Many parents and guardians in the U.S. don’t know what a lab school is. That might be changing, though.

One of the first lab schools in the United States was developed by John Dewey in 1896 at the University of Chicago. Before that, lab schools were popular throughout Europe, Japan, and other countries.

Lab schools are increasingly becoming more than just innovative teacher training. They are attractive options for parents who want their children to be involved in cutting-edge educational practices.

Lab schools, and more specifically, their associated universities, often have the resources and budget to elevate education in a way that most public schools (and some private schools) cannot.

That makes lab schools a prime target for families who want their children to get the best possible primary and secondary education.

What is a lab school? A lab school is to education what a teaching hospital is to medicine. It’s a put-your-skills-to-the-test environment for pre-professional teachers. Lab schools are typically affiliated with a large college or research university and are often found directly on campus.

Do you think a lab school is a good fit for your child? There are 150+ lab schools in the US, we have narrowed it down to 15 exceptional schools.

Methodology: Identifying the Best Experiential Learning-Focused Lab Schools in the U.S.

Methodology: Identifying the Best Experiential Learning-Focused Lab Schools in the U.S.

Each of the schools on this list fulfill many, if not all, of the following criteria:

  • Utilizes an experiential approach to teacher training, including implementing specialized programs that enhance the learning process.
  • Is currently accredited.
  • Offers organized clubs and activities that expand the learning experience beyond the classroom.
  • Provides financial accessibility for economically disadvantaged students.
  • Has notable alumni whose lab school education helped them become change-makers in their fields.

The lab schools listed below are not in any particular order. Instead, each one offers its unique take on promoting innovation in education for children and providing a rich learning environment for pre-service teachers, too.

Related: 30 Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership

Top 15 Experiential-Based Lab Schools in the U.S.A.

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UCLA Lab School

The UCLA Lab School incorporates teaching and learning, educational research, and outreach into a comprehensive experiential learning lab. The school specifically focuses on providing educational programs for students of diverse backgrounds. Moreover, the models of teaching practice developed there are of the highest quality and have been incorporated into schools around the nation and the world.

UCLA’s Lab School utilizes the latest educational research to inform its teaching and learning practices. It also benefits from a dedication to developing a justice-focused, equitable, and inclusive school environment. The school calls this “JEDI” – justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The school’s commitment to experiential learning is evident in its inquiry-based pedagogy, which focuses on hands-on and project-based activities. These learning opportunities improve students’ communication skills, creativity, and critical thinking. The multi-age classroom instruction at the UCLA lab school furthers students’ ability to work collaboratively with other students. Children become resources for one another, each bringing their unique knowledge, skills, and talents to the classroom regardless of age or grade level.

Students at the UCLA lab school additionally benefit from a focus on life skills that are integrated into the curriculum and the school culture alike. This includes dual language programming that supports students in learning a second language and becoming biliterate, bicultural members of the community.

Learning opportunities for students at the Lab School extend beyond the classroom and the traditional school day. Students can participate in any number of the following activities:

  • Instrumental Music Program: This before-school activity is offered to children 7-12+ at no additional tuition cost.
  • Voices of Action Choir: This ensemble of intermediate and upper-level students uses song to enhance awareness of critical issues in the community.
  • Extended Day Program: This after-school care program for children ages 4-12+ offers various structured activities that give them the latitude to be creative and make their own decisions about what they learn. Students can choose from activities in the arts and sciences, sports, and computers, to name a few.

Of course, the Lab School features a close working relationship between classroom educators and educational researchers at UCLA. For example, teachers utilize information gleaned from neuroscience research on learning to inform their practice. What’s more, the Lab School acts as a warehouse of experimentation that enables additional real-world observation and study of education and child development by UCLA students and faculty.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: PreK-6
  • Location: On UCLA’s campus in Los Angeles, California
  • Partner Institution: UCLA School of Education and Information Studies
  • Innovative Features: Research-based instructional practices, team teaching, multi-age classes, dual-language support, and inquiry-based pedagogy
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Instrumental Music Program, Voices of Action Choir, Extended Day Program, Enrichment Classes, Soccer Academy
  • Financial Aid: One in three students at the Lab School receives need-based aid
  • Accreditation: UCLA is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Bank Street School for Children

The Bank Street School for Children offers a progressive curriculum for students in preschool through the eighth grade. The school is divided into three segments: the Lower School for children in preschool through first grade, the Middle School for children in second through fourth grades, and the Upper School for children in fifth through eighth grade.

One of the Bank Street School for Children’s calling cards is its evidence-based approach to learning. Educators at the school lean on more than 100 years of educational research regarding child development and learning to create a rich, engaging environment where students are empowered to become the best version of themselves.

Regarding academics, students at Bank Street learn by doing in what is called the developmental-interaction approach. Whether it’s hands-on activities with their classmates, engaging in lessons on how to think (as opposed to what to think) with their expert teachers, or exploring the world around them as part of a field trip, Bank Street students have ample opportunities to be actively engaged in the learning process.

Moreover, the school’s facilities enhance the mission of learning by doing. For example, the school is home to:

  • Music and art studios
  • A woodworking studio
  • A teaching kitchen
  • A multipurpose/dance studio
  • A rooftop playground
  • A regulation-size gym

The STEAM Lab, where students can engage in activities like computer coding, 3D printing, and robotics, is a particularly unique setting for hands-on learning.

Additionally, Bank Street School for Children has a large library with 83,000 children’s books (one of the largest collections among independent schools in the nation) and another 50,000 books supporting the Bank Street Graduate School of Education. The library also brings in a Writer-in-Residence each year to work with fourth-graders on creative writing.

As a result of these resources, students at Bank Street learn how to think for themselves. They learn how to reason, problem-solve, and tap into their natural curiosity to build the necessary academic, cognitive, and social skills needed to be successful now and in the future.

