Let me begin with our mission statement:
“Let no child be demeaned nor have his wonder diminished because of our ignorance or inactivity. Let no child be deprived of discovery because we lack the resources to discover his problem. Let no child ever doubt himself or his mind because we are unsure of our commitment.” – T.L. Lewis
Over twenty years ago, my husband and I shared a dream of excellence in education with a genuine desire to make a difference. Our goal was to provide parents and students with real academic and artistic options and see our own children grow up in a secure and stimulating environment. We began with a strong foundation and achieved results that exceeded our highest expectations. We succeeded in subjective terms, but also objectively when our students score consistently at the top 90th percentile in the nation.
All of these factors inspire and answer many of the whys the school started, but another reason and inspiration surfaced years later while teaching my first Ethics/Values class to 7th and 8th graders. I can still recall the look on their faces after they asked me why I founded the school. I told them point blank that it was because I hated school. They looked shocked. I shared that I never really felt that school was relative to my goals or dreams and thought that merely filling my head with facts would not benefit me. I felt that much of what was being taught was knowledge that I could not apply in my life. Immediately, their eyes lit up; that light is the aim of Discovery Academy, for our greatest strength is found in the bright eyes and kind smiles of our students. It is all about them.
On Teaching the Basics
My goal is to apply what I remember as a student, how I loved learning on my own for its own sake, how I was discouraged when a teacher said I couldn’t skip ahead in a textbook or when they would tell me the mechanics of story writing but would make us read the most boring literature and then test us on reading comprehension. I think what takes the fun out of writing is when teachers tell you to plan your story, to write an outline. To me, the fun of writing a story is in not knowing where you’re going, so that it becomes a shared journey with your characters. Too often, something that should be so exciting literally becomes boring. By planning the whole thing, writing becomes dead, where it should be alive with passion and imagination. Too often, they’re destroying the enthusiasm before you’re inspired. Teachers tend to love facts and structure and that’s okay for laying the foundation, but facts should not be taught in isolation. Instinctively, it is dreaming that stimulates the imagination in order to bravely create stories that have never been written before. When planning curriculum today for Discovery Academy students, I recall and choose literature that contains classic value that is relative and passes the test of time. Creativity is encouraged, after the fundamentals are in place.
Laboratory of Life
The philosophy and curriculum of Discovery Academy was constructed to encourage thinkers and day dreamers, to never be content with the status quo, to stimulate students that are the doers in the laboratory of life, not content to contain their learning to the confines of four walls. The innovators have always been those who questioned facts, who thought and dreamed beyond them.
Discovery Academy was designed to be a fresh and lively place–where you’re energized, student and teacher alike–and when you walk in you never quite know what to expect and the place is jumping. Not in a loud or out of control way, but a focused enthusiasm for learning, complete with hands on materials that they can use to test their own hypotheses.
I think teachers should have high expectations, to help their students set goals and believe in their dreams, to feel that every day and every child is special. Social studies, science fairs, drama, art and music should be a celebration of the small things, the process of accumulation and application of knowledge, where we notice little things and become aware of little things and observe how they grow into bigger things. Both teacher and student should not be content in merely acquiring knowledge for its own sake, but in the acquisition and application of wisdom. Too many schools tend to just focus on knowledge alone, and miss the larger lessons of humanity, which are understanding, awareness, compassion and action. Without these greater attributes, knowledge alone is counter-productive and a mere extension of our own egos.
Children need basic skills to live a good life, to make a living, to know where money comes from and how to invest it, how to maintain friendships, to survive when life can get tough, to never give up and never give in, to stand up to anyone or anything that does not feel right to them and to lend a helping hand to others not as fortunate. Whether we believe in the Golden Rule, Karma or cause and effect, it is a basic life lesson that what we put out comes back, that choices have consequences. Students should be taught not in mere words but by example, not to gossip about others but to show empathy, not to feel superior but to be thankful. School should be a place that prepares us for life ahead, that helps us live each day to the fullest and encourages us to be the very best that we can be. I hope when our students look back that they will know the difference, and know that we genuinely cared for each of them. It’s not about drilling the facts, it is about living the lessons.
It has been a wonderful twenty plus years, and we know we’ve made a difference when many of our former students and our children are returning to work for us and also are enrolling their own children. Life is good.
Teresa Lewis is the Co-Founder of Discovery Academy.