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.

Savannah River Academy – An Amazing Parent Led Initiative!

Maribeth Burns, Principal at Savannah River Academy and her team are really making a difference in children’s education with their brand new school!  I learned so much from her in a phone conversation and school visit where she really took the time to outline details of the paperwork and process as well as how they handled some of the hurdles they encountered. I did get a chance to visit the school as well and will cover that in future blogs!

When I tell people I’m starting a school, most times they have a recommendation of a school for me to visit. I’m truly enjoying visiting schools and/or talking to the people who have created schools, but even after a few years, the details of that first step is blurry as it is in their rear view.  I’m so lucky to have been directed to Savannah River Academy by Linda Tucciarone at Heritage Academy and Gary Dennis of Jessye Norman School for the Arts.

Savannah River Academy started having classes THIS past FALL – only a few months ago! Everything is still fresh in the minds of the organizers, and I’m soaking up all the knowledge about the process that I can.

There were several logistical processes I hadn’t even thought about, like applying for zoning permits, meeting with commissioners about zoning and getting the fire marshal inspections!  This information alone made my thoughts swirl!

She directed me to make sure my Vision and Mission statements are in place, and to make sure I “go for the boring business part.”  Luckily, they had a team of emotionally and financially invested people that were determined to make the school a reality. The hard work was split up, and everyone made sure their piece of the puzzle was in place.

I on the other hand, right now, am working through this on my own, but I’m sure I too will have a team of wonderful people working toward our vision and mission.

Maribeth told me, first and foremost – Get my plan together and file for 501(c)3, this can be an arduous process and is time consuming. Hiring a lawyer may be necessary. Charitable donations cannot be accepted without 501(c)3 status being in place.

Assembling a board of directors and having bylaws are required, as well as a starting budget which is difficult to assess because in the beginning it is hard to predict what is needed for the first year. Applying for business license in the county is also required.

I learned that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) doesn’t apply to private schools (honestly, I was very relieved to hear that, even though I have my Master’s in Special Education and one of my prospective board members has her Specialist degree as well, we really don’t believe the way the Special Education system works benefits the child as much as it creates extra paperwork). We also discussed immunization laws that have specific circumvention aspects protecting the group of children at large.

She stressed having board members that will stick to the vision and mission is very important. Heartwood ALC staff stressed this as well when I visited them. Boards have control of the organization, so they need to be able to trust you to run the school, and you need to be able to trust them to stick to the vision and mission!

We discussed teacher pay scales as well as the requirements for teachers and the accreditation process through SAIS (Serving and Accrediting Independent Schools) as principle GAC (Georgia Accreditation Commission). Originally the school thought they might have a hybrid program, but then decided to go for full accreditation and got it right away. Maribeth encouraged me to seek accreditation for the students and parents security as well as grant access and educational discounts.

We went over how the tuition based process works, the basic break up of payments and when they are due, the option of parent partnership contracts, and possible ways to handle exceptions to the process (e.g. students transferring away or to the area).

She told me when it is time for me to look for a location to be aware of the codes and county laws that have to be followed. I’m thinking this is one of those, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” things. I don’t want to get shut down for not following laws and regulations of which I was unaware!

I cannot express how thankful I am for this information, much I which I was completely ignorant! Thank you so much Maribeth Burns!  You and your team are amazing!

Also, I will say again, it is wonderful that our communities can pull together and help each other with their visions and goals. Every positive change and link is a step in the direction of bettering our community, our state, our country, and our world.

Education is truly the key to living a wonderful life, and as a community, we want that for everyone!



What’s Next with Brand Clarity?

I cannot believe today is the last day of the Brand Clarity Challenge with Abigail from Sweetspot Strategies. Time flies when you’re having fun!

It was hard to really take a look at my vision and really break down what it is going to take to get there as far as building my brand and looking at financials.

The past 4 days:

I’ve assessed where I am (hobby mode), where I want to go (business mode). I’m now tracking my time, so I can look over the challenge pdf’s later and reanswer the questions at the beginning of next month to reassess. I’m going to ask for the money to get started, since that is what is really holding my hobby back from being a business. I know I have support, but my pride is getting in my way. I am FULLY aware of my numbers not being aligned, and I am going to make the first steps of filing the appropriate paperwork to get them in alignment! I’m changing my priorities to paperwork while still giving from the heart as much as I can!

Although this challenge has been time consuming. I have spent about 6 1/2 hours working on this challenge between watching posted videos, reading and answering pdf files, reading and answering emails, posting in the Facebook group for the challenge and reading and responding to posts.

For the amount of clarity I’ve achieved  through these exercises, I think the time was very well invested.

On to continuing to make this dream a reality!


But I Don’t Want to Get Real with My Numbers!!

