March 9, 2023
When I first launched my school we wanted to create programs that were accessible to more students than just our own. The reasoning for this was multi-faceted. We wanted to have an impact on the community and reach as many youths as possible. The goal was to offer programs for students who might not have access to them otherwise. And, less altruistically, we needed to pay the bills.
When we opened UP Academy we were focused on creating an inclusive environment for students with and without physical disabilities. Our goal was to create a methodology that could be replicated and shared so that we could support students all over the world. We intentionally wanted to have as many programs in the school as we could so that parents and students didn’t need to run to several after-school programs to fill in the gaps for their children. We envisioned push-in therapies, Spanish, Mandarin, SEL (Social Emotional Learning), Art, Coding, Music, Entrepreneurship, STEAM, and of course a full academic curriculum. We offered several of our classes to the homeschool community to come and join us for a few hours a week as we built our programs and worked to create community.
As our community grew we realized that having the homeschooled students in for only a few hours was quite disruptive. They didn’t know our culture, they didn’t use our vocabulary, and they weren’t there for the lessons where we were building our agreements. It became challenging. Slowly we stopped offering classes and only offered spots on our planned field trips, then we stopped doing that as well. Our SEL went from an extracurricular class to training our full educator team so that it could become part of our culture, Coding became part of technology and robotics, and entrepreneurship became wrapped into projects. Most recently we have struggled with finding a Spanish partner to continue our Spanish classes. As we grew, things that were less important to our vision and mission began to fall away.
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly everyone was online, everyone was homeschooling, and everyone needed support. As an educator, a human, and as a school, we wanted to help and provide solutions. We offered our language and art classes to the community for free. We launched a homeschool program, an educational support program, and an online project-based learning program. These programs lasted through the pandemic and then we had to question, “who are we?” “What impact do we want to make?” “What is the best way to make that happen?”
Once again we began stripping back programs. We dropped the homeschool program, the educational support program, and the online school. We learned the lessons from launching these programs. We were able to help and support families when they needed it but were mindful that our goal was to create a methodology that could be replicated and shared so that we could support students all over the world. To do that we had to focus on the goal. Although helping others is at the core of our fabric and essentially why we founded our school, helping through these pandemic programs meant we were not able to focus and support our community and families in our own school to the fullest. It was time to bring all of our energy back home.
What’s the moral of the story? As a founder, as an entrepreneur, try things, create programs, and support your community, but don’t be afraid to let those ideas and programs go. Decide what you are going to stand for, decide what you are going to do, and then do it well. As intentionally as we design, and as well-meaning as our intentions might be, when we try to be all things to all people, no one succeeds. Do your thing.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Tanya Sheckley for Intrepid Ed News.