Q&A: ‘Our blended program naturally allowed for ebb and flow of closures’

Written by Christine Cooke

October 8, 2020

“The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, information-centric, and individualized. The future of education will require schools to match,” says Kim Goates, the executive director of Canyon Grove Academy, a charter school offering a quasi-homeschool experience.

Even prior to coronavirus, students at Canyon Grove Academy had a wide range of options for in-person coursework. Students could take classes in the school building anywhere from one to five days a week and then structure their learning from home the rest of the time with the help of the school.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, public charter schools like Canyon Grove Academy may soon become the norm for public schooling: creative and flexible, with individualized offerings that allow the creation of a school day as unique as the family and student.

Now more than ever before, public education has work to do in order to match today’s realities and uncertainties. We sat down with Goates to talk about Canyon Grove Academy and innovating public education generally.

Christine Cooke, Sutherland Institute education policy fellow: What is the philosophy behind Canyon Grove Academy?

Goates: Canyon Grove Academy develops student leaders with a sense of understanding and compassion for others, their community, and the environment. We deliver personalized learning, centering instruction on the abilities, interests, needs and experiences of each student. Canyon Grove’s mission is to be an environmentally responsible and multisensory learning center that empowers students to be accountable for their educational journey. In other words, our mission is to give students and their families the tools, experiences, and support needed to ensure that students have a solid academic foundation and are thriving.

Cooke: How has your school been able to deal with the changes due to COVID-19 school closures and reopenings?

Goates: Our blended/distance program naturally allowed for the ebb and flow of COVID-19 school closures. We already are set up to work with parents who want to be involved with their students’ education, but who need the tools and guidance to ensure that learning together builds relationships instead of straining them. Our resource library has an abundance of learning tools to encourage students to research and explore, engaging students both at school and at home. We offer a multitude of options such as participating in onsite or at-home experiential learning, using a variety of vetted and aligned curricula, and various creative assessments to confirm true learning progress. COVID-19 simply opened up additional ways for us to serve our families and their students as they enjoy walking their personalized pathway of learning together.

Cooke: What would you tell parents who are interested in the unique offering like Canyon Grove Academy but unsure how to begin a new approach to schooling?

Goates: We will walk you through it, step by step. Whether your student is an in-person or at-home learner, we help provide an innovative learning environment for students that encourages them to grow through their experiences and capture learning in their student portfolio, while also practicing essential preparatory skills contained in the Utah state standards.

Our mathematics, reading and science programs are not limited to a single commercial textbook or program. Instruction comes from a schoolwide library of lesson plans and resources teaching inquiry using kits and equipment to support these project-based unit studies. This helps students develop an interest and, eventually, an active role in their own learning journey while keeping alive the joy of learning. For the student-directed portion of the learning process, students can check out lessons, resources, and supplies throughout the year to guide and support their individual investigations, including microscopes, rock testing kits, literature studies, math games, music and art kits, coding and engineering materials, etc.

Families are assigned an Educational Specialist who walk through the collaborative process of creating the student’s educational plan and create the best individualized learning experiences for the student.

Cooke: How do you “empower students to be accountable for their educational journey,” as stated in your mission statement?

Goates: Sir Walter Scott stated, “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” We empower our students by providing them with the opportunity to work independently. We hold them accountable by assessing their learning and checking their progress. We provide opportunities for communication and collaboration with other students to celebrate their work and improve their thinking skills.

A motivated student is in that magic learning zone of being challenged. If their pursuits are too easy, they can be bored. If their pursuits are too hard, the student can shut down.

Cooke: What will it take for state and local leaders to rethink public education? How do we start developing a truly innovative mindset in public policies?

Goates: Preparing our children for the future will require cooperation between parents and educators as we explore new methods of learning, such as on-demand libraries, remote tutors, and education plans that cater to children’s individual strengths and interests. The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, information-centric, and individualized. The future of education will require schools to match.

Canyon Grove Academy embraces both the traditional and the cutting edge. Canyon Grove values the methods that have educated generations of Americans to be freedom-loving, problem-solving, and adversity-overcoming. Canyon Grove also recognizes that modern problems will require modern innovation. At Canyon Grove, we hope to provide a template for that future while at the same time cherishing and preserving the roots of traditional education.

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