Here’s what I know. My numbers are abysmal!  Looking at income vs. expenses is not a pretty sight, BUT there’s hope. This Brand Clarity Challenge with Abigail from Sweetspot Strategies has been an eye opener. As I’m in the infancy stages of starting a school, I think this initial shock is good.

One, working with a group of people that support me, not always the same people mind you, but finding a network of people in business as well as in the community has been enlightening and encouraging.  I’ve been surrounding myself with positive people, not the kind that are all unicorns and rainbows, but the heart warming kind that are positive and realistic.

Two, I’m learning so much about business, that as I move forward, even though I know I’ll make mistakes, I feel I have a MUCH better understanding of how success is accomplished and how basic pitfalls are avoided.

Today’s challenge was all about breaking down the numbers, that for me right now, just don’t exist. Not in the frustrating way like the last challenge, where I have been working very hard for a month and wasn’t tracking my activities, so I have no idea if I’m spending too much or not enough time on something, but frustrating because I don’t have a business income to report!  Embarrassing, a bit, but as I said, it’s ok, because I’m going to plan everything out and get the income for our new school rolling in!

Maintaining income will be a challenge as well, but one I think I’m up to. Keeping my eyes on the big dream is how my daily goals and accomplishments will make that dream a reality, someday…

Honestly, when I first looked at the numbers, I felt like a failure, but in the long run, feeling like a failure doesn’t help anyone. Slowly, one step at a time, I will figure this out, network, and be able to provide an amazing learning environment in which I believe wholeheartedly!

That is the goal, now I just have to pay attention to the hard numbers and take the steps to get there.



Where Am I and Is There a Straight Line?

Today, I’m combining two days of Brand Clarity into one since I started the challenge a day late!

Yesterday’s challenge was Where am I in my business?  I looked at the number of hours I’m working, what I spend my time doing, the biggest time sucks and distractions, and what am I not doing that I want/need to be doing.

Today’s challenge was to create the straightest path to where I want to go.

After evaluating everything about my business, I realized I’ve been treating it more as a hobby as opposed to a business. I’ve been focusing on the fun stuff – which using the Rock/Pebble/Sand analogy is also a Rock, but one that I think I’ve focused enough on to proceed to the nuts and bolts as I like to call them, or another Rock!

I posted regular work hours on my Facebook Business, but I haven’t been keeping them very well. I haven’t been keeping track of my hours at all, or what I’m doing for those hours. That is part of my organization goal for the year. I’m starting to really feel the need for organizing my days.

I looked for an organizer and kind of found one, but didn’t buy it…took time to think about it and decided I wanted it and they were all gone!  I didn’t take a picture or write down the company, so I’m back at square 1.  None of them really covered everything I wanted to cover anyway, so I think I’m going to create my own system.

I realized through the day 2 challenge, while I’m enjoying researching and visiting schools, that can’t go anywhere if I don’t start in on the nuts and bolts.

I feel like this part of my blog doesn’t have the same flow because I’m more or less floundering through all of this business stuff. Everything is brand new to me, and while I’m also helping my partner start his own paint and lawn care business, we are still very new at this.

So I have my business goals which are HUGE, and now I need to focus on the daily things to get there. I’ve already posted this months goals for getting the state and federal paperwork filed, but I need money. I’m hesitant to ask family and friends, but when I woke up this morning, I decided I would ask – what can it hurt and they see me working hard on this too, so might as well ask right?

Day 2’s challenge was hard to look at, it asked me questions like am I a registered business or licensed?  I had to answer no to most of the questions because I’ve been focused on the philosophy (still a rock, but totally different rock).

Day 3’s challenge is frustrating because I can’t answer honestly!  I have not been tracking how I spend my work hours and so I cannot answer how I’m spending my time and energy and if I need to make changes.

It all seems so simple, but when I’m in the thick of it, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. I’m dedicated to focusing and succeeding!

This challenge and Abigail’s Sweetspot Strategies are very helpful with direction and motivation. I highly recommend them to everyone and anyone on a business adventure!


What the Heck is Brand Clarity?

Marketing nightmares!! At first I thought, oh, this is interesting, then I just focused on other aspects of starting a school, and now I’m starting the new year with a building my business kickstarter. Abigail from Sweetspot Strategies has helped me through business boot camp, and now I’ve signed up for her Free Facebook Achieve Brand Clarity Challenge!

Now I have decisions to make and a business to build. When I said I wanted to open my own school, I knew there would be business aspects to it, but this stuff is CRAZY! There’s so much to do and think about, which is why I signed up for the Free Facebook Challenge Abigail created on Brand Clarity.