At the same time, students at Bank Street learn to value diversity. The school community reflects the city around it – 52 percent of students are of color. Students are taught to not only respect this diversity but embrace it. Likewise, equity and social justice are central components of Bank Street’s mission.

Special programs, clubs, and activities at Bank Street include the following:

  • High School & College Placement – Bank Street works closely with families to identify the best high school options for their children.
  • After School & Early Morning Care – Bank Street students are eligible for a wide range of educational activities outside regular school hours, including music classes, dance, martial arts, and more. These activities are experiential and socially based, with students from various age groups working together.
  • Summer Camp – Students can enjoy educational and recreational programs during summer break, including swimming, theater, and STEAM. Weekly field trips and opportunities to learn outside on the school’s outdoor deck or in nearby fields and parks are also available.
  • Rock Band – Music is a common theme throughout the Bank Street school experience. Students begin studying music in preschool and continue to do so through their eighth-grade year. Rock Band allows students to rehearse weekly in a band setting to further develop their vocal or instrumental skills.

Additionally, Bank Street features a Buddies program, which fosters the development of a learning community by pairing younger and older students together. Each classroom is paired with another classroom, and students participate in shared learning experiences throughout the school year, both in and out of school. Activities include art projects, reading, and experiential science projects, among many others.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: Preschool-8
  • Location: New York City’s Upper West Side
  • Partner Institution: Bank Street College of Education
  • Innovative Features: Developmental-interaction approach to learning, Buddies program, music-centered education, one of the largest circulation collections of children’s books among independent schools in the nation, Writer-in-Residence program
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Student newspaper, string ensemble, debate club, and various athletic teams
  • Financial Aid: More than half of Bank Street’s students receive financial assistance. Financial awards vary based on each family’s circumstances.
  • Notable Alumni: Wade Brill (2003) – Mindfulness coach, speaker, and facilitator; LuAnna Lemon (1986) – Dynamic Oncology & Infectious Disease In Vivo Pharmaceutical Scientist; Jonathan Malveaux (1989) – Corporate lawyer, investment banker, & entrepreneur; Liz Garbus- filmmaker; Ben Lerer- CEO Thrillist Media Group; Angelica Page- actress and filmmaker; Ally Sheedy- actress; Shuwanza Goff-Deputy Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs for President Joe Biden
  • Accreditation: Bank Street College of Education is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation

Thomas Metcalf School

The Thomas Metcalf School adheres to a mission to provide children with a comprehensive, high-quality education regardless of their skills, abilities, or backgrounds. The school achieves this mission by providing students and teachers with educational environments that promote academic and social development. The school environment also focuses on addressing the needs of the whole child while enhancing educators’ abilities to improve theory and practice.

The Metcalf School emphasizes a connection between academics, the arts, and wellness – all three components are critical for well-rounded student growth. This philosophy is reflected in the classroom-based and extracurricular activities available to students.

Since 2015, the Metcalf School’s faculty have emphasized seven crucial learner qualities for each student:

  • I wonder
  • I think
  • I am self-aware
  • I reflect
  • I question
  • I have grit
  • I connect

These qualities form the basis of practice in the classroom but also provide a foundation for inquisitive mindsets, purposeful actions, and creativity in everyday life. Students are consistently challenged to think and reflect and even struggle with new concepts, as those struggles teach them how to problem-solve and work through complex problems.

As is common in lab schools, the Metcalf School has a strong dedication to the acceptance of individual differences. The school exists to meet each student where they’re at, yet also challenge them in their needs, wants, and abilities as students and young people. To do so, the Metcalf School strikes a balance between individualized instruction and group-oriented activities.

As such, students at the Metcalf school are simultaneously independent learners and members of a learning community. And while students gain more responsibility for their learning each year, they also collaborate with their peers and teachers to determine what and how they learn.

The Metcalf School is not just a prime learning environment for K-8 students; it also serves as a field lab for pre-service teachers to hone their skills, test new techniques, and build confidence in their abilities as future educators.

Student teachers can observe and study veteran teachers in lab school classrooms, conduct educational research, and engage in teaching and learning activities with students in a supervised setting. Moreover, the Metcalf School collaborates with other colleges at Illinois State University to provide pre-service teacher educators with experience working in specialized settings, such as:

  • Speech Pathology
  • Music, art, and theater
  • STEM
  • Social Work
  • Heart of Illinois Low Incident Association (with students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and/or visually impaired

In this regard, the Metcalf School is a model of experiential learning for its students and teacher educators alike.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-8
  • Location: On the Illinois State University campus in Normal, Illinois
  • Partner Institution: Illinois State University College of Education
  • Innovative Features: Whole-child educational environment, focus on respecting individual student differences, the teacher’s role is as a guide, motivator, and leader
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Music, Student Council, Game Club and Esports, Chess, Junior Gamma Phi Circus, Scholastic Bowl, Metcalf Theatre
  • Financial Aid: Tuition is only charged for Metcalf’s preschool program. Families of K-8 students are instead charged registration fees. Preschool tuition and K-8 registration fees might be waived or reduced for families who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.
  • Accreditation: Illinois State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

University Laboratory School at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

The University Laboratory School, or ULS, is a K-12 school specifically designed to serve as a place of educational innovation. On the one hand, its K-12 students benefit from cutting-edge educational practices developed by leaders from the University of Hawai‘i. On the other hand, pre-service teachers utilize the school for research, developing high-level teaching skills, and showcasing new and innovative techniques while mastering best practices in teaching and learning.

The school particularly focuses on helping students develop the discipline required to be authentic practitioners of knowledge. This is accomplished via instructional practices that emphasize the following:

  • Direct experience with the material (e.g., constructivist approaches to learning)
  • Hands-on learning activities (e.g., experimentation and role-playing)
  • Higher-order intellectual processes
  • Cooperative learning groups

Furthermore, ULS’ curriculum focuses on connecting the parts to the whole, building from simpler to more complex understanding, and moving from theoretical underpinnings to application of knowledge. Students do so in the context of their own styles and rates of learning.

