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Former area school teachers to launch Lake Town Academy

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Two former school teachers are collaborating on a faith-based private school for the Sweet Home and Lebanon area.

Ashley Knight, of Sweet Home, and Molly Haselip, of Lebanon, will be holding parent informational meetings for the new Lake Town Academy at House of Glory, 30337 Fairview Road, Lebanon, where the school’s first year will be held this fall.

The meetings will take place on different days to accommodate busy families: 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 25; 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27; and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 29.

Knight has homeschooled her two children for four years since leaving her job as a special education assistant and behavior specialist in the Sweet Home School District.

She said it was scary to step out and do something completely different, and it’s taken her a while to finally feel comfortable enough as a home-schooling parent. However, she’s learned teaching methods that are different from public schools.

Kids are hardwired to learn, Knight explained, and it’s OK to give them some control over what and how they’re learning.

Haselip’s story is similar. She left her job as a substitute teacher in the Central School District about a decade ago to start a family, and has home-schooled her two children from day-one.

Private school cofounder Molly Haselip poses with her family. She homeschools her children.

“We kind of did it for the flexibility, but over the years, there have been a lot more reasons,” she said. “I don’t think that most little boys do very well just sitting in a classroom for eight hours. I think that kids just learn better living life and learning through books and playing, especially when they’re little.”

Haselip said parents regularly reached out to discuss bullying, school systems and their children’s inability to thrive in “disorderly” settings. After several years of brainstorming the private school idea with Knight, the two finally took action.

“We are just trying to meet a need,” Haselip said.

She hears reports of kids playing on their phones, vaping and being disruptive during class, adding that another local private school has become a topic of concern among some who feel it’s become more “lax” and are dealing with struggles familiar to public schools.

“I feel like there’s a lot of conversation about where public schools are right now and people wanting different options, but someone has to make the move to start something,” Knight said. “It is scary, but after I put feelers in the community, I’ve had so much feedback from people. Like, a lot. Kind of an overwhelming amount, actually.”

Everything has fallen into place smoothly, according to Knight. The House of Glory church on Fairview, situated halfway between Sweet Home and Lebanon, offered its building to Lake Town Academy, and enough interest has allowed the women to expand from their original plan of third through eighth grade to pre-K through high school.

“It will be a faith-based school,” Knight said, “but we’re also offering a very different style of teaching that kids aren’t getting at public schools or East Linn [Christian Academy].”

Although Knight appreciates what their latter counterpart offers, she felt its tuition cost was too high. As such, Knight and Haselip plan to fund their nonprofit school through affordable tuition costs and various fundraising activities.

They expect tuition for pre-K to cost $2,760, to be paid over a 12-month period; kindergarten through eighth grade to cost $5,520 over 12 months; and ninth through 12th grade to cost $4,140 over 12 months.

As donations and sponsorships increase, the school leaders will establish a scholarship fund for families who can’t afford their rates.

Currently, the pre-K class will accept no more than 10 students, kindergarten through eighth grade will cap at around 15, and the high school program will fill at 15 to 20.

“It really allows for more attention with each child and meeting them where they’re at,” Knight said.

Private school cofounder Ashley Knight poses with her family. She homeschools her children.

She explained that children learn differently. Some straggle while others fight boredom because they’re ahead of their classmates. She wants to provide more of an individualized education plan.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “After having my kids home, I love that we can explore their interests and go at their pace, do hands-on things. It’s not just busy work all day long.”

Both women envision a school that teaches through unit studies, incorporates novel studies, follows a Socratic approach and provides hour-long lunches.

“One thing that drove me nuts at public schools is their lunchtime is so rushed,” Knight said. “When I was working in the school, I worked specifically with behaviors. It just didn’t make sense to me having kids sit in a desk for so long and doing worksheets, and then you’ve got kids that are either behind and they feel discouraged and they have no idea what’s going on, and then you have kids that are ahead and they’re bored out of their mind but you expect them to sit still and be quiet.

“Kids need to be moving, and they need to be learning and exploring things that they’re interested in, so then learning is fun. Once they start learning things, then you see their confidence boost.”

Harrison Knight shows his study on shading and drawing styles.

Knight saw this in action with her younger son, Harrison, who enjoys entrepreneurship and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities. Using a novel study model, he listened to an audio version of William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer’s 2009 nonfiction title “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope” and completed a package of related questions that touched on subjects ranging from vocabulary to science.

He enjoyed the lesson and plugged into it, Knight said. Novel studies allow teachers to determine what topics interest a child, provide books supporting that topic and give students opportunities to learn a range of subjects based on that interest.

Unit studies are along the same lines, in that a theme (such as anatomy and physiology) is taught for two to four weeks, and lessons on that theme include a range of subjects (such as math and reading).

“I really like that better than hopping all over subjects throughout the day,” Knight said. “That way it gives you time through the day to actually really dive into it and do cool hands-on projects and experiments and have guest speakers come, and it’s not hopping around every 30 minutes to something else.”

Also, Haselip enjoys the Socratic approach to teaching, wherein, for example, she presents different perspectives on an historical event and students form their own opinions through research. The goal, she said, is to encourage critical thinking.

“We strongly believe that if kids want to learn something, they will learn it if given the resources and the ability to learn about the things they really want to learn about,” Haselip said.

Fifth-grader Harrison Knight stands on a log during a nature day at McDowell Creek with his family.

Lake Town Academy will provide pre-K classes from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and kindergarten through eighth-grade from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays (with outside learning from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays). The high school will be a hybrid program running from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Wednesdays open for optional tutoring or extracurricular activities.

Haselip will guide the high-school program, which will allow students to earn credits part-time through Lake Town and part-time as a home-schooler or through public school. She said she wants to help kids learn what “makes them tick.”

“The goal is for them to take ownership of their education, trying to figure out their place in the community,” she said. “People are over the little check marks that kids have to get through in school when they’re not interested in those things, and they could be spending their time working on stuff that actually matters to them and that they might actually want to learn. Kids are built to learn, but you stick them in a school, and they have to learn a certain way, and I think it stunts their natural ability to learn.”

By the time they’re in high school, Haselip continued, children are ready to work toward careers. Lake Town will encourage them to figure that out and help them find apprenticeship opportunities, if that’s the route they want to take, which is similar to how education once ran when kids learned the basics of reading and math before taking on apprenticeships to learn a trade.

The meetings this month will give parents a chance to understand Lake Town’s vision and get to know its leaders’ values. But Knight also wants to help parents understand available options beyond public school.

“I just want people to be educated and supported in knowing that it can be so different,” she said.

Haselip hopes parents will take more ownership of their children’s education and think about what they’re doing or learning. She said Lake Town seeks to create different ways of learning to help every student thrive.

However, the pair do not discredit the public-school system.

Ashley Knight and her boys stop work on the construction of a chicken coop for a photo opp last year.

“Some kids are totally fine going to a traditional school, and they can get through it just fine,” Knight said. “But there’s other kids and their minds just don’t work that way, so I feel like it’s kind of a disservice to them.”

Part of the problem with public school, Haselip said, is the ratio of students to teachers, which makes it difficult if not impossible for teachers to understand individual passions and work on a learning system based on them.

“God created us to want to learn; we’re built that way,” she said. “We’re curious and we’re creative, and sometimes school does not allow for that. It can stifle that a little bit.”