What student designed education means

Three circle cropped images of kids doing activities together at school.

Participatory School Design for a Participatory Democracy

Milestone Democratic School is designed by youth for youth. We welcome all, and especially learners who believe in democracy. We create deep learning about this world, and aim to create a better world as we learn.

We are always re-designing Milestone to be a place where:

Learning is engaging with community-connected personalized learning

  • Students lead their own design projects and inquiry studies
  • Students learn in interest-driven internships and solidarity projects in the community
  • Students and teachers co-design interdisciplinary courses

Everyone has a voice as students, families, staff, and community stakeholders share the work of governing our school

  • Families, students, staff, and friends gather monthly at Community Engagement meetings to understand what’s happening at school and make decisions
  • Students and staff gather weekly at School Meeting to make agreements and day-to-day decisions
  • Our Governance Board is voted in by our members and is made up of students, families, and community stakeholders

The most important step is the next one as we build a culture of inclusion, equity, and justice

  • Our staff is always training in anti-racism, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and disability justice
  • We commit to Restorative Justice to prevent, interrupt, and heal from harm
  • We build on Healing-Centered Engagement at all times: culture, agency, relationships, meaning, and aspirations

School Plan Overview

Our School Plan is the foundation of our school. It is designed and written for and by our students. A new Design Team is randomly selected each year, and charged with studying our school, then publishing a new iteration of the School Plan. We're always learning how to make our school better, and the youth lead the way.

Our Worldview / Values:

We know that poverty, migration, race, disability, and gender all shape our world. We need to learn how these work in the world if we want to create a democracy that works for us all. We can heal and become empowered as we learn.


If a decision affects you, you have a right to help make that decision. At Milestone, students, families, staff, and our community work together to guide and shape our school. Self-governance grows from our values and beliefs.


We prevent conflict and harm by working together and caring for each other. Everyone needs to feel safe and have their voices heard. When conflict and harm do happen, we hold people accountable to restore and transform.

Learning Experiences:

Advisors work with students to plan learning. What do we need to learn? What do we want to learn? How do we learn best? In what environment do we learn best? Everyone can grow into critical thinking, social and emotional skill building, and a broad and complete view of the world.

Learning Goals:

We plan our learning together, starting with specific targets. We all need to develop for our futures, learn to claim our rights, and understand our resources.

Learning Assessments:

We use one-on-one communication to give meaningful feedback on learning. Students present their learning publicly. Personal goals are the basis for all  evaluation.


We are creating our space to be accessible to everyone. We use culture to make our space comforting, calm, and inclusive.


We work together to plan, grow, and help prepare all our food. Our goal is food that is culturally sustaining, fresh, and fulfilling.

Frequently asked questions

We are a not-for-profit public school funded by the state, like all other public schools. We have zero corporate funding or backing, and are not affiliated with any for-profit institutions. 

Milestone is a free public school, which commits to a no-cost learning experience for all families. This means we do not charge tuition (that would be illegal for a charter school!) or fees.

Milestone is an independent public charter school. This means that, instead of reporting to a school district, we report directly to the University of Wisconsin system (our “authorizer”) and to DPI. But we have an open dialogue with MMSD and all surrounding districts to ensure we’re sharing student information, professional development opportunities, and best practices. We aim to be a collaborative partner with all schools in our communities!

Milestone is personalized to each student, and learning is based on student interest, passions, and goals for themselves. So Milestone is for everyone! Regardless of whether you see yourself studying in an Ivy League university after Milestone, attending a technical or trade school, or going directly into work and community, Milestone will help you plan and develop to reach your goals.

Milestone serves grades 6-12 (including students ages 20 and 21), and students from all over the state of Wisconsin are able to enroll

No application criteria — all who come are welcome (until we hit our enrollment cap of 88 students).

Students graduate Milestone with a fully accredited high school diploma. Our curriculum is aligned with DPI graduation requirements and approved by the University of Wisconsin, and our Mastery Transcript is designed to make Milestone graduates stand out to college admissions reviewers.

As a part of the Big Picture Learning network of schools, Milestone uses an adapted Advisory curriculum. In this Personalized Learning program, students develop plans alongside their Advisor and their families, determining for themselves how they want to meet each of the required Credits and Competencies for graduation.

Milestone is committed to Transformative and Restorative Justice in all matters of student and community safety and well-being. Our School Plan details the rights and responsibilities afforded to students, staff, families/caregivers, and community stakeholders in our school. There are no police in our school, and all conflict and harm are addressed and resolved through restorative practices, which our full staff trains extensively in.

When many people hear that Milestone was “designed by youth” they assume we mean the layout and arrangement of the furniture, or the colors of paint on the walls… This is barely scratching the surface! In reality, our Design Team spent two years visiting model schools, attending education and social justice conferences, conducting action research with community stakeholders, and digging into their own stories, identities, and beliefs to plan EVERY ASPECT of Milestone. Curriculum, Assessment, Justice Practices, Food, Climate and Culture… everything in the School Plan was conceived and written by consensus of the youth on the Design Team!

Personalized Learning
Each student plans directly for their future career, community life, and further education, starting on their first day at Milestone. An Advisor works closely to support each student and connect with families and caregivers.

High-quality, interest-driven, student-selected internships for older students. Service-learning projects and field experiences for younger students.

Learning democracy by doing it! Each Advisory is a democratic learning environment. School Meeting gives each student and staff one vote. Half of the elected Board members are students.

We use the Mastery Transcript so each student can show colleges, community partners, and future employers the skills and knowledge they have mastered in a modern and engaging web-based format. Of course, we can also create more generic-looking transcripts as needed which show DPI-approved classes that align with student projects, studies, internships, and courses.

Each term, a student creates their Personal Learning Plan in partnership with their Advisor and family. Advisors always encourage interdisciplinary projects and inquiry, but students can also plan for (and earn credit from) online courses, small-group or individual tutoring… and they can help design a class to be taught at Milestone! We are always working with each student to make progress on the Credits and Competencies required for high school gradution.

Our “OG” Design Team spent over two years studying school models, visiting schools, attending conferences, and doing action research in our communities to create the School Plan. We knew we needed partners to help us pull it off — that’s why we work closely with and get support from Big Picture Learning, the Mastery Transcript Consortium, Teacher Powered Schools network, and others. We’re part of a movement!