One of the most interesting features of ULS is that students learn in grade-level cohorts. These heterogeneous cohorts participate in a common curriculum that includes daily lessons in math, science, English language and literature, history, and social sciences. Furthermore, students have courses in the visual and performing arts, physical education, and foreign language as well.

The purpose of these cohorts is multifaceted:

  1. Mixed-group learning facilitates a greater sense of community among learners.
  2. Heterogeneous cohorts allow students with different strengths and skills to serve as mentors or guides for other students.
  3. This type of cohort is successful in preparing students for the responsibilities of their post-high school lives, be that college, work, or simply being a responsible citizen in a diverse world.

ULS is also a demonstration site for the exemplary working curriculum model, making it a prime location for educational research and development. In fact, the school is a site for undergraduate and graduate research (both short-term and longitudinal). It also serves as a training site for undergraduate and graduate College of Education students and stakeholders from other partner organizations.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-12
  • Location: On the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa campus in Honolulu
  • Partner Institution: Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG) in the University of Hawai‘i College of Education
  • Innovative Features: Grade-level heterogeneous cohorts, constructivist approaches to learning, course offerings unique to the area (e.g., marine studies, Pacific and Asian studies, Hawaiian and Polynesian studies, Japanese language and culture)
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Intermediate, junior varsity, and varsity sports for grades 7-12; music, drama, speech, and various extracurricular clubs
  • Financial Aid: ULS is a public charter school, meaning tuition is free.
  • Accreditation: ULS is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools

Greenwood Laboratory School

The Greenwood Laboratory School vision statement offers a succinct view of its approach to education: students are encouraged to be competent in their abilities, make positive contributions to society, and sensitive to the needs of their community. Furthermore, the school strives to instill in students a commitment to civic engagement and conduct themselves in a civil manner in their habits of action, thought, and speech.

Greenwood exemplifies the word “community” in every regard. Since 1908, the lab school has fostered the development of students with the assistance of parents, guardians, and other family members. Additionally, the school works closely with alumni, community organizations, and Missouri State University to foster a rich, engaging environment in which students can learn.

The school’s unique organization further promotes this sense of community. The school’s faculty and staff often work with children throughout their entire K-12 education, providing a continuity that many schoolchildren often do not experience. What’s more, the school emphasizes peer-to-peer mentoring, so younger students benefit from the mentorship of older students who instill in them the desire for excellence in and out of the classroom.

The Greenwood Lab School also works closely with the community. For example, students at the junior and senior high levels take part in community outreach programs. They also participate in community leadership activities. In that regard, students are allowed to put their leadership skills on display in the surrounding community while also benefiting from lessons community leaders can provide them.

STEM is a crucial area of focus for the Greenwood Lab School as well. Its Stem Collaborative seeks to support students’ interest in various STEM fields by providing activities, clubs, and organizations related to STEM. The school further promotes student development as leaders and mentors in STEM by collaborating with area stakeholders for resources for STEM students.

Another noteworthy feature of this school is the promotion of public speaking and research skills from an early age. Students work in these fields beginning in elementary school and continue to develop them over the course of their educational career. This research and public speaking experience culminates with a senior-level capstone project. As a result of innovative programs like this, Greenwood students consistently have the highest ACT scores in the region and outpace the national average as well.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-12
  • Location: On the Missouri State University campus in Springfield
  • Partner Institution: Missouri State University
  • Innovative Features: Peer-to-peer mentoring, community engagement and leadership development, instruction in research and public speaking from early grades onward
  • Student Clubs/Activities: National Honor Society, Student Council, Fencing Club, Robotics Club, Peer to Peer Mentoring, basketball, cheerleading, golf, tennis, soccer, and various other clubs and sports
  • Financial Aid: The school offers the Greenwood Scholars’ Program, a tuition supplement for college-bound students who meet high academic standards, citizenship standards, and have a demonstrated financial need. Full-time Missouri State University employees may apply for a tuition waiver to cover up to 15 credit hours of tuition for their child.
  • Notable Alumni: Joe Haymes (1926) – American jazz bandleader and arranger; Durward G. Hall (1926) – six-term U.S. Representative from Missouri’s 7th Congressional District; John Wilkinson (1963) – nationally and internationally known guitarist and singer; Dr. Paula Caplan (1965) – clinical and research psychologist; Billy Long (1973) – U.S. representative for Missouri’s 7th congressional district from 2011-2023; Payne Stewart (1975) – world-famous professional golfer; Judge W. Brent Powell (1988) – Missouri State Supreme Court Justice; Allyson Witherspoon (1995) – Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Nissan U.S.; Aminu Mohammed (2021) – NBA G League player
  • Accreditation: Missouri State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission

Horace Mann School

Five core principles guide the Horace Mann School:

  • The Life of the Mind
  • Mature Behavior
  • Mutual Respect
  • A Secure and Healthful Environment
  • A Balance Between Individual Achievement and a Caring Community

Together, these principles form the basis of curriculum and programmatic development for all grade levels. The goal is to produce students who are respectful of diversity, concerned for others, and who strive to achieve for the common good.

Horace Mann students take part in a carefully structured curriculum that fosters the understanding of core disciplines while promoting human learning, critical inquiry, and self-expression. Students proceed through a sequence of coursework in traditional courses like math, science, history and social studies, and English/language arts. Students further engage in the study of world languages, the arts, and physical education. Computer science and robotics, guidance, and an experience-based outdoor leadership component are part of the curriculum as well.

These curricular activities are calibrated as a sequence across subject matter and grade level. They are complemented by extracurricular programs and activities that allow students to continue their learning outside the classroom. In fact, the Horace Mann School offers student organizations in 11 realms ranging from STEM to Identity and Culture to Business and Industry.

