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Skyview Learning Academy thinking big as student body grows

May 13, 2018 GMT

DOUGLAS — When Michele Ray opened Skyview Learning Academy in 2014, she didn’t dream big enough — at least in terms of school size.

The schoolhouse is nestled on a 20-acre plot in Douglas with a pond, a 60-tree orchard and freely roaming dogs, cats and chickens. Offering an education that emphasizes outdoor time, practical learning and Christian values was Ray’s driving force for opening the school.

“I wanted something different for my kids than what was offered (in public schools). Getting kids outside in nature, teaching them healthy living, must start when they’re this big,” Ray said, holding her hand out waist-high.

But she didn’t anticipate how fast that would catch on. Enrollment doubled from 13 to 26 in its second academic year, and 38 students signed on for 2017-18.

To accommodate the growing student body, Ray replaced the cafeteria with classroom space. Skyview has also built a new chicken coop and raised garden beds.

The 6,000-square-foot building currently includes a media center, kitchen and gymnasium, but Ray hopes to add a two-level entryway, two more classrooms, a cafeteria and mud room.

Next year, Ray wants to enroll 60 students, which would allow her to hire a teacher’s aide. There are currently four teachers who are responsible for an array of duties in the school, from driving the bus to cleaning.

Ray raised tuition from $450 to $600 per month to help fund the projects, and Skyview also hosts a yearly banquet that raises about $5,000 to $6,000.

For the parents who enroll their students at Skyview, “it’s about priorities,” Ray said.

Tina Doerr, who sent her daughters Madi and Millie to the school for their first year in 2017-18, said she finds its tuition a worthwhile expense because of the unique learning experience.

“I love the nature focus and the Christian atmosphere,” she said. “I feel like being outside they develop so much better. … It forces them to use their imaginations 100 percent.”

Doerr said the school also offers a more tailored approach to education, allowing students to learn at their own pace. With smaller class sizes, teachers have more opportunity for one-on-one instruction.

Students from preschool to eighth grade have at least an hour of unstructured outdoor time every day.

In addition to the schoolhouse expansion, Ray also plans to double the orchard size, plant gardens and build a geothermal greenhouse. Construction on the greenhouse will start Sunday.

The crops would not only bolster the practical education Skyview offers, but could also provide food and income, Ray said.

The school isn’t modeled after any other examples, she said, but she believes its common-sense approach to education is appealing to families and will allow students to succeed in the real world as well as the classroom.

“It doesn’t do us any good to have academic geniuses if they can’t do practical life skills,” she said.