Students at The Grauer School learn in and beyond the classroom


By Kristina Houck

During the wet season when animals are not always available, the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania rely on honey, fruits and vegetables. Through a series of whistles, the honey-guide bird leads the honey hunter to the beehive where he pounds wooden pegs into the tree trunk, climbs to the top where the hive is located, chops into the tree to expose the hive, smokes it out, and retrieves honey for his tribe and the honey-guide bird.

A junior at The Grauer School in Encinitas, Natalie Brooks learned about the communication between the honey-guide bird and the honey hunter while watching a documentary. Although she never thought she would witness the unique relationship first-hand, Natalie found herself listening to singsong whistles and tasting honey during a school-sponsored expedition to the East African country last year.

“It was the coolest thing,” said 16-year-old Natalie. “This happened to me, and I saw it in a documentary. It was really exciting.”

An independent college preparatory school, The Grauer School offers rigorous academics, enriching arts and competitive athletics. In order to graduate, students are also required to complete 50 hours of community service and a total of five weeks of expeditions.

In addition to the trip to Tanzania, Natalie has visited New Orleans and Washington D.C. She has also participated in an astronomy camp, Hollywood film expedition and a rock-climbing trip in California.

Still, going on expeditions is Natalie’s second favorite thing about The Grauer School, which she has attended since seventh grade. Her favorite? She gets to be herself.

“I never feel like I have to be something that I’m not,” said Natalie, who briefly attended a public school while in eighth grade. “At [my previous school], I always felt like if I wanted to try really hard in class, I had to hide it. I also felt like everyone around me was doing the same thing. It was like a mutual agreement to not be real in any way. At Grauer, everyone is just able to be real. It’s something I don’t think I can say about any other school.”

Founded in 1991 by Dr. Stuart Grauer, The Grauer School offers 160 classes for 150 students in grades sixth through 12th. The school’s 30 teachers adhere to the Socratic model, encouraging inquiry and discussion.

“It’s by far the most tried and true, most successful teaching methodology. It respects the intelligence of the student,” said Grauer, who has been in education for nearly 40 years. “When we use the Socratic method, we’re opening up the classroom environment much more toward what’s inside of students. The Socratic method entails a fundamental belief that there’s a great deal of wisdom already in students. Our goal as teachers is to tap into that, to unleash that.”

The Grauer School also prepares its students for life after high school by encouraging them to explore their interests, Grauer said.

“There are constant opportunities for the kids to not only study the core curriculum, but to work with teachers to enrich the core curriculum,” said 62-year-old Grauer, who has a master’s degree in education and has been a teacher since he was 23 years old. “Every single class that we have allows kids to develop beyond the core curriculum in areas of personal passion.”

Although she just started 11th grade, Natalie is already planning for college and considering a career in medicine. She recently completed a month-long summer internship at Stanford University, where she learned cardiothoracic surgical skills.

“The Grauer School has prepared me for college,” Natalie said. “The teachers really want you to learn.”

The Grauer School is located at 1500 S. El Camino Real in Encinitas.

For more information, call 760-944-6777 or visit