It’s been an exciting day for us at Teton Science Schools, as just this morning we announced the name of our independent school. You may have already heard — and if not, we’d like to introduce you to — Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools. One school, two campuses, bridged by the mountains.
In an 1887 letter from John Muir to his sister, Muir wrote the famed saying: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” While the mountains he spoke of were those of the Yosemite Valley, his sentiments were far-reaching and have continued to resonate with mountain communities and lovers all over the world — Jackson Hole and Teton Valley included.
For those of us who live in, work in and visit these communities, the mountains are an important piece of our place — they’re why we visit, they’re why we stay. Sometimes they challenge us to push our limits, sometimes they shelter us from the storm. They foster camaraderie and friendship, leadership and courage. They call, we go.
For Teton Science Schools, the mountains are where — in fact, why — we were born. They were the site of our first field science program back in 1967 and ultimately the inspiration for our very name. When our founder, Ted Major, decided on the name Teton Science Schools, he wouldn’t know that within the next five decades his field science program would grow to include two independent school campuses on each side of the mountain range. What he did know was that the mountains — the Tetons — would convey the steadfast and adventurous spirit of the program’s community and ground it in a sense of place.
What’s in a Name?
Turns out, there’s a lot to consider in a name, especially when merging two names (and two communities) into one, as we’ve done with the integration of Journeys School and Teton Valley Community School into the two-campus, one school model we have today. Which is why, since June 2018, we have devoted significant time and energy to understanding how we talk about ourselves — internally, out in the community and with those who don’t know about us at all.
With over 50 years of organizational history upon which to reflect, the process has been lengthy. But true to our nature, it has also been intentional, community-oriented, and rooted in the design cycle. As you may have read in our blog from last week, our goals have been clear:
- Find the most powerful, versatile and simple way to communicate place-based education
- Communicate a clear and consistent external message across all TSS programs
- Evaluate Teton Science Schools as a brand
- Define the brand and messaging for our unified, dual-campus independent school
Given the integration of two unique school campuses in Fall 2019, this last goal was perhaps our biggest challenge. How could we embark on a process that reflected our core values of community, inclusion and collaboration to arrive a name that represented the investment and importance of all community members (including students, staff, parents and alumni) attach to their school?
Community Investment in Process and Selection
With the highest standards in mind, we set out to find the right partners who could help us develop a process that would yield a name for our school that reflected such deeply held values. Enter Campbell & Company and CB White. Since March 2019, Campbell & Company and CB White have helped lead a local and national brand analysis; a brainstorm of potential names grounded in our two-campus region; and a survey seeking the community’s name ideas.
From these efforts, our partners brought a short list of name options to a series of seven in-person community engagement sessions with constituencies from both campuses that included: middle and high school students, staff, parents and community. Through each of the sessions, constituents were introduced to initial name concepts, asked for their initial reactions, guided through group exercises role playing the different names and polled for preference on both initial name concepts and new name variations that emerged through the session.
What they found was a desire from the community to keep the name simple, close to familiar Teton Science Schools language and built on our values on academic engagement, character development and community focus. If learning is in our nature, so should be our name. Among all the name concepts we discussed, one word kept rising above the rest: “mountain.”
Today, standing upon the solid foundation of 52 years of history of Teton Science Schools, 19 years of history of our independent school, we have answered the call from Mountain Academy. Two campuses, one community, nestled in the mountains, focused on transformative place-based learning.