A one-size-fits-all approach to schooling simply won’t cut it anymore. For a model on the future of education, we sat down with director and child behavior specialist Brandy Simison to explore how her school, All-Star Academy, ensures the thriving of all students in the classroom.
We’re all about celebrating women who are disrupting the old-school approach to their industries. Today, we’re using that term literally.
Think back to when you were a child in the classroom. Did you feel seen and heard, or were you just one of many? When your emotions caused you to act out, were those underlying feelings addressed – or were you simply sent to be apart from your peers? Did the teachers see something special in you – or did your potential go unnoticed?
The problems you may have encountered during your time in school are still faced by many of the children of today. Throw in a new emphasis on mental health and anxiety, as well as a global pandemic that’s left many children behind in social and academic progression – and it’s clear that our kids deserve better out of their education.
For a breath of fresh air, I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down for a call with Brandy Simison, the director of All-Star Academy in Preston, Washington, to discuss her innovative approach and thoughts on the future of education. Simison – a former children’s psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner – has the insight to help children thrive in their education and has developed her school to do just that.
She joins me at the end of a fun and meaningful day with the students at All-Star. In the space of a day, they’re touched on all the staples you’d expect: mathematics, language arts, science, and more – but there’s also time for play, meditation, and even horseback rides in equitation class (made possible by an on-site stable).
“We want our students to be future leaders in the area that they choose,” Simison says. “Their path should be one that lights them up that inspires them – our job as educators is to help them discover it.”
But before somebody can reach their full potential as a leader, they must reach their current potential as a young student. This is where Simison’s school excels. It all begins when a new student enrolls with a tailored approach.
We’re all unique – and so are our kids. What one student finds as a challenge, another will be naturally gifted towards – and vice versa. Many children also cope with anxiety disorders, ADD, and dyslexia. For Simison, the key to helping everyone succeed is to get to the heart of their individual traits as a learner.
At All-Star, Simison uses the world-renowned Woodcock Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities. This test – administered by an outside licensed psychologist – is used to assess where the student is performing well cognitively and where more focus is needed.
Of course, Simison has her own All-Star spin on this classic and highly acclaimed assessment: the school has incorporated trampolines into the test’s protocol so the process can be as fun as it is informative.
The insight from assessments like these set the stage for specialized learning. “We’re actually able to target the root cause of a student’s problems,” Simison explains. “That sets the stage for us to get them to their current potential because we know specifically what cognitive processes within the brain we have to build on.”
It’s not just the academic traits of a student that Simison focuses on, but also the interests and curiosity that fuel their discovery of passions.
“It’s all about getting to know them,” Simison says. “That’s why we have classes of only eight students – so the teacher can honestly get to know each of their students individually.”
These eight student classrooms are central to the teaching model at All-Star, allowing the curriculum to be tailored to the unique sparks that will drive each student to engage and learn. Every student is at a different place cognitively – especially true for new students who fell through the cracks at other schools – so this small and intimate environment allows teachers to work with students based on what their needs are.
But, just as you’ve surely experienced with your own kids, it isn’t always smooth sailing. “It’s true,” Simison laughs, “kids can really disrupt learning.” All-Star teachers are trained in what’s known as restorative correction – which focuses on the underlying factors that cause kids to sometimes misbehave, rather than simply assigning time-outs and expecting the problem to just go away.
“Disruptive behaviors fall into one of four categories,” Simison says. “It’s either misguided attention, misguided power, revenge, or assumed inadequacy.” Restorative correction trains teachers to identify these factors and respond meaningfully and productively to the student’s needs.
Fortunately, these moments are far and few between compared to most classrooms – much thanks to a focus on the development of students’ emotional intelligence.
From social moments on the school’s expansive playground to a dedicated class on emotional regulation, coping skills, and relationship building, EQ is just as crucial as IQ for the modern student to be set up for both happiness and success. At All-Star, there are even regular yoga and meditation sessions strung between activities.
“They’re so much more calm and centered,” Simison says, speaking to the results of these practices. “So many kids today struggle with things like anxiety and ADD. Teaching mindfulness gives them the tools to manage those symptoms and calm their brain down.”
If you’re wondering where educators like Simison were when you were going through elementary school – I’m right there with you!
With a specialized approach to learning – and a perspective that finds holistic paths to the current potential of students – Brandy Simison is a leader in the modern education space and All-Star Academy is a model to follow.