Annie Leatherbarrow, M.S.Ed.
Co-Director Go & Grow Education Services, LLC
We are living in an interesting and exciting time for education! With the discussion of school choice on the rise, many parents are starting to investigate alternative education settings that fit their children’s unique spirits…. And needs! Although this list is far from comprehensive on why Go & Grow does things different, I narrowed it down to the top 5 I think set us apart.
1. We involve parents
We started Go & Grow with the mission of keeping kids at the heart of what we wanted to achieve. We poured over low reading and math scores, IDEA law, and poorly written IEPs with the fire to improve their learning abilities. We believe so strongly in proper and quality education since the kids of today are the leaders of the future. What we didn’t anticipate was how much we were also benefitting the parents. Through both IEP advocacy, after-school tutoring, and our homeschool program, we have been told multiple times how parents felt like “they got their lives back.” By eliminating the worry about getting yet another phone call from the school or having to sit through another IEP meeting feeling patronized and clueless, while knowing that their child is actually making progress in their learning, our parents can sleep again. Seeing that their children’s behavior even improved at home and has created happier memories will always be a reason for us to keep fighting. By getting parents on the same page, together we can make happier lives!
2. We focus on written expression
Both Kevin and I have B.A. degrees in English and primarily taught in English classrooms before starting Go & Grow, so it’s no surprise that we think writing is EVERYTHING! In the past, we have created cross-curricular programs to include writing in every subject and we also set up summer programs to help students write better to prepare them for the next year. Our homeschool program is no different. We incorporate writing into all subjects at every grade level. Our program spans the basics of legible handwriting to proper essay citation. So, why is writing outside of English class so important? Written expression is THE best way to demonstrate your understanding of a topic – including themselves! It is also one of the best ways to DOCUMENT understanding (hello, work samples!)
3. We allow POLITE debate
If you’ve ever met a teenager, you probably figured out pretty quickly that they have strong opinions. Now, if you get multiple teens in a room together, you’ll find they all have strong AND different opinions. And, by the way, as an adult your opinion is automatically wrong. So, what do you do with a bull pen of hormonal know-it-alls? You let them debate each other. That’s right. With so much information out there (good or bad) and living in a time where just about anything can be turned into controversy, knowing how and why they “feel” something is crucial to developing their critical thinking skills in the future. Debate is great for a couple reasons (if you do it right). One – it is a great time to teach them how to disagree politely. Two – they cannot say anything without having a source behind it. “Prove it” is a mantra. This means they have to read A LOT! The hope is that these skills fold over to home and it eventually limits the overly emotional arguing over superficial stuff. Hey, sometimes it works!
4. We make them do it over…. And over…
This concept is why parents pay us the “big bucks” – ha! Since we don’t have to adhere to the more rigid schedule of a public or private school, and because we meet kids where they are at in their learning abilities, we make mastery a priority. One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is that their child has just been “passed through.” When they are passed through for a few years in a row, we have major gaps in their learning habits. This is why “do it again” is another commonly used phrase at Go & Grow. We are about setting solid habits, not about cranking through curriculum in a certain amount of time while worrying about test dates. If it’s not the student’s best, they know they’ll have to DO IT AGAIN. The first time hurts…. We keep the tissues close… we brace ourselves for meltdowns. But, after that, they usually realize they don’t want to “do it again” and try much harder the next time. They learn the faster they master a skill, the faster they get to move on to learn about the really cool stuff!
5.We embrace their struggles
The final reason why Go & Grow is different (and the one that really sets us apart, I think) is that we embrace the kids on their darkest, hardest days. We push them to be real with us. We guide them through their frustration and remind them they can still be frustrated while also being respectful – and then they will learn success.
In summary, at Go & Grow we strive for excellence. Oftentimes, that process can be messy. But in the end, it’s beautiful. Like any other educational facility, public or otherwise, we love kids. We can learn so much from them. We’re enthralled by their sense of wonder and uninhibited passion for quirky things. We want them to explore their interests to the fullest while underscoring the importance of demonstrating their skills. We hope for harmony in their homes. Our approach and belief in effective education is what makes us the best in Great Falls.
What would you like to see more of in your child’s education?
My name is Katie I’m eleven and I am different. I have a really special brain. My mom says that I was just born with extra smarts…
“Goodbye mom!” I said. I looked over and she had tears in her eyes, “don’t worry mom! I’ll be okay!” The first day of school is exciting for any kid. Especially me! I walked into school proud and happy. I knew it really would be ok. “Katie Bryan?” a voice called. I quickly turned around to see who had called my name. “Are you Katie Bryan?” she said. She was tall and she had blond hair, she wore a dress and tennis shoes just like mine. “Yeah, that's me..” I said rather puzzled. “Oh good. I'm glad I found you. I’m Mrs.Cook, your teacher. Are you ready?” What if I say no? Can she force me into class? “Yep i’m ready.” I said, but I'm still not sure if I should trust her, she seems to bubbly and happy to trust.
