Savannah River Academy – Thinking Outside the Box!

Walking into Savannah River Academy, at first glance looks like any other traditional private school setting, but it’s not, it is innovative, and definitely thinking and functioning outside the box!

This poster has common statements seen throughout our educational system (except for the mistakes, but more about that later). The difference here?  These are not just words printed on the wall to the faculty, staff, students, parents, and volunteers; they all believe in them and practice them daily.

The environment at first feels very traditional. It is quiet, and children are working in classrooms, but upon closer examination, this is a non-traditional model keeping with traditional standards. Not the standards set by the state, but our society’s standards for quality education. This could be called a learning center as opposed to a school. Children are not being schooled here, oh no, they are LEARNING, and having fun doing it!

Some of the main differences are:

  • Students are grouped by skill level instead of grade or age in core classes. (Afternoon classes such as Foreign Language, P.E. and Art are grouped by ages so every student has a chance to participate equally).
  • Student’s skill levels are reassessed every few months and changes made to groups as necessary. There are no stagnant groups in the school!
  • Students are allowed to wiggle and use alternative seating while learning because they are kids! Teachers utilize alternative seating as well.
  • Students are learning how to APPLY the information they learn and understand how to find and use resources rather than memorizing.
  • Students work in groups learning social skills and problem solving together (traditional schools do this as well, but here it seems very effective, possibly starting with smaller class sizes makes the first huge difference).
  • Students are in groups of 10 in the classroom with smaller groups within the classroom giving time for each student to have specific academic attention.
  • If Students can do the skill, they move forward, if not, they review, their education process meets them where they are. Learning is SELF PACED!
  • Students have portfolios and narratives rather than grades. NO GRADES!
  • Students are regularly assessed, but there is NO REGULAR TESTING* classroom or standardized!

These are just some of the major differences, and while traditional school settings have been trying to instill some of these like group work and problem solving, Savannah River Academy is actually hitting it’s mark!

Maribeth shared with me about educational journal research showing that 70% of the jobs our current children will be doing haven’t even been invented yet! Considering this, making students go through the traditional curriculum doesn’t help with future employment prospects. She reassures parents Savannah River Academy is doing its best to prepare students for the future and not preparing them for jobs that can be outsourced along the way, or “nothing a robot can do.”

With this thinking, self-paced learning, and problem solving approach that focuses on the child’s growth, in 3 1/2 months, the reading results have increased an average of 12 months!

What kinds of kids go to Savannah River Academy? These kids are from a variety of places, and some of them felt horrible about going to school, but now they love school. They know what it is like to feel good and capable when it comes to their education.

Focus is not on disabilities, but abilities. While they cannot take students with disabilities they are not equipped to handle, as long as they can serve the student well and do that child’s education justice, the disability doesn’t matter. They serve students that are not medicated for ADD, students on the autism spectrum, and students with dyslexia. Student acceptance is based on good fit (student and family) with their philosophy, ability to function and learn in the environment, and whether or not the school has appropriate resources to provide the high quality education each child deserves. Each piece is so important to the child’s success, and Savannah River Academy is truly invested in their students’ successes.

*IOWA Basic Skills Tests are given just in case students transfer to another school, they will have an assessment of their skills to take with them in their school record. IOWA Basic Skills Test scores are recognized nationwide.

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