Pathfinder School officials wince a little when the independent school is described as “one of Traverse City’s best-kept secrets.”
“We don’t want to be a secret, we want everyone to know about Pathfinder,” says Rob Hansen, head of the school that’s comfortably nestled on 22-wooded acres along M-22, just three miles northwest of downtown TC. “This is not an elitist school; we are here to serve the community.”
Be it a best-kept secret or scholastic sensation, fact is, Pathfinder has been serving students in the community for the last 40 years. In honor of its anniversary, The Ticker took a campus tour with Hansen to find out the secrets to this solo school’s success.
Pathfinder was founded in 1972 by Arthur and Nancy Baxter, educators who believed that hands-on, experienced-based learning was the most effective way to teach students.
“Our whole campus is a learning lab,” says Hansen, a former Northport and TBA-ISD educator who, along with his wife, Jennifer, discovered Pathfinder in 2003 and enrolled their son, Daniel, in the first grade. “We believe in a broad curriculum.”
All students receive music instruction and French classes twice a week. They take art lessons each week, and the arts are integrated through the curriculum in all grades. Middle school students are offered electives like gardening, comparative religion, drawing, body wellness, cooking, chess, economics and Spanish.
Pathfinder provides individual instruction in small – some might even say tiny – classes for students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. For example, teacher Lynn Pavlov has only four students in her first grade class. That’s not abnormal at Pathfinder; the average student/teacher ratio is 8-to-1.
This type of personalized education comes with a price tag. Full-day instruction for pre-K through eighth grade is $9,450, including all book fees, materials and activities.
Pathfinder’s 100 students come around the North – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties. “Typically our students come from families who put a high priority on education,” explains Ellen Northway, a former Pathfinder parent who joined the staff in 1984 and serves as the school’s business manager. “The seed gets planted here for students to think in unconventional ways.”
To mark Pathfinder’s 40th anniversary, there will be a birthday celebration on Sept. 29 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the school’s Memorial Garden. Founders Arthur and Nancy Baxter are expected to attend, coming from their home in Indiana. Current and former faculty, students, alumni and the general public are invited to share in the festivities. For information, call 231-995-3800 or visit thepathfinderschool.org.