She lead me to a room. B24 I think. On the door was a sticker that said “Mrs. Cook.” I followed her in, but there was no one else in the classroom but her, “I brought you in early because your teacher from last year told me you were bullied a lot.. So I figured I would get to know you and let you pick out the desk you want and let you get set up. How does that sound?” I didn’t know what to say, of course I wanted to do this, but couldn't this open a door to more bullying? The kid who has to sit inside with the teacher because she has no friends? “Yeah. that sounds good. Thank you.” I said, in spite of all the things I was secretly worrying about.
“ My name is Brianna Cook. I have 2 dogs and there names are Riley and Max, I love traveling and teaching kids like you. Now it’s your turn.” she said, “My name is Katie Bryan as you know, I have 2 sisters I like hot chocolate and the beach.” I said.
“That’s a good start. Thank you for telling me that. Your mom says that you are very very smart and that you are gifted. How cool is that?” I guess it would be cool if I wasn't bullied for it. “It’s cool I guess.” I say, it’s pretty often people tell me my gift is “cool.” There are just times I wish this gift was given to someone else. “You don’t seem too thrilled about it… is something wrong?” she questioned I could tell her, but that would make life much too easy, and lord knows i’m not one for easy. “I’m just tired.” I said, but it was fairly obvious she knew I was not just tired. “Ok, well I know everything I need to know I guess, why don’t you pick a desk and locker and get your things set up. I have to bring the rest of your class inside in about eight minutes, that should give you plenty of time.” she said smiling ear to ear. Like I said too bubbly and happy to trust.
About ten minutes later my entire class came in. Some I knew from last year, others were brand new from out of state. After everyone was set up and in their spots, Mrs. Cook introduced herself to everyone just like she did to me.
“ My name is Brianna Cook. I have 2 dogs and there names are Riley and Max, I love traveling and teaching kids like all of you. Now it’s your turn.” she said to the class,
“I’m going to call names of everyone on my list and I want you stand up and tell us all your name and three things about you that you want to share. Then we will go over some rules and things of that nature.” she said.
When I get nervous or anxious I watch the clock hands tick back and forth and back and forth. It really does help, the beat of the ticking reminds me to breathe.
“Izabella Walker? Can you stand up please” Mrs. Cook said. After six years of school, I know that anyone whose name starts with the letter I goes just before I do. The list is in alphabetical order I comes before J and J comes before K, so i’m either close to next or next.
“My name is Izabella Walker, I’m eleven, turning twelve next month I have an older brother and a younger one and I just moved here from Denver.” she said.
I could tell she was new, she looked so nervous, almost as nervous as me. “Katie Bryan? Will you stand up please?” Mrs. Cook said. Why does it have to be me?
“My name is Katie Bryan, I have 2 sisters, I like hot chocolate and the beach.” I said,
I don’t want to make things harder for myself than they already are. In the corner of my eye I saw two girls I had class with last year, they were laughing, which seemed odd because I hadn't done anything funny, but I assume they just remember me from last year. “Thank you Katie for sharing, now lets have -” she said, but I stopped listening, I was to focused on the girls in the front of the room. Oh boy, another year with more bullies, more people who can’t stand the thought of actually being my friend. There comes a point where you just expect these things because your not the same as the rest of them.
The class had continued with the introductions and then the rules. But at 10:15 the bell rang for recess, I didn’t want to go outside, that's where all the bullying happens. I wandered up to Mrs. Cooks desk, ever so politely I asked “can I please stay inside, I promise I will help you with things around the classroom.” “On any other day I would let you, but since today is the first day of school I don’t think so. It’s time for you to go make friends and have fun. I can’t have you inside helping me when all that is waiting for you outside. It just wouldn’t be fair.” she said. “But it’s ok.. I don’t even want to go outside so I wouldn’t be missing out on anything.” I replied, but even the nicest of nice couldn’t change her mind. “No sweetie, you need to go outside.” she exclaimed, I thought it best not to argue with her seeing as I would get myself nowhere.
I slowly made my way outside with hopes that the bell would ring before I made it outside, everything was going according to my plan then a teacher across the hall said to me “why aren’t you outside yet? Your class was dismissed 5 minutes ago, go on outside.” was that absolutely necessary? Who was I hurting? I felt like voicing my thoughts out loud, but I thought it was best not to get in trouble on the first day of school.
“Ok.” I nodded. “Well go on.” she said a second time. “I’m going.” I said she disappeared into her room and came back out with a piece of paper it read “I didn’t listen to Mrs. Hannah.” it was an all red paper. She stapled it to my shirt and said “make sure your teacher sees this!” and she stormed off, but not before reminding me a third time to “make my way outside.”
There was no way I was going to purposely get myself in trouble if I could easily avoid it. So I pulled the paper off my shirt and threw it in the nearest garbage and continued to make my way outside.
I got to the back doors and still had 11 minutes left of recess. I sat on the edge of the sidewalk by the biggest tree of the entire playground. I hoped that everyone would just leave me alone.
“Your name is Katie right?” a voice said. “Yea thats my name, your Izabella.” I said. It’s quite shocking that someone actually came up to me first. “Yeah.. I’m from denver. I just moved her actually.” she said. “Ok, so I was bullied a lot back in my old school because of my skin color, are you the kind of person who does things like that because I’m not wasting any time on mean people this year.” she said.
