Almost Heaven, Our Day in The Mountain State
Feb 6, 2024
| Yass Prize staff
From Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Morgantown, West Virginia, we continue the Roadshow for Opportunity today at Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware, the site of an innovative model that instills a love for and proficiency in the classics, language and democracy among a diverse array of underserved students.
But first you need to hear all about the Roadshow on Friday, February 2 to West Virginia Academy, which was covered widely by the media and attended by area leaders and policymakers. Afterall, it was the pioneer – first to open, first to fight the now all too-expected legal battle, and first to show and share the need for education opportunity for students, no matter where they live.
The Dominion Post which covered the event, summed it up best:
“It’s Friday morning at the West Virginia Academy in Morgantown, and a third-grader is plinking out Beethoven’s Bagatelle No. 25 in A Minor (that’s “Für Elise” for you civilians) while seated at a keyboard in the Music Room.
“Down the hall in the Science Room, with a DIY rendering of the DNA double helix camped out on the corner of a lab table, a group of eighth-graders are making a joyful, intellectual noise over an experiment on gravity and mass – using coiled springs and the common rocks you might find in your backyard to illustrate their findings.
“Scores of other students are absent altogether from the building on Chestnut Ridge Road that comprises the Mountain State’s first brick-and-mortar charter school.
“That’s because they’re on an outing to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, tied in to what they’re learning in Morgantown. Fridays are reserved for field trips and other forms of experiential pursuits.
“Another group of people were in the building, though, with a half-a-million reasons why they say the inaugural charter is working, as it’s about to mark its fourth year in the University City.
“In December, the academy received a $500,000 award for its academic innovations from The Yass Prize, an advocacy group founded by Janine Yass and her husband Jeff in 2021, as the nation’s mainstream schools were still mired in the pandemic.
“Janine Yass, in town to tour the school, said she appreciated the impacts the academy is already making.
“In West Virginia, where charters are making their first forays, school choice doesn’t have to be an ‘either-or’ homework assignment, she said. ‘This shows the demand for more options for kids to get out of schools that aren’t working for them,’ Yass said.
“The West Virginia Academy took its effort to found the school all the way to the state Supreme Court in its successful argument to open its doors.
“James Paul, the executive director of West Virginia’s newly formed Professional Charter School Board, was part of the entourage touring the academy on Friday.
“He echoed Yass in his philosophy of charters and choice in the Mountain State.
‘Choice,’ is the operative word, he said. Whether the learning takes place in a public school, a charter school or a kitchen table, in a homeschool environment.
“‘The goal is to provide parents with as many options as possible,’ he said, ‘so that every family can find a school that will meet the unique needs of their child.’”
Heidi Treu, Founder of West Virginia Academy and mother of seven herself, put it best on our tour:
“Our students are thriving. We teach them at their level in the morning, and then in the afternoon at their grade level. And on Fridays, they apply their learning. So the whole concept is, you learn it at your level, and then you apply it. That is what is making these kids thrive is that they are getting it in multiple ways at multiple times, and it solidifies that information in their brains.”
WVA clearly has their attention. What we saw was all too rare in schools these days – we saw joy. There was an air of purpose and focus and joy.
“For people who work on the national level, it’s amazing, but West Virginia is now a model for the rest of the country,” Allen said. “No one used to think about West Virginia as a place you would expect change and innovation.”
It was almost Heaven, indeed. So sing along as you watch this video!! Follow along today on X @YassPrize for live updates of our visit to Odyssey Charter! See you soon!
Do you make a significant impact in education? Are you inspired to join a cohort of education innovators like our 2023 Yass Prize Winner, Valiant Cross Academy? Submit your application for the 2024 Yass Prize and showcase your innovative contributions in the nation’s premiere education competition. Apply for the Yass Prize, the Pulitzer of Education today!