An Interview with Academy Principal Betsy Johnson
After another year of record growth in enrollment, I sat down with Academy for G.O.D. principal, Betsy Johnson, as she shared some thoughts after a full week of classes.
Can you give us the quick version of the growth arc for the Academy?
The Lord has been so good, it's really amazing. The Academy started in Fall 2013, we had 23 students in a K-6 program. This fall we have nearly 200 in a K-12 program!
At the end of our 4th year, last spring, we had 110 students, so it’s consistent with the growth pattern of nearly doubling each year. We’ve seen a lot of growth and interest.
This year marks a big jump in enrollment. can you tell me some of the contributing factors?
Well, an interesting point to note is that we haven’t spent a single dollar marketing our school. Instead, it is a lot of word of mouth. People tell their friends and family, the word continues to circulate. This year we’ve been able to accommodate for many of the new applicants.
In what ways is the Academy accommodating for so much growth?
A lot of our effort goes toward developing our teachers. They are our greatest resource, in terms of making our school what it is. They are in the classrooms,inspiring and educating, while also attending to the social and emotional needs of the students. So, we can only accommodate an influx of students if our teachers love their jobs, are competently performing, and are ready for growth. We believe they are. Our teachers really are the ones carrying out the mission and vision of the Academy on the day-to-day.
Over the summer we spent hours each week with our teachers, investing into them so that they can invest well into our students. They are really incredible people, but to be able to encourage them and push them to even develop further is a privilege. One thing that is unique is that at the Academy, you won’t see teachers finding their identity in their specific classroom, and that leaks over to the students as well. So, we emphasize students finding identity in their social groups. Those social groups are what stay in tact whether they are in the garden, on the soccer field, performing on a stage or learning in a traditional classroom. Our teachers work to create those strong social bonds among the students, while at the same time modeling that same cooperation with other teachers. Our staff is all great friends.
Can you share a few recent testimonies from Academy families?
I’ve been really thankful because parents have been really outspoken about their experiences by reaching out to call, or write an email, or talk with me at the back-to-school party, about their experience. I have two testimonies that come to mind right now, one is from a returning family. The mom sent me an email saying how notably different their summer was because of the way that their sons were able to interact together, with their cousins, and others, over the summer. Their extended family members could see the growth, and their home was much more peaceful. This mom expressed her gratitude to the Academy staff for working together to educate her children in the things that even affect their social relationships.
Also, over this past week, just a few days into their time with the Academy, new parents whose children have only been with us a few days have noted enthusiasm for school from their children that they’ve never seen before. Multiple parents have told us that they don't have to struggle to wake kids up out of bed anymore. They're ready to go! Still more parents of tutorial students (a homeschool 1-2 day program) are asking about enrolling in the 5 day program.
I’m so thankful for all of these testimonies. It's what we want for all of our kids.
In what ways do you see the vision for the Academy being enacted on a daily basis?
It really goes back to the mission statement: ”Holistically educating children to become responsible, kind and ethical neighbors; competent persons, globally conscious, and historically relevant.” This is not just one person’s responsibility, it’s everyone's: lead teachers, course teachers who teach specialty classes, administration. As a Category IV school, we are able to create our own curriculum, which gives us the freedom to emphasize their moral education, and learning the Bible. But these values aren’t just relegated to Bible classes, but the principles and ethics carry throughout the students’ Academy experience. The social and emotional learning is so important... and we train our teachers in how to do that appropriate to the age level, so we have 6-7 year olds having classes called “My Emotions” and our High Schoolers taking “Emotional Intelligence.” They are able to navigate intrapersonally how they are feeling and also interpersonally with the people around them, in a healthy way. Perspective taking and asking for forgiveness all contribute to a holistic education that will result in healthy adults. We really believe these kids are going to change the world.
What’s on the horizon?
Our high school program has grown and is continuing to grow! We had 3 students last year and now have 12. We are excited to be able to offer sports to our older students by partnering with another local private school--we are starting with volleyball in the fall, then soccer in the spring. There are great skills to be learned there. There is a High School mission to El Salvador slated for December. We’re also implementing a “Buddy Break” program that facilitates time within the school week for our Jr and Sr high students to work with students that have special needs. We're excited to see our older students continue to implement the values they've learned in order to strengthen others. That is what responsible, kind, ethical neighbors are all about.
Throughout the interview, Principal Johnson exuded thankfulness as she recalled and recounted the unfolding story being written at the Academy for G.O.D. It was clear that she could have continued sharing stories of the Lord’s faithfulness for quite a while longer, and that she was truly energized by the process of remembering and sharing. The Academy is surely growing, and it’s in more than just the number of students.
Written by C.F. Edwards