Other noteworthy academic features at Horace Mann include the following:

  • John Dorr Nature Laboratory – A 320-acre outdoor classroom in Connecticut where students can participate in experiential learning activities amidst fields, ponds, and streams.
  • Two libraries – The Lower-Division Library offers educational programming for nursery students who visit the library weekly. The Katz Library serves as a resource for middle and upper-division students who learn research skills, participate in literature chats, and meet with visiting authors and poets.
  • Early language studies – French and Spanish language classes begin in the first grade. In second grade, students choose either French or Spanish to study for the duration of their time in the lower division.

There is a consistent focus throughout the student experience at Horace Mann on interdisciplinary studies. Faculty and staff strive to help students make connections between subjects, thereby making the educational experience more rich, meaningful, and personal. This focus on cross-subject studies also makes learning more relevant and long-lasting.

Students at Horace Mann can participate in various summertime programs to extend their opportunities for learning as well. For example, the school’s June Program is a two-week experience that aids students in transitioning from the rigors of the academic year to summer recess. The school also hosts a four-day workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company for high school-aged students interested in developing their acting skills.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: Preschool-12
  • Location: The Bronx, New York
  • Partner Institution: The Horace Mann School is a private, independent school and is a member of the Ivy Preparatory School League and the NY Interschool Inc. District.
  • Innovative Features: Robust network of extracurricular activities, opportunities for outdoor experiential learning, early language studies, focus on interdisciplinary studies, summer programming to enhance academic performance
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Horace Mann offers dozens of clubs and activities for students ranging from woodworking to Jewish Culture Club to STEM. A comprehensive list of clubs and activities is available here.
  • Financial Aid: Financial aid at Horace Mann is entirely based on need. Current financial aid awards include more than $14 million in funding for 15 percent of the school’s students.
  • Notable Alumni: Robert Caro (1953) – Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed author-historian; Alex Guarnaschelli (1987) – acclaimed chef and TV personality; Jessica Chi (2011) – Global Marketing Director of Rihanna’s Fenty Skin at LVMH/Kendo Brands; Flo Ngala (2013) – Professional photographer and photojournalist and first Black woman hired by Vogue to photograph the Met Gala
  • Accreditation: The school is accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools. It’s also a member of several education organizations, including the Educational Records Bureau, the Association of Teachers in Independent Schools, the New York City’s Guild of Independent Schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools.

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, or Lab, is the oldest lab school in the nation. It was founded in 1896 by famed educator and philosopher John Dewey and has been a pioneer of progressive education ever since. The foundation for every lab school on this list was laid at Lab.

Lab students are part of an incredibly diverse learning community with more than 2,200 learners. Lab not only promotes academic achievement and curiosity but also instills the values of kindness, inclusivity, and creativity in each student.

As a member of the Progressive Education Network, Lab promotes an education that is preparatory for far more than post-secondary education or the workplace. For example, Lab uses its progressive approach to education to respond to contemporary social issues, welcomes families and communities as collaborators for student success, and engages children as active participants in the learning process. The school further promotes the principles of equity and justice for all and embraces the value of diversity in schools and society.

Additionally, Lab encourages its faculty to work closely with the public and private sectors to become active leaders in shaping the future of education and society as a whole. Teachers are wholeheartedly supported as experts in their fields, and Lab strives to support their endeavors as lifelong adult learners.

Other unique features of Lab include the following:

  • 8-1 student-to-teacher ratio
  • More than 60 high school clubs and activities
  • Nearly 8 in 10 Lab teachers hold advanced degrees
  • Students have access to the Oriental Institute and Smart museums.
  • Students can access the University of Chicago libraries. Students are also taught how to use the University libraries.
  • Guest lecturers, including paleontologists, oceanographers, and other scientists, share their knowledge with students at all grade levels.
  • Paid summer internships are available for high school students in University of Chicago labs and at businesses in the Chicagoland area.
  • Lab has a relationship-focused approach to education in which children work collaboratively with one another and their teachers to develop a respectful learning environment in which each person’s voice has value.

Inquiry is central to the Lab student experience. Children aren’t told what to think; they are instead empowered to ask questions, wonder, research, and pursue original ideas based on evidence. This inquiry-based approach is true of all subjects, not just traditional inquiry subjects like science. Whether children are in a music, history, or languages classroom, they are encouraged to develop their own opinions and then seek out evidence to reshape what they think and know.

Lab’s location on the University of Chicago campus also means students have access to far greater resources than most schoolchildren in the nation. This includes access to faculty-led seminars, programs that promote equal access to education for academically ambitious middle schoolers, and community-based learning opportunities for high school students.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: Preschool-12
  • Location: On the University of Chicago Campus in Chicago, Illinois
  • Partner Institution: The University of Chicago
  • Innovative Features: Progressive education model with an emphasis on inclusivity and diversity, experiential learning activities on and off campus, access to academic resources at the University of Chicago, inquiry-based learning, paid internships for high school students
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Many clubs, including Model United Nations, Chess Club, Renaissance Lit Board, Black Students’ Association, and Philosophy Club; club sports and competitive sports, including soccer, golf, tennis, cross country, and volleyball, among others 
  • Financial Aid: Scholarships and other financial aid are available to families who cannot afford Labs’ full tuition price for their child.
  • Notable Alumni: Bonnie Thornton Dill (1961) – Feminist scholar and founding director of multiple research and policy centers; Barbara Flynn Currie (1958) – Illinois State Representative; Daniel Clowes (1979) – Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter; Arne Duncan (1982) – Former U.S. Secretary of Education; W. Kamau Bell (1990) – Emmy award-winning writer, performer, director, producer
  • Accreditation: The Lab is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. It is also a member of the National Business Officers Association, Independent School Management, the Lake Michigan Association of Independent Schools, the National Association of Independent Schools, and the Progressive Education Network

Campus School of Smith College

The curriculum of the Campus School of Smith College is built on the principles of enhancing kids’ natural inquisitiveness and encouraging them to use their curiosity to become better learners, thinkers, and collaborators. Additionally, the faculty and staff of the school strive to support students in their academic and emotional growth while simultaneously instilling in each student the skills and habits of mind required to become confident young students.

