown for the high school and its after-school program. Poppen declined to name the specific location because the lease is still being worked out.


Students are drawn to One Stone because it’s a place they know their voices matter.

One Stone is one of a growing number of alternative education venues known as micro schools, said Christina Ortiz, an educator who has started two micro schools in Florida and is getting her Ph.D. in education leadership from Harvard.

Micro schools are small, typically around 120 students. “The small size allows you to do school all kinds of different ways not typically seen in the traditional schools,” she said.

Such schools typically draw parents “who want a different kind of experience for their kids,” she said. Or parents not happy with traditional schools.

Simone Migliori, a Boise High senior and chair of One Stone’s board of directors, walked into the school three years ago and was admittedly bossy. “I didn’t know how to collaborate,” she said.

But she watched as the school made room for quiet students to speak up and help shape their eduction. Now she understands the importance of collaboration.

“We really value the quality of voices,” said Migliori, who will go to Boston University in the fall.