I’ve never really considered brands. Of course I like the brands I like – Arm & Hammer, Tide, and the like, but I didn’t consider how inundated we are as a society with brands. I want to go simple, but then again, I want to stand out, and what about colors, and who am I marketing to, and on and on…

Trying to narrow down the specifics is one aspect, but also understanding the feelings of those whom are prospective “good fit” families is extremely important.

I think schooling is one of the most emotionally charged subjects of all time

While I’m trying to break into the homeschooling culture (they are very guarded since people try to sell to them all the time), I’m not really getting anywhere with taking the pulse of the education community.

But do I want to?

I would much rather have families that are interested in self-directed education find me. I want to be visible yes, but I don’t want to have to constantly defend the educational philosophies we want to employ.

Informational talks yes, debates, no.

Is that a fair assessment of how this really works?

Not that I don’t want to have discussions, yes, by all means, discussions are good. No system is perfect. Can everyone take a different approach together? I think we can, and I think there are people out there that will hold the same beliefs about education that I do.

So the first assignment to brand clarity was to write a love my business letter. Describe a successful day in your vision. What does it look like? Feel like?

I wrote mine to my dad, because he planted the seed of democratic education years ago when I was in high school.

Here’s my letter:


There’s a Q and A at the bottom which comes from the challenge.

I didn’t realize peace was such a huge part of my vision. I want to be at peace with myself knowing I’m making a difference in education. And I want everyone involved to be at peace with themselves.

This is a big plan!  Building on what I’ve already done, I’m going to find direction and come up with a plan that will carry me through the rest of this month!

Prizes for Ringin’ in th’new year!

I’m not sure if my New Year traditions are really Japanese traditions, or if it’s just what my mom used to do, because I relate EVERYTHING my mom did as absolute Japanese tradition!

Pretty much every new year we stay up until midnight, and eat noodles and shrimp. Noodles for a long life and shrimp for taste! Then straight to bed, get a good night’s sleep. Get up on time new years day, and do nothing… no cleaning or taking out the trash, no cooking (although I vaguely remember my mom cooking Japanese food on New Years, sukiyaki maybe?), and no spending money. I’ve never been much for Japanese food, so I didn’t eat it. I’d stay inside and do quiet activities, like read.

It’s funny how the routines and concepts we’re exposed to as kids stick with us. My mom’s reasoning for not doing anything on new years day is you’ll do those things the rest of the year. Spending $$, I get it, you don’t want to spend $ all year, working? You don’t want to work all year. Unless you don’t have a job? Cleaning? No one wants to clean all year! Spending time with family, at home, doing quiet activities? Is this how I want my year to be?

Or do I want to be productive? Feel accomplished? Have balance? Be successful? What should my new year look like if this is what I want?

I’ve been struggling with the tradition vs. what exactly? Making up my own stuff I guess.

My goal for December was to post on Facebook and Blog every day for 30 days. I stopped one day short! What the heck! But I’m blogging today and posting today, so technically it’s still 30 days… so I think I did pretty well if not perfect this first month, and will reward myself with the prizes I already purchased anyway. I’m not sure what the short stop was for, self sabotage most likely, but here it is 11 pm on the 31st and I’m going to post!

This is not only about getting out of my comfort zone, but also about getting out of my own way!

On to 2019!

Heartwood: What Does All This Mean?

One amazing attribute about Heartwood I noticed was, not once did I hear a student tell another student that they weren’t welcome in the group. This happens often in traditional school settings, I’ve seen it myself many times in all the schools I’ve been in, no matter the age of the students, and I’m sure other educators at traditional schools can attest – the kids can be very mean. This statement is probably repeated by traditional educators the world over.

But here at Heartwood, no child was excluded, no child was told to go away. Older students do not just “tolerate” or “babysit” younger ones, they consider all the other students their friends and play with each other not paying any attention to age groups. It is normal to see a teen playing with a younger counterpart of 5-9 years old, and everyone is happy.

As adults, we don’t just have friends in our own cohort, we have older and younger friends, this is the natural progression of friendship. Yet we set up unnatural settings in which children are expected to function. It would be thought weird in a traditional setting that a middle or high schooler would want to be friends with a kindergartener. I think many brows would be raised, and questions asked about the problems of either or both of the children, but at Heartwood, it is natural, normal and accepted to have friends at all age levels.

No children chose to play and interact with the same children all day. Groups were natural and flowing, with students joining and leaving easily spending their chosen amount of time with the group doing the activity. Students respectfully asked or communicated questions, concerns and needs and no one was made to feel bad for wanting to join or leaving a group.

Where there is mutual respect, there are far fewer problems in the community, which is what Heartwood is all about.