Students at the Campus School delight in the joys of learning and discovery. Their learning is experiential and innovative, cutting-edge and collaborative. Students become self-aware, critical thinkers who are prepared to tackle high-level activities now and in the future.

Preparation for higher-ordered thinking and academic achievement begins in the early grades. The curriculum revolves around math, science, language arts, and social studies and is supplemented by studies in physical education, art and music, technology, and Spanish.

Furthermore, the Campus School curriculum is developed collaboratively. Classroom teachers work with learning specialists, a consulting psychologist, administrators, aides, and student teachers to ensure students participate in a dynamic, engaging, and holistic learning experience. The curriculum is also progressive, so as students move from one grade to the next, they build on previous knowledge with more complex concepts.

This commitment to an aligned, comprehensive curriculum allows the Campus School to produce students who can connect their learning from subject to subject, apply their learning in the real world, and understand diverse perspectives. While these feats are accomplished in the context of a collaborative learning environment, children also benefit from individual support that maximizes their development as students and as young people.

The Campus School offers extended learning opportunities for students as well. This includes the following:

  • Wednesday Afternoon Program – Children can participate in recreational time and structured activities from noon to 5:15 pm.
  • After School Program – Students can engage in various projects and structured activities, including outdoor play, dramatic play, games, and exploring the natural world. These experiential learning activities help students connect concepts from the classroom with out-of-class applications.
  • June Program – This three-week program offers kids the choice of various activities ranging from science and art to yoga and sports.

One of the most interesting features of the Campus School is its Makerspace. Students and teachers alike can use the materials in the Makerspace to give life to their ideas, though learning shifts from being teacher-centered to student-centered. Children learn how to problem-solve as their ideas take shape. They learn how to construct – and deconstruct – concrete and abstract concepts. They learn how to work together, revise ideas, and push their thinking forward, too.

Students undertake these endeavors in small class settings – lower grades have a student-to-teacher ratio of 7:1, while higher grades have a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio. There are 30 teachers on staff, all of whom have advanced degrees.

Since the Campus School also serves as a laboratory for educational research, Smith College education students frequent the school to test new teaching and learning techniques, investigate issues related to student learning, and gain valuable classroom instruction experience while being supervised by master educators.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-6
  • Location: On the Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Partner Institution: Smith College
  • Innovative Features: Makerspace offers space and materials for students to bring their ideas to life, community-service opportunities are available for students at all grade levels, the school is committed to diversity and to “a vibrant learning community where children flourish because they are known, valued, challenged and nurtured.”
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Wednesday Afternoon Program, After School Program, June Program
  • Financial Aid: Need-based awards are provided to families with demonstrated financial need. Families must apply for financial aid each year.
  • Accreditation: Smith College is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Falk Laboratory School

The Falk Laboratory School was established in 1931 as a place of progressive and experimental education. In the nearly 100 years since, the school has continued that pursuit with innovative programming for students and a learning community that thrives on diversity, inclusion, and experiential learning.

The school’s vision is based on 21 “Wishes for Our Children.” These wishes revolve around everything from students’ physical health to making connections with people around them. For example, some of the school’s wishes that inform its operation include:

  • To have a deepening relationship with something that arises out of their own personal interests.
  • To have a successful organizational style.
  • To have reverence for the natural world.
  • To appreciate the uniqueness of individuals and celebrate their differences.
  • To understand how to make and maintain a friendship.
  • To know how to make healthy decisions concerning diet and nutrition.

As is evident in these wishes, the school’s child-centered approach to education doesn’t just focus on academic achievement. Instead, the Falk School addresses the social, emotional, and developmental needs of each child. Students are taught how to collaborate and listen, think critically, and be active in their learning process. Furthermore, the curriculum emphasizes the development of intrinsic motivation as a means of ensuring children buy into the value of the learning process.

Speaking of the curriculum, children engage in studies of traditional subjects like social studies, math, science, and language arts. Those studies are supplemented by weekly classes in art, physical education, information literacy, and music. Children further benefit from weekly yoga and mindfulness classes, technology-focused maker activities, and daily Spanish classes.

An important element of the Falk School curriculum is the diversity of classroom structures. As children move from one grade to the next, they’ll experience new and different ways of learning.

For example, kindergarten classes are completely self-contained. First and second-grade classrooms are self-contained with looping – a practice in which students and teachers move together from one grade to the next. Third through fifth-grade classrooms are looping, while sixth through eighth-grade classes are fully departmental with looping.

The benefit of the looping model is that a deep learning community is formed, both between students and between students and their teachers. Teachers gain valuable knowledge of each child’s strengths and weaknesses, while the long-term relationships built between teachers and students enhance the development of academic curiosity, active experimentation, and innovation in teaching and learning.

Children can learn outside the classroom, too. The Falk School offers a range of extracurricular activities, including:

  • Yearbook
  • Robotics
  • Chess club
  • Various sports, including soccer, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and cross-country

Falk’s location on the University of Pittsburgh campus makes it an ideal learning environment for pre-service teachers, too. Each year, the school welcomes 15 intern teachers, four student teachers, and various practicum students who gain valuable knowledge about being an educator and experience working with school-aged children.

The Falk School is also an educational research laboratory. The school frequently hosts researchers studying critical topics in education, such as educational theory, teaching practice, and learning styles. Their research not only guides current educational practices but also informs future changes that make education more inclusive and effective.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-8
  • Location: On the University of Pittsburgh campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Partner Institution: University of Pittsburgh School of Education
  • Innovative Features: The looping model, Wishes for Our Children, experiential and constructivist approach to learning, focus on educational research and clinical teacher training
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Various team sports, including soccer, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. Cross-country is also available.
  • Financial Aid: The Falk Tuition Assistance Program provides financial support to students whose families cannot afford the price of full tuition. Assistance is provided by a number of sources, including tax credits, scholarship programs, the Falk School Scholarship Fund, and more.
  • Accreditation: The University of Pittsburgh is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Louisiana State University Lab School

The University Lab School at Louisiana State University is a 2022 Blue Ribbon School for a reason – its rigorous academics garner proven results for student achievement.

