Parents love sending their children to Ivywood Classical Academy, a tuition-free public school academy in Plymouth, because they’re familiar with the traditional, rigorous, classical education their children receive. Perhaps that’s because it’s similar to the education they received when they were growing up, says Principal Stephanie Kooiker.
“We offer a traditional education, and that’s very important to parents and families. We are very low-tech and we use textbooks, pencils and paper, not computers and tablets,” Kooiker explains. “We teach math the old way, and a lot of families can relate to that.”
Ivywood Classical Academy is a small, close-knit school community where children are exposed to a back-to-basics approach to learning. It’s a place where — seated in rows with the teacher at the head of the classroom — students learn according to a traditional, rigorous education that includes cursive handwriting, phonics and history. In partnership with the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative, Ivywood’s curriculum is rich in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as principles of moral character and civic virtue.
Founded in 2019 as a K-5 school, Ivywood is expanding by adding sixth grade this year and a new grade each year until it becomes a full K-12 school.
Robust, respectful discussion
At the foundation of Ivywood’s educational philosophy is the Socratic method, which engages students in dialogue with their teacher. “In lower grades, from kindergarten through second grade, the teacher facilities whole-group Socratic discussions across the curriculum from literature to history, science and math,” Kooiker explains.
In third grade and above, the classroom teacher poses questions that form the basis for classroom discussions that are carried out in a respectful way. “We encourage students to ask why because it encourages their sense of wonder. When their questions are answered and they ask more questions, it really sparks a love of learning, which in turn encourages them to form their own opinions,” she says.
Building moral and intellectual leaders through classical education
A day in the life of an Ivywood student includes reading or listening to classical novels in their original, unabridged form. In lower grades, this might include Peter Pan, Jack and the Beanstalk and Charlotte’s Web. In upper grades, students read Don Quixote, Rip Van Winkle and Treasure Island.
In addition to exposing students to embedded school virtues, classical literature offers students the opportunity to broaden their vocabulary and reinforce correct grammar and sentence structure. “When students read or listen to books that have poor grammar, they begin to believe it’s correct,” Kooiker says.
At all levels, students study art history and music theory and they memorize and recite poetry, which is “great for their memory work and their practice in public speaking. If students become accustomed to public speaking from kindergarten on, it’s not a big deal to get in front of the class to speak,” Kooiker says.
Each grade — even kindergarten — studies U.S. history and world history. Subjects are taught in a spiral method, which means that concepts introduced during one grade level are reinforced and built upon in the next grade level.
Beginning in third grade, students study Greek and Latin — which is a unique bedrock of classical education because it provides a foundation for language learning, including English.
“English is derived from Latin, so the more you understand the Latin roots, the better your understanding of the English language,” Kooiker explains. “It means as you come to an unfamiliar word while you are reading or listening to someone speak, because you know the roots, you can figure out what the word means.”
A virtue education community
Across the curriculum at Ivywood Classical Academy — through both subject matter and school culture — students learn the virtues of humility, integrity, excellence, courage, respect, wonder and self-governance.
“We expect our students to display virtuous behavior in everything they do, and we expect kindness,” Kooiker says. “We explain to our students that we don’t reward them for what we expect them to do. School is their job and we set expectations for this early in the year.”
Most of all, Ivywood offers to students and families a community feel, with all the benefits of a small, welcoming environment. “Students are excited to be here because they really get to know each other. Every faculty and staff member knows all the students by their first names and the kids love when the office assistant can greet them by name.”