The Island Academy is wrapping up its third year on Hilton Head Island and is looking forward to welcoming its first kindergarten students in the fall.
The innovative K-12 school takes an alternative approach to education, using a hands-on, individualized project-based curriculum meant to promote a love of learning.
The atmosphere of the school is laid back. Students do not wear uniforms. Sometimes they don’t even wear shoes.
They don’t have homework or participate in standardized testing. They have meditation time twice a week and yoga on Fridays.
There is no cafeteria; students bring their own lunch. They eat where they want. There are no janitors; the students work together to keep the building clean.
With an eight-to-one student-to-teacher ratio, teachers are able to really get to know their students and their learning styles. But students are the ones who decide what they will learn over the course of a year.
At the beginning of each school year, students sit down with their teachers and create their own learning goals.
“We really see the kids as individuals,” said head of school Mary Ann Cyr. “This allows us to always meet the child where he or she is. And that’s the whole child – that’s academically, physically, emotionally.”
The school’s director of development, Jennifer Winzeler, said the school’s method of teaching allows students to take responsibility for their education. Despite being assigned no homework, many of the children work on projects after school because they are so excited to learn.
Since Island Academy does not use standardized testing, the school is not accredited. “Students are registered with the state homeschool association. So technically they are homeschoolers,” Winzeler said. “However, we meet and exceed all state requirements and all credits are recognized by higher education institutions and colleges.”
To measure learning, the children complete projects and present their work quarterly to a panel of teachers, peers, parents and outside mentors.
While there are currently 25 students enrolled, the school is looking at between 36 and 40 students next school year.
With three children of her own at the Island Academy, Winzeler has seen firsthand how the school’s method of teaching benefits not only the children, but their families.
“It’s totally changed our home life,” Winzeler said. “It’s not like come home, get homework done, get dinner, finish the homework, go to bed. We can play, and there’s not so much stress. … This school is such a testimony to the fact that we don’t even need to push them. They just want to learn.”
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.