Joyful Scholars Academy is accepting children for its inaugural year in Olympia. The learner-driven academy is part of a network of over 350 academies in 26 countries across the world connected to an ever-expanding database of educational content. “It is nimble with educational leaders contributing all over the world,” says Founder and Executive Director Laura McNealley. The K-12 in-person academy is opening the Spark Studio, which is for children from 4 to 6 years.

a boy and two girls play on a mad with colored tiles in a classroom
Joyful Scholars Academy is accepting learners from 4 to 6 years of age for its first year in Olympia. Photo courtesy: Joyful Scholars Academy

Learner-Driven Early Education in Olympia

The initial Spark Studio tribe will include its first group of age-based learners. The teachers, referred to as guides, are trained in Montessori principles and aged based Socratic discussion. The Socratic method is a form of cooperative dialogue between individuals based on asking and answering open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking. There is listening, thinking and responding.

Children explore in a unique self-directed, hands-on learning environment rooted in play. The learning processes are rooted in a blend of Montessori, Forest Schools and Reggio Emilia models. Joyful Scholars Academy uses a learner-driven approach with play as a number one priority. “Tools are demonstrated,” explains Laura. “Guides step back. The magic occurs when a learner catches onto a tool and shares it with their tribe. Then everyone is engaged.” Older or more experienced learners help others in their tribe.

Learner-driven also means mastery not rote memorization. “You can say our learners are masters as they progress through academics,” says Laura. Mastery of a skill is attained at an individual pace. It is not measured by times done, a defined period of time, or a grade. “Mastery is based on a stringent rubric of evaluation used by peers and group accountability,” according to Laura. “Mastery requires intensive effort, trial and error, challenging oneself, asking good questions, listening, and grit,” she states.

Hidden Creek Community Church building from the outside with trees and a parking lot
Joyful Scholars Academy is making its home in the building of Hidden Creek Community Church on Olympia’s westside. Photo courtesy: Joyful Scholars Academy

A Hero’s Journey involves a Quest

The environment of freedom and responsibility calls forth self-confidence and an increase in social skills improved through challenges and cooperation. Groups engage with quests, projects that require significant amounts of time and effort by the learner and tribe. It is meant to challenge everyone. Real world problem-solving is done in many areas to include science, art and civics. The session ends with an exhibition of learning to family and friends. “Children are capable of accomplishing challenging work. At Joyful Scholars Academy we are providing them with freedom, responsibility, and latitude to learn how to learn by asking questions and finding answers; learn how to do which is it persevere in challenges; and learn how to be which is the development of the whole person,” believes Laura.

The tribe is self-governing and makes its own covenants, such as how conflict is resolved and showing kindness to others. Children learn to hold themselves and each other accountable to their covenants.

Joyful Scholars Academy is a place for your children to begin their hero’s journey to discover their most precious gifts and find a calling that changes the world. They are guided to become curious, independent, life-long learners who cherish the arts, the physical world and the mysteries of life. Half of the day is spent indoors and the other time outside, regardless of weather.

Explore a hero’s journey for your youngster at the newly opening Joyful Scholars Academy in Olympia. Photo courtesy: Joyful Scholars Academy

The Joyful Scholars Academy Environment to Experience

  • Laughter and joy
  • Critical thinking and independence
  • A love for learning
  • Freedom from politics and propaganda
  • A home away from home where every learner smiles at the thought of exploring, discovering, doing, and being
  • Camaraderie
  • Failure. And the courage to forge ahead and try again
  • Resilience to preserve through difficult learning times
  • The confidence to try new things
  • Enjoyment in problem solving
  • Ownership over their learning, their tribe, and the studio
  • Meaning and the ability to discover and pursue their passions
  • To use their imagination and curiosity to do amazing things.

Joyful Scholars Academy believes that children will transform their community and world for the better. Being in an environment that welcomes critical thinking and creativity is powerful. It is a pathway for individuals to find and develop their talents.

Parents are integral to the success of their children. “They are the CEOs, or Chief Encouragement Officers,” notes Laura. They are also part of the child’s tribe. Joyful Scholars Academy parents are intentional, goal-oriented, excited about life, and model this for their children. Some parents are looking for a different educational experience than their own.  

Joyful Scholars Academy welcomes families who are interested in fully participating in this style of education to audition. You can start the process online. Families in this first year will be known as the Founding Families. Some have just begun to get acquainted and are looking forward to their Spark Studio filled with excitement and wonder.

The Academy is located on the lower level of Hidden Creek Community Church. Joyful Scholars Academy is not affiliated with any church. Learn more at the Joyful Scholars Academy website.

Joyful Scholars Academy
1807 9th Avenue SW, Olympia


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