We are different. That phrase kept being said so much that we made a big banner for the first day of school this year and displayed it outside! We do our best to explain how we work, and the more we talk about it usually the more excited we become at the progress and possibilities we have made and which are in our future. Typically, in any conversation with an inquiring person, at some point, we say, "It's just different.", as a comprehensive way of trying to help others realize there's no direct comparison to anywhere else of what our program is truly like. We are just us. Many people don't like current school options and are fleeing those institutions coming to us to get away from them. As we grow to be more secure in who we are as a new school in the making, we want to share many examples of why to choose us and when not to choose us. We are not for everyone, and that's ok.
We are about to wrap-up our second year and this year looks different than the last. Next year will further evolve. Last year, we started with just nineteen learners in three studios and three teachers (plus Mrs. Koch, Head of School, so technically, four). Our goal is to help students be as learner-led as possible and give them the tools to be in charge of that learning and their own success, thus preventing them from being held back from a room full of learners all needing step-by-steps from one individual and missing opportunities to grow and learn for their own individual needs. As our mission statement says, "At Vandermont, through our personalized learning paths, we empower inquisitive students to develop their interests and God-given abilities to achieve their highest goals while inspiring them to learn confidently and lead purposeful lives." Our staffing and number of students grew substantially this year. We get inquiries all year round, and we hope to offer our program to more and more who are seeking what we have to offer. Last May, we closed the admission doors at an admitted 68 learners for this academic year, and have kids on a waiting list that goes all the way to 2027. (They have to go through the admissions process and admission is not guaranteed despite being on the waitlist.) We know we have created something meaningful and purposeful and are working each day to fine-tune and mold our methods and learn more and more about how to explain ourselves so it is easily explained and interpreted. As with any new venture, things are constantly evolving, and if they are not, we are not doing a good enough job.
Choose us because we are a program that has the ability to change quickly when needed. Don't choose us because you want layers of administration and many panels and groups or committees, hired or volunteered, where adults get together and take over opportunities for kids to learn to handle things on their own. When these panels and heavy-handed boards are created, chances are policies and curriculums end up morphing things into the way adults function best, and that is not who we are. We love input and thrive off of new ideas, but it must be with the kids in mind, and if we can give ownership to the kids for the task at hand and decision-making, that is where we want to go! We want to invite kids into decision-making, debate, and planning, and it is through trial and error and gentle guidance, that the learners will be able to learn and grow authentically and ideally function well and confidently in society.
Choose us because the work you see is all done by the children and you like that and appreciate the efforts that went into it more than anything, even if it's not the most beautiful perfect work because it's done by... the kids. (Not the parents or teachers.) If you don't like the current school you're at because you want bigger or more parties, or celebration days for a parent or staff-guided spirit week, or a day of celebration which does not relate to children and teenagers, yet it is expected that the children must participate or care, we are not that. So much of that falls on the parents to do or create and is usually not meaningful or applicable to the kids. Don't get us wrong... we love to celebrate big and little things and have everything from impromptu dance parties and school dances with karaoke, to sliding down the halls in our socks, and many other ways that build fond memories. We definitely know how to have fun, and it is a daily goal to bring joy and happiness to each student because this is their life we are a part of and we are intentional with the time we are given with them. The time and resources given by parents to big class parties etc., if it's not helping to meet the purpose or goals of the students, in our opinion, is better spent on filling their minds with genuine learning fun, or educational activities while at school.
Choose us if you believe it is important in life to be flexible, if you embrace the messiness of the learning process, for if it is authentic, it is not a straight line. It is a journey filled with detours and fascinating twists and turns... just like real life.
Choose us if you and your children have an innate curiosity and a drive to learn because you desire to, not because someone makes you or bribes the work to be done. It may be a difficult task sometimes, but we do hard things at Vandermont because that work is important for our futures, not because we just have a limitless checklist of state standards to get through in a set amount of time all in the same exact way. We are not a place that teaches a test to simply pass a test, but instead, find interesting ways to teach important standards to mastery (while having fun and working hard)! We do our work all the way with diligence and perseverance because we strive for excellence, and are not satisfied with creeping by with the bare minimum. Our sense of responsibility is high because everything we do matters to us and those around us and we choose to do right and understand why that is important. The little things make up the big things.
Choose us for our dedication to accepting responsibility. We do not encourage victimhood and look for ways to accept our part and teach to do so in any disagreement or misstep. We understand that gratitude is the only elixir for victimhood and strive to see the good in things. We are not a place where pointing fingers elsewhere for our own behaviors is welcome. It does not help move "the ball" forward and just adds stress to our environment which is unnecessary and prevents us from having time we'd rather spend developing our program and working with the learners. Other schools and programs are dealing with daily violence, foul language from all ages, teaching hatred and division, compulsive lying, and politics of all shapes and sizes, and the kids are absorbing it all and sorting through what it all means and how it applies to them. We are so different. At Vandermont, we stop what we are doing to vacuum because our space is dirty, or when there is a misunderstanding we get together and talk about it to get to the core of the heart work- which so often ends up simply being a misunderstanding or learning to deal with our feelings and reactions- steering that into a positive direction and learning experience. Again, the small things make up the big things. Those small character oversights when left unacknowledged can build to be large ones, and our bar is high for becoming responsible individuals from a young age. At Vandermont, mistakes are welcomed and encouraged because it proves to us that the kids are trying. We take the time to explain the "why's" and "how's" which in the long run help so much more to understand things better and set up future successes.
