PERU - Twenty-five students this fall will be able to experience a semester of learning outside their traditional Burr and Burton Academy classroom; they will be spending their school days at the Mountain Campus, BBA's secondary campus in the mountains of Peru.

"We had a really excellent first year," said Mountain Campus Director Ben Freeman. "We had two very different but very successful semesters." The Mountain Campus is an optional, one-semester program offered by BBA to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Last year, the program saw 21 students in the fall, and 20 in the spring.

The concept of the program began almost eight years ago, first only as an idea to accommodate the rapid growth that BBA was then seeing.

"The board, and then headmaster Chuck Scranton, were spending a lot of time talking about how to accommodate this growth," said Freeman. "And they thought... what was really needed to offer to this new population of students coming up? And that's when the genesis of this program happened." It took another seven years to make the transition, during which time there was an actual transition between headmasters to Mark Tashjian, from an idea to an actual campus.

"How were we going to make the investment to purchase the property... to develop the curriculum... that took quite a number of years," said Freeman. "During that time, it transitioned from an idea of this could be something every Burr and Burton student would spend time up on the Mountain Campus and try to accommodate 100 students at a time, to something that was much more focused and would be a student choice."

Now, the campus is complete, and consists of one main building sitting on about 100 acres of land. Freeman said that the land surrounding their building becomes as much their classroom as the building.

"The students spend a semester studying our location... and answering the question 'How do we live well in this place'," said Freeman, "and discovering what it means to create a community and rely on an area as a small community, living in southern Vermont."

Amelia Salsgiver, 2013 graduate of BBA, was one of the students who decided to spend their spring semester at the Mountain Campus.

"I remember going to information sessions about the Mountain Campus the semester before it began," Salsgiver said. "I thought that the program seemed great but I wasn't originally willing to give up the classes I wished to take in my senior year. I ended up driving up to the area and taking a walk around on the paths and down by Jones Brook shortly into the fall semester and decided that making my classes work around getting such a unique experience in such an interesting place would be worth it."

Students study in what are considered regular subjects - math, sciences, and the humanities - but with a spin that can only be achieved by studying in nature.

Freeman explained that in addition to the basic subjects and their study of the world around them, students are also involved in learning skills for the rest of their life, including leadership and communication skills.

"We want them to transition by the end of the semester to students stepping into the roles of agents of positive change," Freeman said.

"I definitely think that the Mountain Campus teaches a lot of things that the Main Campus cannot," said Salsgiver. "Of course there are a lot of the more concrete things that required hands on learning that are harder to achieve within the four walls of a classroom like tree identification and understanding the maple syrup industry in our community, but the most apparent one had to do with community."

Freeman is joined by three other faculty members in the campus: Paul Kelly, who heads communication and leadership elements of the curriculum, Cindy Mowry takes the lead on the subjects related to ecology and the sciences, and Jillian Joyce teaches the humanities element of the curriculum. "At the Mountain Campus, the students are treated as equals by the teachers and that respect is reflected back to the teachers," said Salsgiver.

In addition to the four faculty members, Freeman explained that they are host to a rotation of guest speakers and instructors.

"As we move through the semester, we rely heavily on the expertise of working professionals," said Freeman. "Students will interact quite a lot with everyone from foresters to farmers to state biologists... college professors, you name it."

With only four faculty members, the daily duties of cleaning and cooking meals fall upon the students and faculty.

In order to be a part of the Mountain Campus, students are required to submit an application.

Freeman explained that students who wish to spend a semester there should speak with their guidance counselor, and from there they can fill out an application.