For example, 97 percent of the lab school’s graduates attend a four-year university. Elementary and middle school students consistently exceed state average scores in core-area testing, including math, science, language arts, and social studies. In fact, the school’s third-, sixth-, and seventh-grade assessment averages are 30 percent higher than the national average. 

What’s more, the school offers high-level academic opportunities that prepare students for life after high school. For example, high school students can enroll in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Dual-Enrollment courses to challenge themselves and earn college credit while still in high school.

Students find success at the University Lab School in part because of the high level of expertise of their teachers. Most instructors at the school have master’s or doctoral degrees. Many are National Board Certified as well. Many elementary classrooms also feature associate teachers – instructors with a bachelor’s degree in education or higher who provide instructional support, enrichment, and remediation opportunities for students.

Student learning is driven by the mantra, “Total Effort in Every Endeavor.” This motto serves as a reminder to students, parents, faculty, and other stakeholders that to achieve one’s potential, one must have the appropriate tools at their disposal. The school strives to uphold its end of the bargain by developing and implementing cutting-edge programs that bring learning alive. To do so, the University Lab School:

  • Focuses on collaborative learning.
  • Emphasizes the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, innovative thinking, and creativity.
  • Utilizes information and communications technology to enhance the learning environment.
  • Promotes the development of life skills such as adaptability, cultural awareness, and leadership

Furthermore, students at the University Lab School participate in innovative curriculum activities revolving around STEAM. These activities, which highlight science, technology, engineering, art, and math, not only prepare students for today’s school and work environments but also lay the foundation for careers that don’t yet exist.

This future-focused model of education specifically zeroes in on promoting the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Likewise, students learn how to communicate effectively, collaborate, and lead. These skills are fostered via activities that include:

  • Computer coding
  • Digital arts
  • Computer science
  • Project management
  • Conflict resolution

These technology-focused activities are aligned with the larger school curriculum that addresses the development of the whole child. The University Lab School believes that children must benefit academically, socially, and emotionally from their studies to maximize the likelihood of future success.

Furthermore, students develop in a diverse and inclusivity-focused environment. According to the University Lab School, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion at Louisiana State University Laboratory School promotes positive engagement with all cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, and sexualities, genders, identities, abilities, economics, and life experiences as an integral part of our educational mission.”

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-12
  • Location: On the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Partner Institution: The College of Human Sciences and Education atLouisiana State University
  • Innovative Features: Total Effort in Every Endeavor, future-focused STEAM curriculum, focus on the development of the whole child, multiple academically challenging programs (e.g., AP, IB, Dual-Enrollment); summer camp programs
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Baking Club, National Junior Honor Society, Student Council, Glee Club, French Club, Video Game Club, Environmental Club, and many others. Various arts activities (e.g., drama, visual arts, music) and athletic teams (e.g., baseball, basketball, golf, cross-country) are available as well.
  • Financial Aid: The school maintains a Tuition Assistance Fund for students with demonstrated financial need.
  • Accreditation: The University Lab School is accredited by Cognia, is Cognia STEM certified, and is accredited by the Louisiana Department of Education. Louisiana State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

School of the Ozarks

The School of the Ozarks has been dedicated to providing a Christian education to children without the financial means to get a high-quality education for well over a century. What began as a small school for elementary-aged children has grown into a K-12 laboratory school associated with the College of the Ozarks, a liberal arts college recognized nationally for its academic programs.

As a classical lab school, the School of the Ozarks provides a unique and innovative curriculum that challenges each child to learn, grow, and build confidence in their academic abilities. The programs at the School of the Ozarks are college preparatory and exceed the curriculum requirements of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Furthermore, the School of the Ozarks adheres to five pillars of education that focus on character building in the context of a Biblical worldview. These pillars include the following:

  • Christian Pillar – To foster a deeper knowledge of Christ, a desire to be conformed to His image, and the desire to live a life that reflects a Christian worldview.
  • Cultural Pillar – To cultivate Christian leaders who influence the culture at large because of their pursuit of excellence, determination to stand for truth, and their willingness to live out their faith.
  • Patriotic Pillar – To encourage an understanding of American heritage, the value and responsibility of living in a country that has a constitution, a love of country, and a willingness to defend it.
  • Vocational Pillar – To promote a strong work ethic and to demonstrate a servant’s heart in the workplace whether as an employer or employee.
  • Academic Pillar – To provide students with the opportunity to develop their God-given knowledge and wisdom to their fullest potential so that they might become producers and influencers.

As part of the unique character-building focus at the School of the Ozarks, values such as good citizenship, courage, and respect for others are emphasized. In fact, each semester ends with a faculty evaluation of each student’s character qualities and how well the student adheres to the five pillars of character building listed above.

As part of their studies, students engage in experiential learning activities in the classroom. They are also afforded opportunities to participate in athletics and club activities and partake in field-based learning throughout the United States and abroad, too. As a result of these varied opportunities, children at this school emerge as well-rounded, deep-thinking, and articulate young adults ready to make positive contributions to the world in which they live.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-12
  • Location: On the campus of the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri
  • Partner Institution: The Keener Center for Character Education at the College of the Ozarks
  • Innovative Features: Character-based educational programs, opportunities for field-based learning, college preparatory curriculum, Five Pillars model of education
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Art, Band, Rhetoric, and other academic-focused activities; various sports, including cross-country, basketball, volleyball, and track and field.
  • Financial Aid: Financial aid is granted to qualifying families.
  • Accreditation: School of the Ozarks is a member of the Association for Classical Christian Schools and the Society for Classical Learning

UNC System Laboratory Schools

Unlike the other lab schools on this list, the UNC System Laboratory Schools is a collection of primary and middle schools across the state of North Carolina. The state legislature established these schools as a means of:

  • Providing improved educational opportunities to students in low-performing schools
  • Serving as demonstration sites for the preparation of future teachers
  • Serving as a training ground for future school administrators

Each school in the UNC lab school system is associated with a college or university in the University of North Carolina system. For example, the Carolina Community Academy lab school partners with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to focus on whole-student development, including social, emotional, and academic well-being. The school currently hosts kindergarten and first-grade students, with second-grade coming online in the future.

