At Ivywood Classical Academy, students are immersed in an education that probably looks very familiar to their parents. “Our No.1 question is what makes a classical education different?” says Stephanie Kooiker, Principal at Ivywood Classical Academy, a K-8 tuition-free charter public school in Plymouth. “When parents are thinking about sending their children to Ivywood, they’re eager to learn what we teach and why it’s different.”
Within the American classical education at Ivywood Classical Academy are unique differences that parents won’t find at their traditional neighborhood public schools. Founded in partnership with Hillsdale College, and as a Hillsdale College Member School, Ivywood Classical Academy receives curriculum and support from the college’s professors and K-12 education staff.
“Not many local districts teach Latin,” Kooiker says. “That really helps us stand out and makes us unique.”
Kooiker quotes a faculty member from Hillsdale Academy, a fellow Hillsdale College Member School, who says “Latin unlocks a wealth of Western literature and learning. Learning Latin is an excellent tool to develop the virtues of patience, perseverance, diligence and humility.”
Students begin to learn Greek and Latin roots in third grade and by sixth grade, they are studying Latin every day. “By the time they are sixth graders, they are in their fourth year of studying Latin,” Kooiker says, adding that Ivywood’s classical curriculum also includes a strong emphasis on Roman culture.
“We know that when students study a language, it’s important to study the culture and customs and get a whole understanding of traditions and geography. It really makes for a more well-rounded class,” she says.
The philosophy of the school maintains that education is delivered through the expertise of the teacher, who has authority over the classroom. Students, however, are active participants in their education and are encouraged to engage in dialogue through the Socratic method.
Students also learn personal discipline and moral character. “Our students are really well behaved and we pride ourselves on learning the virtues and encourage virtuous behavior,” Kooiker says. “This is something you can feel when you come into the building and it’s very important.”
Here, we share other unique differences of the American classical education children get at Ivywood Classical Academy.
A new history curriculum
“A lot of schools don’t really teach history, but they teach social studies. We teach history and also geography,” Kooiker says. Beginning in 2021, Ivywood adopted the 1776 Curriculum, which was developed by a commission headed by the president of Hillsdale College and founded by the Trump administration.
“Our families love it,” Kooiker says. “Basically we use historical documents which are factual and the way history was always taught with no changes. It’s an unaltered history curriculum and our families appreciate that and do like the content and the concepts.”
Through a spiraling curriculum that begins early, kindergartners are intellectually challenged with studies of ancient Egypt. “Religion is also taught under the context of history. It’s a well-rounded curriculum with a strong emphasis on history and geography so students can tell what, where, why and how events happened,” Kooiker says.
Parents appreciate the “old school” approach to math because it’s straightforward and something they can relate to, she says. “When they join us at kindergarten, every student is on track to take pre-algebra in seventh grade and algebra in eighth grade. This means all students are a full year ahead of grade level,” Kooiker adds. Students can also take a math placement test and if they score well, they are placed in the next grade level for math, putting them ahead by two years.
In addition to phonics and grammar, students learn to diagram sentences, write in various formats and read whole literary works, beginning with poems and traditional fairy tales in early grades, and classic novels and plays in later grades. The curriculum is governed by the Barney Charter School Initiative of Hillsdale College and Ivywood Classical Academy will add one new grade each year, eventually becoming a full K-12 charter school.
Kindergarten is full day and students study all subjects every day, including history, geography, literature, literacy, math, science and writing. They attend art or music daily and PE every other day. “They also have recess and lunch and a couple of snack times and downtime built in,” Kooiker says. “It’s a very busy day.”
Beginning at the kindergarten level, Ivywood Classical Academy gives students an optimal foundation for their later years at the school. “When students start in kindergarten, they are used to the school format and the curriculum and how things are run, so when they enter fifth and sixth grade and study Latin, for example, it’s not so challenging for them,” she says. “It’s really, really beneficial for students to start at kindergarten and build those foundational skills they won’t get elsewhere so they can be successful at Ivywood.”
Lots of extracurriculars, too
In this small-by-design school, students also have access to an impressive selection of after-school clubs and extracurricular activities. “We have fencing, cross-country, track, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, culture club and Spanish club. We have gymnastics, veterinary science club, chess club, competitive cheer club, cooking club, French club, ballet and jazz, Latin, creative writing, debate team and ski club,” Kooiker says, adding that there are more clubs that start during the spring, too.
“We also have National Junior Honor Society,” she says.
Kooiker says she is proud of the community feel at the school. “There are two to three classes per grade level, so only about 60 to 90 students per grade,” she says. “We know all the students by name in the office, and that is so important to our students. That’s something that they’d really lose in a larger school. That community feeling is so important to all of us.”
Learn more about Ivywood Classical Academy at ivywoodclassicalacademy.com.