Five students are part of the Class of 2012, the first class of eighth-graders graduating from Montessori School of the Berkshires, which opened its doors in the fall of 2006.
Last week, during graduation and Move Up Day ceremonies, the students said their experiences growing up at the school included a multitude of firsts: First internships, first time running a business, and meeting their first boyfriends or girlfriends, as well as making best friends.
"Time moves so quickly, then before I knew it, I was graduating," said Sean Thrasher in his commencement speech. His fellow graduates include Madeline "Maddie" McCain, Raven Ross Kelso, Sara Sprague, and Casey Booth Desnoyers.
They've worked together over the years in a multi-grade classroom led by educator Julie Haagenson. Noah Meyerowitz and Mary Catherine Balcom were also part of the classroom, and will continue on at the school in the fall.
"It takes a lot of courage to teach adolescents, especially us," said Booth Desnoyers, giving a particular nod to Haagenson's efforts to help them progress.
The adolescent internship program began last year and culminated with its first graduates with these eighth-graders.
"It really gives students a chance to connect with the community while learning to apply the knowledge they have gained at school," Haagenson said.
The program includes three target goals for students: To internalize knowledge by being able to take information they know and to be able to apply it to a new situation; to refine communication skills and learn to choose behaviors appropriate to context and environment; and to enhance self-esteem and feel empowered by having opportunities to contribute to communities as a valuable member of society.
This year, the students, who range in age from 12 to 14 years old, interned at "Our Berkshire Green" magazine, Mountain Road School, the Equine Clinic at OakenCroft, Berkshire Humane Society, WSBS radio station, Bella Flora florist department at Guido's Fresh Marketplace and in the facilities department of the Montessori school.
They also operated a lunch program at the school as well as a school store.
"It shows you what it's really like to actually work for money," said Balcom.
"And to have fun learning," said Sprague.
Other effective lessons also came from their experiences, according to the youths.
Ross Kelso said he came to value the basic tenets of eating well, getting good sleep and being honest.
"I learned how to speak my mind and what happens if you do," said McCain, who may, this summer, write an article for the magazine she interned with.
"You have to push your comfort zone and go out into the community," said Thrasher.
For Meyerowitz, who interned with the school's facilities manager, Jed Tuchscherer, learned a range of skills, from operating a drill and measuring, and ultimately helped build a shed for the school and a guitar stand.
"He taught me a lot of things, like to take your time and slow down and to be with the right people," Meyerowitz said, minutes before a Move Up Day ceremony. He smiled at his classmates.