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Cottonwood ALC is an independent, nonprofit, school for self-directed learners in Helena, Montana.  You can think of us as a modern one-room schoolhouse infused with the flexibility of a co-working space.  Cottonwood is a space where kids are free to learn and encouraged to share and explore the subjects they are passionate about.

Students at Cottonwood create a self-generative curriculum within the context of a supportive community. We employ simple tools for self-organization and intentional culture creation to better support each other as we pursue our passions and curiosities.

The learning environment at Cottonwood is based on the principles of choice and freedom along with the development of meaningful connections between peers, facilitators, and the community.  The structure of the school allows for students, facilitators, and parents to have a voice and take an active role in building the community they want to create.

Cottonwood is part of an expanding network of micro-schools called Agile Learning Centers.  Our educational model is emergent and adaptive.  We iterate and evolve our tools and practices to meet the needs of the students.


Humans are natural learners. When children get to follow their passions, they engage deeply, learning more quickly and thoroughly – covering years of content in weeks at the time when they choose to learn it.

Intentional Culture

At ALCs children feel they are heard, they belong, and they make a difference. As social creatures, we thrive in this kind of vibrant community which builds our confidence, heightens our communication skills, and calls forth our best selves.

Agile Management Tools

We use practical and concrete tools to make these lofty-sounding ideals real and reliable. These tools and practices provide visible feedback, effective self-management, clarity of purpose, and easy integration of new patterns as needs change.

Cycle of Learning

What do you want to accomplish today?

In an Agile Learning Community, we discern and articulate what we want to do, individually and as a group.

What are you going to do about it?

Agile Learners spend their days exploring and inventing – once we know what we want, we create it.

What did you learn from your choices?

Looking back, we develop awareness of what worked and what didn’t, so we can move forward more powerfully.

How can you share it with the world?

We document our work to record, exhibit, and share our experience with others.