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June 4, 2017

Be the change you wish to see in the world

 I will never forget one of the most profound moments of my life was one year and a half ago when I first learned about River Oak Academy. With a heavy heart after my then 7 year old son had started going to a Montessori school in a nearby town, he revealed to me how sad he was that he did not know how to make friends anymore. He had a tough time not feeling welcomed or feel a sense of belonging to a community of children who have known one another since they were toddlers. Being the new student, he was excluded. After a few weeks, it turned into bullying. Bringing him to school since then, to complete the school year, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I decided to start researching “how to start a school”, one night. River Oak Academy popped up and it was everything I had been looking and hoping for all these years. It resonated with me in a very powerful way – it was a dream school. It was started several years ago when a husband and wife, who felt exactly as I did, designed their dream school for their 2 young sons. They cleverly pulled best practices from different educational models and created something truly wonderful. Within one month, I went from inquiring to applying. I was ecstatic when I found out that I was one of the thousands of applicants being given a chance to start a school very much like theirs in my home town.

What makes River Oak Academy unique and special?

1._We value depth of learning over breadth of content. Mastery is the goal, not the regurgitation of memorized information.

2. Emphasis is on Learning to Learn, Learning to Do and Learning to Be.

3. Education in this small and closely-knit setting, helps us to focus on a child’s stage of cognitive development.

4Children are encouraged to “find a calling that will change the world.” The idea of the ‘hero’s journey’ inspires the development of curriculum at River Oak.

5. We believe in a learner-driven education. It is child-centered but also child-led, designing their own learning, and creating their own rules to govern themselves. Holding one another accountable for their actions. (They formulate a  contract in the beginning of each year, stating the rules to be followed by all).

6. Failing early, often and cheaply is encouraged. Instead of telling them what to do, or doing things for them to rescue them–we allow them to make mistakes, face their frustrations, and difficulties.   The challenges are tough, which leaves no one a stranger to life’s best teacher—failure. (Keeping in mind that they will face difficult challenges in their lives. The question is: Would we rather they face these challenges  in school early on or much later in the real world?).

7. Guides do not teach. Instead, they masterfully curate resources and encourage with constant use of Growth Mindset language, ask powerful questions or offer choices, gradually withdrawing to give them greater autonomy over their learning environment.  This creates learning to occur more organically. We also believe that this will inspire them to develop problem-solving and leadership skills.

8. There is no homework. They complete their work during the school day.  And, the school has a liberal attendance policy so students can travel with their family when necessary. We believe that travel is an amazing resource for learning.

9. There is no excessive testing. They are not expected to conform to a set of benchmarks. They show progress and mastery by the work they produce and points earned and tracked with a tracking software. Students earn badges rather than grades or scores as they master topics which is tangible evidence of work completed. With student ownership as a central tenant for learning at River Oak, technology is simply a tool that gives students more independence and control over what they learn. They can choose the types of technology tools they use and can propose new tools when they find them. They are the ones who know their learning best, and therefore, should be responsible in making this decision.

10. River Oak curriculum reaches across traditional disciplines and explore their relationships. History, science, literature, and art are interwoven and studied together through theme-based projects called Quests.

11. There is no required reading list. We do not believe that reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports teach our children how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. Children should read for its own sake. To learn, to travel, to imagine, to discover, to grow.

12. River Oak believes deeply in customer feedback so student and parent satisfaction is surveyed weekly and the results are shared with the community for transparency and continued improvement.

13. Parent Meetings at least 3X per year, focusing on parents’ own Hero’s Journeys.

14. We believe in building character and virtue which seem to be lost concepts in many public arenas.

Lord River Oak, after whom the academy is named, famously said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely“. There is no power more absolute than the ability to control our children’s education and mold their minds and characters, rendering them subservient to an ever growing bureaucracy. It’s about time someone came up with an antidote to take that power back, restoring the self-reliant character and temperament for liberty.  Can you imagine what kind of citizens this type of education will produce?

Reinventing education is not for the faint of heart. When you take a road less traveled, there are times of bewilderment and even a sense of loss. But we have a secret treasure at the end of our path that urges us forward: it is the knowledge and confidence that our children will find their callings and will be equipped to create meaningful lives with rich relationships for themselves and those around them.