As another example, the D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, a year-round K-8 lab school, is associated with the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Among the many innovative features of this school is its focus on sustainability. As part of this focus, students spend time in an Outdoors Learning Garden and a Restorative room, where they learn about environmentalism and sustainability. The school was awarded the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award as a result of these and other efforts to emphasize an earth-friendly approach to education.

Other schools in the system include the following:

  • The Catamount School, a middle school learning community associated with Western Carolina University, embraces diversity and inclusion and takes an individualized approach to education to maximize each student’s potential.
  • The Academy at Middle Fork partners with Appalachian State University to provide a literacy-focused learning environment that uses a workshop approach with immersive instruction in reading and writing. Students, who are called scholars, take active roles in guided, small-group instruction in reading and writing strategies.
  • The Academy at Elkin is a school within a school associated with Appalachian State University with students in second through fourth grade. Elkin’s focus is on exploration-based learning in which students are encouraged to be curious, active participants in the learning process.
  • Niner University Elementary is a trauma-invested school that partners with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The school strives to identify and address past traumas that impact students’ abilities to be successful in school. There is a specific focus on relationship-building with students and their families, culturally responsive teaching, and restorative practices. Students also benefit from small class sizes, social-emotional learning, and small-group instruction. Free after-school and summer programming is available, as is an integrated arts education program that combines theater, music, and movement classes.
  • The East Carolina University Community School focuses on the whole child by providing academic services and auxiliary support. This includes transportation, child nutrition, and medical/dental services provided in-house and by community partners. Social and emotional needs are also addressed within the school and by stakeholders in the community.
  • Aggie Academy, which partners with North Carolina A&T University, serves students in grades three, four, and five. The school’s STEAM-focused curriculum includes hands-on experiential learning activities that bring education to life. 

Though each lab school has its unique identity and focus, all share the common goals of preparing students for college and life. Furthermore, each school strives to improve students’ abilities to read, communicate effectively, and promote whole-child development.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-8, though each school may not offer programming for all grades
  • Location: Throughout North Carolina
  • Partner Institution: Each lab school partners with a University of North Carolina System institution
  • Innovative Features: Programs for whole-student development, focus on sustainability, literacy-focused learning, trauma-invested school structure
  • Financial Aid: Tuition is free for qualifying students.
  • Accreditation: Member universities are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Grace B. Luhrs University School

Its location on the campus of Shippensburg University makes the Grace B. Luhrs University School a prime location for teaching and learning for its elementary-aged students and the University’s students as well.

The school isn’t just a laboratory for pre-service teachers and educational research. Instead, the school is open to Shippensburg University students in a wide range of areas, including:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Counseling
  • Social Work
  • Criminal Justice

The school is open to University students who wish to observe students, which can be done from unique observation booths so as not to disturb the classes. Moreover, University students are welcome to tutor children who need additional instruction. They can also join students in whole class activities.

The Luhrs School has an open-door policy with families that’s proven to be valuable in furthering students’ education. Families are invited and encouraged to be actively engaged in school activities. Parents and other family members can observe classes, tutor, and join classroom instruction, just like Shippensburg University students. Furthermore, family members are encouraged to volunteer with school activities throughout the year.

The approach to teaching at the Luhrs School is simple – the focus is on the development of the whole child. To achieve this end, teachers engage students in creative classroom activities that promote the development of cognitive skills, strong social skills, and emotional health. Active learning activities and physical education classes further the development of kids’ physical growth, too.

The Luhrs School curriculum was developed as a partnership between the Shippensburg Area School District and the faculty at Shippensburg University. However, the curriculum is a general guide; faculty members can deviate from the district curriculum as they see fit to address the unique and varied needs of the students in their charge.

For example, the Luhrs School faculty can modify curriculum activities as new research-based best practices emerge. Likewise, teachers can adjust instruction to be more developmentally appropriate for students. Other modifications to the general curriculum can be made to:

  • Facilitate whole-school cooperative learning
  • Encourage family, community, and university participation
  • Accommodate faculty-directed research by Shippensburg University Students
  • Model best practices for visiting educators and university students

As the only university-based public elementary school in Pennsylvania (and the first certified green school building in the state), the Luhrs School has much to live up to. With the partnerships it’s developed with the University, the community, and families, the school is able to meet and exceed the expectations set for it.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-5
  • Location: On the campus of Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
  • Partner Institution: The College of Education and Human Services at Shippensburg University
  • Innovative Features: Built-in observation booths for visiting educators and college students, open-door policy for families to encourage participation in school activities, whole-child instructional focus, certified green school building that is energy efficient and has a low environmental impact
  • Financial Aid: The school is part of the Shippensburg Area School District, so tuition is free
  • Accreditation: Grace B. Luhrs School is a member of the International Association of Laboratory Schools

Mayfair Laboratory School

The Mayfair Laboratory School is an academic magnet-focused public school that was developed as a partnership between the East Baton Rouge School System and the University Lab School at LSU (which was featured earlier in this article). Mayfair was established to answer an overarching question – can a lab school be successful in a public school setting?

Since its establishment in 2013, the Mayfair School has answered this question with a resounding “Yes.” The school consistently scores an A school rating each year.

