Back to Basics Learning at Ivywood Classical Academy

This tuition-free public school academy, located in Plymouth, offers its students a rich, traditional education that looks more like moms and dads experienced during their school years.

You don’t have to live in Plymouth or the surrounding area to attend Ivywood Classical Academy. In fact, students can come from anywhere to learn at Ivywood, and they do.

And don’t let the idea of classical education intimidate you. This back-to-basics approach to education is truly for any student.

“One of the common misconceptions that we’ve come across with families coming in and inquiring about the school is they just feel like the curriculum maybe is not for their child,” Stephanie Kooiker, school principal says. “This curriculum can be for every child — no matter what their ability is, they can gain something from coming to our school.”

The curriculum is just one component of a classical education, which is what families will find at Ivywood — currently teaching students in kindergarten through sixth grades with plans to expand one grade per year until they offer K-12 learning.

Here, Kooiker breaks down what a classical education means and why it truly is for everyone.

What is a classical education?

When you think of classical education, think of a back-to-basics approach to learning. The “traditional education” approach is what you’ll find here, with smaller class sizes and a community feel. The classroom environment is paired with virtuous education and a content-rich curriculum. Every morning, students gather for an assembly and begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We have a really great culture and community. It’s a wonderful group. It’s a very inclusive and structured environment,” she says. “Classical education lends itself to that, so our students in every classroom sit in desks and rows. We don’t have tables, but students still learn together and have thought-provoking conversations.”

Teachers lead the instruction through Socratic teaching, which empowers critical thinking and retention of materials.

“We believe that the teacher is the expert in the room, and he or she should be the one leading the discussions and teaching the children,” Kooiker notes.

When it comes to instruction, it might remind you more of what learning was like when you were a child. Ivywood uses Singapore Math, which focuses on learning math concepts and facts. There’s an emphasis on learning to read and write in cursive — everything is written in cursive starting in the third grade.

“One of the reasons that we teach cursive handwriting is so that way the students can read it. Because if you can’t read cursive, you can’t read historical documents,” Kooiker says.

This includes classical literature and poetry, which is studied in every grade.

“When students study classical poetry, they not only analyze the poem and find meaning behind it, they memorize the poem — and students do individual poetry recitations even in kindergarten,” she says. The goal is to familiarize students with classical poetry, to work on memory skills and to practice public speaking.

Students in grades 3-5 study Greek and Latin roots, and, beginning in sixth grade, they learn Latin. Students are immersed in the study of the fine arts, which includes not only the creation of art and performance of music, but also the history and theory. Students develop an ear and eye for analyzing masterworks from every era. Instruction in the fine arts follows the Core Knowledge Sequence. As a result, many of the topics covered in music or art connect to what students are reading in literature or U.S. or American history and world history.

You won’t find a ton of tech at Ivywood. While teachers have laptops and projectors — and there are Chromebooks student use — kids can only use them about 30 minutes per week to learn typing skills and how to type an essay.

Rooted in virtues

From day one, students at Ivywood will feel and see the difference. The curriculum and culture are rooted in core virtues, meaning that students don’t focus on one-character trait, like kindness, for a month. The virtues are embedded in their day-to-day life in and out of the classroom all year long.

“We have seven core virtues, and these are virtues that remain the same for years to come,” Kooiker says. The virtues include courage, respect, excellence, integrity, humility, self-government and wonder. “The students are taught what these virtues mean. They are taught what it means to display these virtues, but then they are embedded into the curriculum, so the teacher will point out virtuous behavior in the context of history” or literature and even in the classroom setting.

“When kids are taught to have integrity or seek wonder, it sparks a love for learning that could last a lifetime, and that is our mission at Ivywood — graduate life-long learners, who have strong moral character,” Kooiker adds.

Content brought to you by Ivywood Classical Academy. For more information, visit


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