Choose us because we prefer quality over quantity. Our admission process has been completely revamped this year and has worked well to help us determine who gets invitations to join the program. Vandermont is not a program that desires or needs to be doubling its enrollment each year in order to simply fill seats. We are blessed by a hard-working individual who donates monthly to fill gaps in the operating costs while the school grows inherently. We seek families which are looking for purposeful and fulfilling educational journeys based on Biblical principles, high character, hard work, curiosity, resilience, self-motivation, vision, eagerness, accountability, and self-control, and having a growth mindset to see the positive side of things when it seems like there's no way through and participating in creating reasonable solutions. If you love to spew discontentment or use the school as a punching bag for personal stress relief or have a soapbox platform for personal gain, please do not choose us. We have big goals and dreams ahead which we are taking steps towards every day and prefer to devote our time to that. We are dedicated to our mission and values and desire to partner with parents and learners who are too!
Choose us because we inspire and encourage our learners to think for themselves not because you just don't like what or how the other schools are teaching. We protect children's hearts and minds from all the yucky stuff going on outside the walls while practicing solid Biblical principles for a strong foundation while respectfully disagreeing with a different point of view, facing a challenge or even celebrating a success! Choose us because we don't pretend the world is full of unicorns and rainbows and responsibility always takes precedence over irresponsibility. We look at the "whole child" to make decisions on what is best for them and our school. Our decisions are based on things that are developmentally appropriate for children, and what will add value and benefit to them as a student, and also as a member of a community and society as a whole.
Choose us if you see value in studios functioning like small communities within a larger one. We are a school where students on their own level can learn many different skills from a program of "whole school teachers" and not only a single studio teacher. Different people offer different strengths, and we care about the successes of all of our learners so all teachers know all learners which makes it feel more "at home" while at school.
Choose us because you have poured into your kids with regard to high character, honesty, respect, kindness, accountability, hard work, and discipline and we will also pour into them in the seven hours each day we are with them to reinforce those qualities... and so will their peers. Please don't choose us if you want freedom for your children with no risk of natural consequences from those around them. Life is not always fair. We strive to help the learners do their best and take strides in maturity as they grow in understanding sometimes even when we do our best, it may not be the outcome we were hoping for, but we can rest assured we represented ourselves well and in a wholesome way. We do our best to be diligent in investigating disagreements and finding processes to forgive and solutions that work for everyone while acceptance of responsibility is taken where applicable.
Choose us because we fight for Vandermont to be a safe place for kids to just be kids. We seek to guard them from dark, worldly things that can steal innocence from them. We pray over each and every learner and family regularly and want their purpose to come to light more and more each day.
Choose us because we continually seek ways to serve students on an individual level while also challenging them to work with excellence. If specific information about how your child learns or behaves has been withheld from the school, which is trying its best to teach and help that child specifically grow and learn, it is a setup for disappointment and stress for all involved. We are not a program with the specific curriculum and training for severe learning or behavioral differences and have never claimed to be. There are many amazing places that do those things very well, and kids deserve that if it's what they need in order to succeed. This school is full of people who deeply care for each student, and we diligently seek to help students find the best path for them. If you want teachers to "teach to the middle" where everyone gets just the average experience, there are many other schools out there that do this well, too. We are not one of them. We strive to reach each child's full potential and lean on their strengths to help them accomplish their goals. In our learner-led community, students must be able to think critically for themselves and work towards solutions in their academic and project-work often on their own, which lends them stronger life skills in the long run. If you desire coddling for kids who just don't want to do their work, we are not that either. When a student is having a hard time or exhibits they aren't wanting to do their work, we take the time to see how they feel and why, and sometimes it is something they are worried about or bothering them from outside school time or even just that they are tired from the night before... and we can talk that through with them and take that into consideration when working with them to decide their workload for that day. We relay to them that the workload doesn't go away, but we can shift it differently in the week so that relief can come during the tough time, but importantly, the work is theirs to complete when they feel ready to take it head-on and meet their personal goal they set for completing it. Being able to work in collaboration is also vital in our school. We learn from each other and thrive in group work because together often we are stronger and in life, collaborating is one thing that will be something we do from young until old. We desire to teach these skills so they can do this well and have deeper success, and love to see them choose needs over wants when necessary!
Lastly, choose us if you are a reasonable and understanding family. We are a new program. Most people don't start schools because it is extremely difficult and very expensive, but here we are! We don't claim to know it all and will make mistakes and try things that don't work well and learn from them in order to succeed. We are fulfilling a purpose led by God. That being said, the parent partnership between the school community (staff, other parents, experts, school vendors, volunteers, etc.) is vital to the holistic experience of our school and all who are a part of it. We focus highly on the Christian aspects of the Fruits of the Spirit each day with all our learners and interactions. If parents don't also work to instill these vital aspects of the Christian life, we don't have a very strong partnership. (Think of a strand of three cords: family, church, and school all working together.) It all matters. How teachers are treated matters. They are hard-working, flexible, eager, creative, intelligent, Godly people who deserve respect and choose each day to pour into the learners in a purposeful and lasting way while having fun together as much as possible 40+ hours a week. How a parent talks to a vendor the school uses when shirts are running late because inventory is hard to get, matters. How our community members are represented online or in public matters fore outwardly, we are representing the Biblical principles we say we strive for. No one is perfect, and we don't desire fake goodness either. We understand we are all unique and can communicate differently, but it's important to seek a match in intentions and actions and preferably from a place of positive productivity, just like we seek to do. Whether a parent comes to us with an open mind for finding solutions (moving things forward) versus buckets of blame and deflection (holds back productivity) matters. We have goals. Our learners have goals. Our staff has goals. Our parent community has goals for their children and families. We are a place where goals, a ton of research, and the best of intentions are the frameworks for which we function, and strong parent partnerships are the links we need to truly fulfill the learners' educational journey successfully.
Choose us for who we are, not for what we are not. We are different.