Find this story and more HERE, in the Feb. 2017 TPH Stallion Issue
Written by TPH Editor Sissy Wickes
The robin’s egg blue walls and orderly rows of classic children’s books welcome visitors to Open Minds Academy in Wellington, Florida. A friendly greeting from behind the safety glass window is followed by a door opening and the outstretched hands of the elementary school’s co-founders, Sara Frost and Tyler Shernoff. Both with Master’s Degrees in Education, the young women have carefully designed an individualized approach to learning at Open Minds Academy.
Established in 2014, Open Minds is a beautiful space where every detail is tailored to meet the needs of its elementary aged students. The mission of Open Minds is to provide an academic experience that is customized to the child and responsive to their families’ schedules. The school is mostly comprised of seasonal students whose families are in Wellington for equestrian activities. In addition, it offers a full time, year round, online program for students who do not want to be in a traditional school setting. Frost and Shernoff are sensitive to the many demands on a family in transit, including changing work schedules, interfacing with home based schools, and the social challenges of transition.
“My daughter has been a student at OMA for the past two years. The exceptional program affords her the opportunity to flexibly schedule her school hours so she can participate in equestrian events and training to reach her riding goals. She loves the customized curriculum built around her learning style, and surpasses the education she received in her former full time gifted program. ” – Open Minds Academy Parent
The approach of the professionals at Open Minds is holistic as they endeavor to enhance all aspects of the experience of the child and family. Open Minds collaborates and communicates with the child’s home -based school in order to follow the same academic programs. It seeks a seamless transition for the students by ensuring that they follow the same academic schedule as their classmates at home. Further, the professionals at Open Minds will provide concierge services for families to identify everything from kid’s activities to dentists to specialized sports. As Shernoff explains, “We are not Just about academics. We want to make sure that we care for the whole child.”
The academic program at Open Minds Academy features no greater than a one-to-three tutor to student ratio. For those who may need more individualized tutoring, it offers one-on-one instruction as well. Students are grouped by age and learning style. Students as young as age four attend the program and are afforded best practices in early education programs, including computer coding. Upon enrollment, each individual is evaluated and assessed in order to pair him or her with the appropriate tutor and study group. Every student works in small pods in an open classroom format. Each pod includes a certified teacher who contributes to the academic progress of the student as he or she works on personalized curriculum. The tutors communicate with the student’s home school in order to ensure that the student is progressing on the same track as his or her classmates at home. Each week, the Open Minds tutor submits a report to the home school delineating the work completed and highlighting the student’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the tutor submits a weekly email to the family summarizing the activities, accomplishments, and challenges of the week. At the end of its stay at Open Minds, each family receives a notebook and digital copy of the work that its children produced, their weekly evaluations, and any reports submitted to the home schools.
“OMA is a fun program with creative and caring teachers and is the perfect solution for young equestrians or any family looking for a top-notch personalized educational experience.” – Open Minds Academy Parent
While Open Minds is a superior academic institution, the program is also about fun. Students are dropped off between 8:45 and 9 :00 AM and begin their day with movement activities at a gymnastics center next door. What a fabulous way to begin a school day! The academic program runs from 9:30- 12:30. Students work on their customized curriculum and are given the option to enroll in foreign language and computer coding programs. For families who wish their children to stay through lunch, a local organic restaurant provides nutritious and wholesome fare. From 1:00- 2:00, families may enroll in the Enrichment Activity option that includes a rotating program offering art, brain games, writers’ workshop, science, music, yoga, and more.
“When I went to regular school I didn’t get as much time to ride and it was hard. Now that I go here I have a lot more time to ride. I like the tutors and the kids.” – Blythe, age 11 (5th grade)
Open Minds Academy offers the best in staff including highly qualified tutors, a licensed school psychologist who is able to conduct educational testing, and a speech and language pathologist. The tutors are equipped to work with students with learning differences or social challenges. Paramount to the staff at Open Minds is a positive, productive experience for the child. “We believe in positive reinforcement,” explains Shernoff. “We tailor the educational program to the child and follow the home school’s program. For us, it is about acclimation, not assimilation.” The staff at Open Minds believes in the importance and ease of the social component for each student. It practices community building within the school as well as facilitating the student’s communication with friends at home. “We want the kids to have a strong social group here at school as well as maintain their friends at home. Some kids have a hard time transitioning. We have a Pen Pal program so that they can keep in touch with friends at home, ” says Frost. From academics to recreation to social needs, Open Minds Academy is committed to the best experience for its students. The program is well constructed, well tested, and clearly reflected in the smiles of the kids in the classroom.