Midland High School: A Prep School That Teaches Self-Reliance By Being Close To Nature

Hello Midland high! A school that requires students to collect firewood, grow vegetables and raise livestock, but also prepares them for ivy league colleges.

At the Midland Highschool in California, a student’s life is drastically different than if they attended any normal school in the country. While the curriculum is strong and focused on college preparatory, everything else is geared towards teaching responsibility, interdependence, and self-reliance.Students at this school live on site in cabins without running water and just a fireplace for heat. They perform daily jobs to keep the school running. From farming to sports and everything in between, the students learn the difference between a ‘want’ and ‘need’ and what it takes to keep the whole place running.

“Working to meet basic needs, and not just having those needs met, is itself an essential human need.”

Sayer Johnston, 14, builds a fire for hot showers

For instance, there is a rotating job for a student to wake up early and stoke the fire that heats the water for the student showers. The faculty doesn’t care if the students have a hot or cold shower, but the other students will admonish anyone who doesn’t do the duty when they are scheduled to by using a student demerit system (which requires the offender to perform additional duties).

Elizabeth Chamberlain, 14, left, and Eliza Merrall, 16, chop wood they collected for the fires that heat their showers.

To have wood in the first place is a job for more students, who need to collect, chop, and stack it. Half of the vegetables and meat served at mealtime is provided by farming work done by students at the school’s organic farm. Others must clean the buildings, and some help out with meal preparation.

Midland school farm

“Working to meet basic needs, and not just having those needs met, is itself an essential human need,” according to the dean of studies, Lise Schickel Goddard. Being 5 miles from back from the road and its old ranch roots are still seen. Some classrooms are open to nature, and other times classes will just head outside for the day’s lesson.

Water comes from a plentiful underground aquifer and power is mostly obtained from solar panels, in fact, the sophomore class learns how to and then installs a new solar panel each year as part of the curriculum. Last year that same class also built a wind turbine, making all parts by hand in the school workshop.

“All of us are pretty poor judges of the limits of our ability, so we try to push them past the limits of their experience while staying within the limits of their ability,” said Christopher Barnes, the head of school.

Typical classroom at Midland

“If you can narrow down your sense of need you can buy yourself an incredible amount of freedom.”

The whole idea of this school came from the founder, Paul Squibb, back in 1932. He wanted to create an institution free from the ‘things’ that come from affluence and the need to keep up in having what everyone else has. In other words, keep kids from becoming spoiled brats.A years’ tuition costs $49,900, but for the families that can afford to send their kid it is worth it. The cost would be much greater if they had to hire people to perform all the tasks that the students perform. Also, past graduates have donated large sums and with that money, they are able to provide an average scholarship of $33,553.

The day starts at 6:45 am, breakfast at 7:15 and the classes start and end at 8 am and 2:45 pm, respectively. After lunch is sports, except on Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday in which it is free leisure time. Afternoons and evenings include proctored study groups, school assembly, “family style” dinner at 6:15 pm, and after dinner speakers, presentations, or clubs. Everyone must be in their cabin by 10 pm sharp. School days are Monday through Saturday, this allows plenty of weeks off for the student to go back home and be with family.

Dinner time!

Phones are confiscated and internet time is greatly limited. The outside world does manage to slip in, Amazon packages are delivered but one time a $400 fashion purchase was received and the head of the school took the student aside to inquire about its appropriateness. It’s not all about taking away things, a student can bring their dog if it can pass the school’s canine administration test.

Jamie Borghesani, 14, spends his leisure time playing his guitar in a hammock.

With only 85 students and a 4-1 student to teacher ratio, every student has a faculty mentor to help guide them through the adjustment and challenges being a ‘Midlander’ entails. While many of the school’s graduation students go on to ivy league universities, it is hoped that their time here teaches them the important difference between a want and a need.

Mr. Barnes, new to the faculty, states “If you can narrow down your sense of need you can buy yourself an incredible amount of freedom.”


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  1. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    Holy cow! This is a badass school! That tuition bill is almost as steep as my college tuition for a year. Ouch. I’m guessing this is a boarding school, too, then? I do think you can provide this type of environment at home, too, if you want to send kiddos to public school to save a buck. I guess in many ways we’re all pretty damned spoiled to our modern conveniences, like hot showers. I think an environment like this encourages practicing gratitude.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…The Picky Pinchers’ February Budget ReportMy Profile

    1. MrDD

      Yes, it is a boarding school. For rich kids. I don’t think any of us would send our kids there at the standard tuition, but I found it interesting and wanted to share. I think it is great that there is a school like this that is trying to stop these children from rich families from being spoiled.

  2. David Domzalski

    Wow, this is incredible. I held a Twitter chat last night with America Saves Week and one of the things I mentioned was teaching children about money. I stressed the ability to delay gratification as a way to truly understand money. This school certainly fits the bill. What a noble concept. I’m sure these students have no trouble distinguishing themselves in their college essays!

    Fun post to read! Thanks!

    1. MrDD

      It is certainly a unique school! I wish I went there. Of course, I am talking as an older person. My younger self would have wanted internet and computer games. But it would have been character building in the best way.

  3. Galaxy

    A great way to build a more complete man for the society. The society would be a better place if people can think more about what they can offer the society instead of what the society can offer them.

    Nice story and really inspiring.

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