The transition from public school to self-directed school is interesting and the students have different reactions to it. Public school is all about rules and order.  Students are discouraged from communicating with peers throughout the day as it is disruptive to standardized classes. Here, at Heartwood, students are encouraged to interact, and sometimes social deficits arise and students learn how to socialize with other children throughout the day. From the first minute to the last, students are working together in groups or if they take some time for themselves, it isn’t very long before they join a group of children again.

It was truly a joy spending the day with Heartwood ALC staff and students. I learned so much by seeing the self-directed model in action, and after I got over how different it is, I really want to have a school like this.

Every self-directed school is different, which is kind of the point, but there are similarities with the Agile Learning Centers brand, and they seem to have a pretty good handle on things.


Heartwood Community End of Day Clean Up!

All the students and staff clean their school!

No one has to say ANYTHING to keep the children cleaning – they just do it! Inside and out, they make sure everything is back in it’s place.

One of the agreements, (remember, agreements are made by all staff and students together) is to clean up after yourself, and some cleaning happens throughout the day, but at the end of the day, a cleaning frenzy starts and doesn’t stop until everything is cleaned and organized. It is a magical thing to see, although the staff and students don’t think anything of it, it is part of their community driven day.

Schools in Japan also employ this method, and research has shown that students are more respectful of their space with greater appreciation for their materials, and increased pride in their schools.

After working in the public school system, where students are more likely to not take care of their environment, seeing these students working to make their environment nice was refreshing.

I feel kind of bad that I took so many pictures of the kids cleaning – like it’s some stupendous feat! When in reality, this is how communities should work, everyone does their part, from the youngest to the oldest (even the guests, myself included, were inspired to help clean).

Some students have assigned tasks. They used to rotate jobs, but then during change up (remember, change up is the weekly meeting where students and staff decide what needs to change and they implement solutions one at a time until they find one that works), they decided some students would have the same jobs and some would rotate jobs. No one was confused as to what they were supposed to be doing, and there were no slackers – everyone worked on cleaning up until the job was done.

No one complained or tried to say it wasn’t their mess and ask why they should clean it, they just worked individually or in groups. They cleaned up after each other and worked together to get everything back in place.

I spent some time outside, and you can see a student outside working too. The students put everything away inside and out. The pillows that had been taken outside for pillow fights were now back inside and any outdoor toys were put away neatly in their places as well.

This is how I imagine a well functioning family working, and while I think these kids are exceptional in their own way, they are not unique as far as kids go. They are just every day average kids who function well in this learning environment and are happy to be a part of the Heartwood community.

Heartwood’s Social Activism

One Heartwood mom I spoke with told me she liked several things about the school, but what really drew her to Heartwood was the Social Activism topics they discuss.

I like this idea too. I once had a good friend say, during a heated discussion about teen pregnancy and welfare options, “Well, my family didn’t sit around the dinner table and talk about social issues!”

I responded, “Mine didn’t either!” but actually, we did. Not necessarily around the dinner table, but I grew up discussing social issues including race, religion, politics and the like. I believe, as a result, I have strong feelings toward social activism. I may not agree with how or why people are socially active, BUT, just like voting, I believe all people have a right to be heard when they feel injustice afoot.

Just like I support the troops without supporting the war, I support all those who are fighting against social injustice, and do my best to empathize by put myself in their shoes.

While I was at Heartwood, social activism in general was not discussed, but students and staff did discuss racism and interracial relationships in “Dear Martin” and “The hate U Give.”  Students were able to discuss difficult situations with ease.

Here are some pages posted on the wall, and the mother I spoke to said she really likes that her son can have conversations about different current social issues.

Social activism is part of the culture of Heartwood and I’m assuming the kids can talk about it with ease.


I liked this page about friendship. So important at this age, especially with cyber bullying issues.

I’ve been tending to shy away from these sensitive topics, not wanting to offend anyone, even going as far to think, “I can’t put the equality sticker on my car, what will people think? Will they still support my school?”

I wish I could say I want to just put the sticker on and let people know what I believe, but it’s scary, starting out. I’m not sure what the best “business” approach is, and I seem to be afraid to ask anyone! Except for here – tell me what you think!

I think the more we talk about these issues, the more we can see from the other person’s perspective, the more we can understand and appreciate each other. I do believe we have the option to agree to disagree, it’s a start anyway. I know with our society being so politically charged right now, it’s difficult to say if this is a good idea, but at the same time, our politically charged atmosphere has given more people their true voice than in the recent past. We’ve been humming along, pretending everything is OK, and it is soooo NOT OK.

I’ve always believed solving big problems starts with teaching our children. It takes a village, and they are much smarter then we give them credit!

Change is possible with each and every one of us, and I honestly believe the majority of people want to live in a better world. Our kids will be the ones making laws and decisions about our society. It’s better they are exposed to the social activism now. They’ll have more time to figure out what they really think after weighing all the options.