As an academic magnet school, Mayfair focuses specifically on ecoSTEM – environmental science. Students at the school participate in rigorous learning activities, active and experiential learning programs, and benefit from two teachers per classroom during the kindergarten through third-grade years. This dual teacher setup includes a master’s-level teacher and an associate teacher with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Children in fourth and fifth grades also benefit from multiple classroom teachers. Students in this age group have two master’s-level teachers and one associate teacher. This abundance of support and supervision helps the school meet each child’s unique needs while accelerating their growth and development in preparation for middle-level studies and high school beyond that.

The school’s educational philosophy helps in preparing students for the future as well. Learning is experiential-based and allows children to explore academics in real-world situations. The experiential learning model promotes mastery of the content while also building lifelong skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication.

Other innovative approaches emphasized at the Mayfair School include the following:

  • Promoting the success of the whole child by focusing on health and wellness
  • Exploring sustainability and reducing one’s impact on the environment
  • Emphasizing the four C’s of STEM studies: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking
  • Building a foundation for long-term academic growth with annual focus projects in which students seek to solve a current problem or explore an area of interest at Mayfair Lab

The ecoSTEM focus sustains throughout each student’s time at the Mayfair School. Children explore current environmental problems and look to the future to postulate about issues they may face as adults. Furthermore, K-8 students examine how they can reduce the human impact on the environment, improve sustainability, and promote general health and wellness for all people.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-8
  • Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Partner Institution: East Baton Rouge School System and the University Lab School at Louisiana State University
  • Innovative Features: ecoSTEM focus on environmentalism and sustainability, multi-teacher model of instruction in the lower grades, four C’s of STEM, year-long focus projects
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Art Club, Yearbook, Spanish Club, Soccer Club, Frisbee Club, and many others
  • Financial Aid: The Mayfair School is part of the East Baton Rouge Public School System, so there is no tuition
  • Accreditation: The Mayfair School is accredited by Cognia

Burris Laboratory School

While most of the schools on this list enroll students in a relatively small area, the Burris Laboratory School accepts students from the entire state of Indiana. Burris is a family school, so children whose siblings are already enrolled in the school have priority; however, if there is space, students can attend Burris whether they live in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, or points in between.

The Burris Laboratory School is a popular option for families because of its advanced curriculum. Students participate in rigorous technology-focused learning activities that develop essential academic skills like problem-solving and critical analysis. Moreover, Burris students learn how to trust and respect one another while working together toward a common educational goal.

A particularly interesting approach to learning at the Burris School is the middle-level initiative called IMPACT. This transcurricular program for sixth through eighth-grade students utilizes blended classrooms and focuses on skills and disciplines that can be individualized. Teachers don’t tell students what to learn; instead, students have a say in their learning process.

Another unique feature of the Burris School is its Innovation Lab. The Lab provides students with access to technologies that range from laser cutters to 3D printers and 3D pens. These and other technologies are used to foster creativity, encourage exploration, and learn relevant technology-based skills.

Students at Burris are prepared for success in and outside the classroom, thanks to various learning activities. Teachers utilize inquiry-based learning, hands-on activities, and technology to enhance instruction and bring topics to life. Various clubs, activities, and athletics teams further students’ opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in class and develop new skills as well. In this regard, the Burris Laboratory School takes a whole-child approach to education.

As a lab school, Burris is a site for educational research and innovation. Teachers use best practices to enhance student learning while collaborations with community partners further extend learning opportunities for students. The result of these efforts is a student body that is well-prepared for continued success after they graduate from Burris.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: K-12
  • Location: On the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana
  • Partner Institution: Ball State University
  • Innovative Features: All children in Indiana are eligible to apply, IMPACT initiative, Innovation Lab, whole-child approach to education
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Broadcasting Club, Chess Club, D&D Club, Euchre Club, and Game Club, among others; Cross-country, soccer, tennis, and soccer
  • Financial Aid: Information not available
  • Accreditation: Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission

Bonus: SNU Lab School

The SNU Lab School was founded in 1972 with a teaching philosophy deeply rooted in cross-curricular work and meaningful experiential learning opportunities. In the more than 50 years since the school opened, its faculty and staff have held true to this mission, providing students with a cutting-edge education that relies on the latest research-based educational practices.

Diversity is a cornerstone of the SNU Lab School as well. The school has devised a flexible curriculum and learning spaces that enable children of all backgrounds and abilities to learn both independently and collaboratively, building essential skills for success in school and life along the way. In fact, the school’s faculty doesn’t adhere to a single curriculum to further each child’s ability to learn and grow as they need.

Other innovative features of this school include the following:

  • Project-Based Learning – Students engage in project-based learning roughly half the time in real-life, augmented reality, and virtual contexts.
  • Social-Emotional Learning – Students take part in daily social-emotional learning activities that build character, self-awareness, and self-discipline.
  • Skills-Based Curriculum – Curricular activities help students connect their learning with real life and acquire the needed knowledge and skills to be successful in their future endeavors.

SNU Lab School students also benefit from consistent interaction with undergraduate and graduate students from Southern Nazarene University. University students majoring in fields like early childhood education, elementary education, and physical education (among others) can get a front-row seat to the disciplines they wish to teach and gain experience working with kids before graduation.

In fact, students from the University are allowed to observe classroom instruction, conduct interviews with faculty, staff, and students, and also get experience as classroom teachers. These pre-service teachers use research-based best practices to implement their lessons and benefit from continuous supervision by experienced educators.

Fast Facts:

  • Grade Levels: PreK-8
  • Location: On the campus of Calvary Nazarene Church in Bethany, Oklahoma
  • Partner Institution: Southern Nazarene University College of Education
  • Innovative Features: Cross-curricular curriculum, flexible and adaptable curriculum to individual student’s needs, project-based learning, social-emotional learning, skills-based curriculum
  • Student Clubs/Activities: Various summer extended learning camps including Literacy Camp, Science & Math Camp, Baking Camp, and Robotics, to name a few
  • Financial Aid: SNU Lab School offers various forms of financial aid, including grants and scholarships
  • Accreditation: Oklahoma State Department of Education, The Higher Learning Commission, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

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