Prodigy Leadership Academy - Teaching Children to Love Learning
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” — Socrates
How profoundly true are Socrates’ words! Fundamentally speaking, a human IS what he/she knows. From the second we emerge from our mother’s cloistered cocoon, the rapid-fire learning experience ensues. Learning is both conscious and unconscious as we are wired to make sense of the world around us. We are learning all the time, creating knowledge out of each experience, innately driven by the curiosity imbedded in our souls. One of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon the children entrusted to our care is guiding them down the path of a life-long love of learning.
The public school model meets a vast array of educational needs for many, but not everyone. This 2014-15 school year, approximately 80 students have enrolled in Prodigy Leadership Academy in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The private Christian school was founded in 2009 by former public and homeschool teachers, Russell and Amy Grammer. Both have international teaching experience and have researched educational models extensively, working at state, national and international levels with education experts in the fields of curriculum and inner-city youth projects. Russell is a recipient of many prestigious teaching awards and served on the Board of Directors for the Missouri Math, Engineering, Technology, and Science Coalition.
The Grammers’ vision for PLA is summed up in the school’s mission statement: …”all children are uniquely designed for great purposes. Our goal is to meet them where they are, to understand them and to give them the highest level of support in their life journey.” The Grammers and staff at PLA make it their aim to provide “an instructional system that encourages purposeful learning centered on Jesus Christ and empowers youth to live for the highest purpose; to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves.”
Russell and Amy have made it a goal to provide the most excellent support for youth that they possibly can. It so happens that their approach has been especially beneficial to children who are not thriving in a traditional classroom setting.
With the school’s small classrooms – 1 teacher to 15 students – and their innovative, hands-on learning strategies, PLA helped a young boy who came to the school his 1st grade year after having been threatened with suspension in his previous school for fighting. The boy made quick progress academically, advancing two grade levels in reading in only 4 months. When asked about his experience at Prodigy, he stated, “I feel safe.”
Vicky Buchanan’s son, Dallas, frequently complained of stomach aches to avoid going to school. She enrolled him in PLA in fourth grade and in a letter to Grammer she said, “His years at PLA were challenging academically, but your excitement for learning was contagious so he became interested in learning. He was able to work at his own pace, but still felt challenged to do his very best…” Dallas re-entered public school in 9th grade and Vicky excitedly reported that his first semester grades revealed that he’d earned straight A’s and was ranked 3rd in his class! He even felt the desire to challenge himself by taking honors classes in Algebra and English. Through PLA, Dallas was given the gift of a love of learning.
Jessica Rosati has seen positive changes in her children who attended PLA. She believes that the nurturing and accepting environment of the academy helped her children feel safe voicing their opinions and beliefs and that they also learned how to listen. Jessica believes PLA “offers a safe place for children to explore their interests and to learn from them.” She has also been highly impressed with PLA’s outreach to the community and the world. She recalls, “Last November, the children and staff of PLA raised over $2000 to help typhoon victims in the Philippines. My parents survived the typhoon and provided aid to their neighbors and community with the help of donations from friends and family. They were able to visit the school in January and accept the gift.”
So, what is the teaching experience like at Prodigy Leadership Academy? Their Facebook page posted the answer to that question by way of a simple reflection from Jessica Pederson, a teacher who had just finished her first year: “…While teachers at Prodigy follow state standards as guides for instruction, we are not bound to them through standardized testing, scripted curriculum, or unreasonable timelines. Rather, we integrate students’ interests and curriculum together to make for a more meaningful, enjoyable, and productive learning experience. Students participate in learning projects and presentations that allow for individualization, creativity, and challenge. Teachers work more as facilitators who set guidelines and expectations for individualized learning, rather than lecturers, assignment-givers, and micro-managers of the class. A PLA classroom has an environment of collaboration and cooperation to achieve the highest standard of learning possible for each individual.”
Supplementing the solid curriculum resources that recognize the unique learning needs of each student, the students of Prodigy Leadership Academy gain knowledge experientially through many exciting field trips and interactions with inspirational guest speakers who contribute to the dynamic learning environment at PLA. Parents are very active and are invited to share their expertise with the students, from the dancer mom to the orthopedic surgeon dad who “brought in his team and allowed every student in the school to break and saw “bones” and then use the appropriate tools to drill and pin them together.”
The cost to send a child to PLA per year is $5,380, roughly half of the tax-based funding allotted for a public school student. Discounts are available for multiple student enrollment and many students attend the school using full or partial scholarships. Since the inception of the academy, more than 30% of students attending PLA have been scholarship recipients. PLA is governed by a nine-member board and is a 501c3, not-for-profit entity. The passionate educators at the academy are constantly looking for ways to improve the learning experience of each of their young charges.
For more information on Prodigy Leadership Academy you can visit their website (www.goprodigy.org) or Facebook page. Inspiring a love of learning for the whole child for a lifetime is what Prodigy Leadership Academy is all about. They are igniting the flame of interest and curiosity inherent within each child, setting them free to become all that they were created to be as opposed to simply filling their vessels with data. Socrates would be very proud!