What is it like to be a student at the Discover High School?

What is it like to be a student at the Discover High School? With this question, we enter the “Eartha” community classroom on a February day at 8:30 am in the morning. It’s relatively quiet; some students read, others gather and talk, teachers prepare the program for the day, topics of presentations, names of students, and hours are arranged on the board.

Students enter the classroom with slippers or comfortable shoes, all phones are placed in a basket, and the time they are left is noted. Until 4:30 pm, when the core school day ends, access to them is restricted.

The day for students from the high school community begins with a business breakfast. At this age, physical needs change from the initial stage, and for effective work to begin, young people need nutritious food to fuel the day. Every morning, two students are on duty to prepare breakfast according to a menu they have previously invented and approved; lunch is also entirely their responsibility. Everyone sits down at the table and shares the start in a positive and pleasant way – without tension and unnecessary haste, with friends and classmates. How nice, right?

At 9:00 am, everyone is ready to dive deep into presentations, lessons, or independent work. Today, the seventh graders are focusing on Botev’s literature and creativity. The teacher encourages discussion, gives directions, and asks questions. Others deal with new Bulgarian history. Another student works on the computer. A small group enters a language class or finishes their work and study project. Everyone is focused on their own tasks. And so, the program goes smoothly and diversely until lunch.

“What I like most here is the freedom,” shares a seventh grader. “I have my goals, I know my priorities, and I chase them. Outside of school, I am dedicated to sports, participate in competitions and tournaments, and train a lot, but being literate and knowing is very important to me.”

Freedom is the most commonly shared value among students. Being able to manage your freedom and use it within limits is part of the Montessori philosophy and the essence of the IB program. The goal is to build independent individuals holistically, ready to face everything that life offers them outside the classroom’s protected and orderly environment. The students appreciate this value and keep it.

Lessons in high school take place in a different format—there is no stressful bell ringing and 45-minute classes. The program is constructed so that it can be managed relatively independently by the students with the guidance and support of teachers. If a topic is fascinating, the student can spend as much time as needed to delve into its depth.

Seminars are a time to learn many new things on a wide variety of topics. You share your ideas and discuss them with your classmates—with whom you might not agree—but you learn in a polite way to discuss and accept different viewpoints.

Why do you think wars are waged in our times?” asks the history teacher and sets the direction for investigation. An interactive map shows all the current conflicts around the world. In a one-hour session, students are encouraged to explore the most common causes of wars, express their personal moral position, share historical facts, make connections between other events they have learned earlier, and leave with valuable information and the opportunity to continue researching the topic from other angles.

“How do I plan my work? We have personal diaries where each of us records our progress, what we want to achieve, and where we are at this moment,” explains one of the self-reflection methods of another student in 8th grade. “If something is difficult for me, I sit down with the teachers and talk. Sometimes they ask me questions; other times they tell me what I could try to improve things.”

Work & Study here refers to long-term projects on vast and significant topics. For example, the pollution of the coral reef. For this project, students in smaller groups conduct research, collect facts and information, discuss together, and explore different subtopics of the big topic. After two months of work, sifting through facts and processing information, they develop their thesis in a presentation to their classmates. “We can’t do PowerPoint presentations – we need to come up with another way of presenting – it could be a model, drawing, or something we’ve made ourselves, but it has to be different and interesting. Sometimes, it’s hard, but when you listen to others and learn things you didn’t know, it’s cool,” shares a student.

The high school community is a mini-model of our society – everyone has their role, opinion, and goal. Learning to live harmoniously in this society means living the real life that awaits you. “I like that each of us is responsible for something in the classroom. I am now going to apply for the role of economics manager, which interests me. We submit our documents, go for an interview, and then they choose the manager, so we understand among ourselves who is responsible for what. It’s fun. Sometimes there are mistakes – you didn’t order enough of something, you messed up, but we learn from that too and try not to get angry with each other.”

Movement and sports are another vital part of activities in high school. Football, sports games, swimming, or sports that students want to learn – there is not a day when they do not have the opportunity to move and play sports. Movement nourishes well-being in high school age, making children calmer and more focused. “I love sports – we go to the playground or the park and do different things every day. This helps me relax and forget if something during the day has upset me or been difficult,” says a student.

“In a word, what is a day in high school like? Unique because every day is different and one of a kind.”

“Every day is different for me, and that’s the nice part; you can’t get bored.”

At Discover High School, the student-teacher communication is respectful and does not follow the hierarchical system of traditional school communication. Teachers are mentors, tutors, and natural guides because of their knowledge and personal qualities. They encourage students, and the learning process is like a stream that flows; even if it encounters a stone along the way, it manages to pass without collision. “I like that the teachers want our opinion; they don’t tell us – do this or that, but they help us.”

Between the ages of 15 and 18, children have a huge capacity for expression, see themselves more as adults, and their curiosity about how the world and the universe function is boundless. This curiosity here is nourished and grown to blossom into a generous fruit. High school prepares you to enter life confidently, which you will choose for yourself. It is the dress rehearsal for the moment when you will rely on yourself, and the students at Discover High School feel confident and know how to cope. Their regular activities include organising visits to museums, trips, or out-of-town walks. This year, for the first time, they visited a real farm, where they lived alone in nature for a week, managed their own monthly budget, produced their own artisanal products, which they later sold, conducted all kinds of experiments, managed their time, and do not stop developing such an important skill and state of mind – lifelong learning, because they realise that after high school, they enter the school of life, where we are all students forever.