Lake Town Academy ready to expand

Ashley Knight points to owl pellet findings and mushroom spore prints on her classroom’s board. Photo by Sarah Brown

Closing in on the completion of their first year operating a new private school for Lebanon and Sweet Home, Lake Town Academy’s founder, Ashley Knight, said it went “smoothly” and now they’re ready to expand.

Knight, of Sweet Home, and Molly Haselip, of Lebanon, started the faith-based school in an effort to provide an alternative option for children who do not thrive in public schools. While working in public schools and, later, homeschooling her own children, Knight said she learned there can be different approaches to teaching other than the standard federally-funded education system.

Knight also realized that kids learn differently from one another and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Preschoolers help move wood chips to the playground. Photo courtesy of Ashley Knight

“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,” she said last year. “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.”

And that appears to be just the environment her and Haselip are providing. In the mornings, the kids do a devotional and pray, followed by Socratic discussion (practicing critical thinking through dialogue).

“They have things they really want to share and be heard about,” Knight said. “They have ideas and they have views on things.”

Core classes are taught throughout the day, restless kids are given the opportunity to burn some energy, and students have more control over the projects they want to do.

The younger classes this year have been through an array of lesson-building activities. Students explored owl pellets, built an outdoor fort, examined a composting jar, designed models of their dream house, did a group project on Egypt, interviewed people in careers (including pilot, lawyer, architect, farmer, realtor, store manager), and took turns teaching the class about something they’re interested in (such as how to build a keyboard, sign language, the history of rockets, and chickens).

When they return from spring break this year, they will start a garden, hatch chickens and learn how to start a business selling chicken eggs.

Talking about the kindergarteners who built a fort with tarps and tree branches, Knight noted how they figured it all out on their own.

Children play under the tarp of a fort they built. Photo courtesy of Ashley Knight

“They’re so smart,” she said. “If you just let them be kids and figure it out, they do it and it’s good for them to figure it out. Like, the whole engineering aspect of that little fort out there has been pretty good.”

For the first year, Lake Town offered part-time preschool, a kindergarten through second grade class, a third through eighth grade class, and a high school program. Next fall, the school will offer part-time and full-time preschool, kindergarten through second, third through fifth, sixth through eighth, and a part-time or full-time hybrid high school program. Each class is capped at 20 students.

“I think our most challenging program this year was the high school program,” Knight said. “It’s just so much different with high schoolers, so we kind of remodeled that for next year.”

Ninth through 12th graders will be able to go through an online accredited program at Lake Town or do home school, with an option to attend workshops on campus, or even take classes through the Sweet Home School District. The workshops at Lake Town will be two days a week and consist of people from the community sharing the trades they’re skilled in.

“We’re kind of excited about that because it gives families flexibility with their high schoolers,” Knight said. “They can either come two days a week, four days a week, half-day, full-day. They can come just for the workshops that we’re offering or extra tutoring.”

When Knight and Haselip first got the ball rolling for Lake Town Academy, Knight felt like some people in the community couldn’t grasp the concept of alternative education.

Director and teacher Ashley Knight sits at the front of her three through eighth grade classroom. Photo by Sarah Brown

“I feel like when we started this school, there were a lot of misconceptions on what we’re trying to achieve with it,” Knight said. “I think some people were afraid that their kids wouldn’t actually learn something. You could sit and discuss different forms of education until you’re blue in the face, but really our goal is just to love and teach kids in a way that best serves them.”

She noted that her oldest son attends public high school because that system works better for him. She also reported that some parents were able to take their kids off medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder while attending Lake Town.

Seeing those kids who were once on meds and didn’t look forward to school but are now off meds and excited about school is one of the highlights for Knight’s first year as a school founder and teacher. She also appreciates the “huge growth” in many of her other students.

“It’s been really cool to see mixed ages intermingle and seeing older kids come alongside the younger ones and help them,” Knight added.

Though Lake Town is expanding and has had a waiting list this year, Knight isn’t certain yet if she’d ever want the school to get as big as, say, East Linn Christian Academy.

“There’s something special about a smaller school community, and it does feel like family here,” she said.

Lake Town’s last day of the school year is May 30. In June, the school will host a three-day camp to teach skills such as gardening, homesteading, canning and outdoor survival. In July, another three-day camp will focus on “sciency,” STEM-like projects.

The school is hosting a fundraiser on April 26 (see sidebar) to raise money for tuition scholarships. The administrators would also like to acquire a van or bus that could transport 20 kids or more for field trips.

“It’s been a whirlwind year, but I think it has been really good and exciting,” Knight said.