I guess she was not someone to mess with. “No, I’m not that kind of person, I get bullied every year and I hate it, I would never do it to someone else.” I said “why are you bullied?” she asked. But the bell rang, thankfully, that’s always along story.
Our entire class lined up, I stood by Izabella and she stood behind the two girls who I saw laughing at me. They stood there laughing and pointing at me and Izabella. Were they just doing it to be mean? Were they doing it because we looked funny? Why were they pointing and laughing? Mrs.Cook came out of the building. “She looked very upset at all of us. “I just heard from Mrs. Hannah that one of my students was in trouble for talking back and refusing to go outside, I have a feeling I know who it is. But I won’t say it until me and that student have a chance to talk. Now let’s go in.” she said. She stopped by me in the line and whispered “was it you?”
“Yes it was, but-” she cut me off, “ If you give me an excuse then I have to take you to the principal and I don’t want to have to do that, so i’m gonna stand here and pretend to have a talk with you about how talking back to teachers is unacceptable then we can go inside. Ok?” she said. I nodded and smiled. “Don’t smile” she says “then it looks like i’m not doing my job.” she winked. “lets go inside with everyone else, that wind is cold.” She put her arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about Mrs. Hannah, she’s just a mean lady.” I smiled and laughed. Mrs. Cook seemed like someone I could really really like.
Sometime passed and Mrs.cook had to go over lockdown and fire drill procedures. It was a normal first day of school, until lunchtime that is. The entire class had finished playing a game and we were lining up for lunch, and the same two girls who had been laughing at me all morning said “Hey brainy, remember us from last year?” is bullying something that just has to happen to everyone? “Yes I remember you. Your name is Heaven” I said pointing to the left. “And your name is Sofia” I said pointing to the right. “You made fun of me for being smart.” I said “No, we made fun of you for being a know it all. Don’t flatter yourself big brains.” they replied. No teacher ever sees the bullying, and that’s why it always goes unpunished. I walked off, trying to ignore their hateful comments. As if that would make them stop. “Where are you going? We weren’t done.” as cliche as this sounds, it’s actually happening.. “ if you do our homework this entire year we won’t be mean at all!” they said to me “no fingers crossed?” I said, it seems so simple and yet I feel obligated to ask. “What are you five? No, no fingers crossed.” the girls both said. “Fine.” I agreed. “Bye big brains.” they walked off. They both thought what they said was an insult, but “big brains.” is actually a compliment, I would rather have a big brain than a small one.
I walked up to Mrs.Cook not long after the girls left. Not to snitch of course. “Can I stay inside this recess Mrs. Cook? Please I promise to be productive.” I said again, in hopes she would change her mind. “Why are are you so insistent stay inside Katie. It’s only the second recess of the first day, your a smart girl, you know how to make friends.” she said. She spoke the truth. I am a smart girl, and I do know how to make friends, I just choose not to. “I just don’t like being outside, I would rather be inside.” I said there was some truth is that statement. I would rather be inside, but not because I don’t like it outside. “I think you should go outside, you can’t hide from uncomfortable situations forever, your in 5th grade. Why don’t you try confronting them katie? You already know I will back you up” she said. I didn’t know she heard them. “if you heard them, why didn’t you say anything?” I said. “Because if I stepped in you would be known as the girl who needs help from the teacher to fight bullies. Do you want that?” of course not, but I didn’t want her to think she was right. “No..” I whispered “Katie please go outside, I don’t want to have to send you to the office for disobeying my instructions.” she said to me. I nodded. On some level I agreed with her, but I was also hurt she didn’t say anything to those girls.
What do I even say to them? “Stop bullying me or I will tell on you!” will get me nowhere. “I don’t understand why you don’t like me. But it has to stop, I have always been nice to you, so there is no reason to have such an awful attitude towards me.” a voice said. “Izabella?” I said.
“Yep, and you should tell them what I just said.” she told me. “Why weren’t you at lunch? I saved you a seat next to me.” she questioned. “I was talking to the teacher.” I said. “You want me to come with you to talk to them?” she asked. Of course I did not want to be alone, however this seems like something I have to do by myself. “No thank you, but I will say exactly what you told me to say. Ok?” “ok.” she said and then I ran ahead “wait at the tree for me please.” I said.
I rehearsed over and over and over in my head exactly what I was going to say, the more I said it, the easier it became. “I need to talk to you.” I said to Sofia “can you get heaven too please?” I said. I grew more and more anxious as we waited for heaven. Over and over in my head I could hear exactly what I wanted to say. Heaven approached me. “What do you want?” She said. “I don’t understand why you don’t like me. But it has to stop, I have always been nice to you, so there is no reason to have such an awful attitude towards me, And I won’t be doing any homework for you, because you won’t be bullying me either way.” I said loud and proud. “That’s so rude, i’m telling.” she said. She ran off and told our teacher. She came up to all of us girls and said “katie what did you say?” so I told her exactly what I said word for word. “I don’t understand why you don’t like me. But it has to stop, I have always been nice to you, so there is no reason to have such an awful attitude towards me, And I won’t be doing any homework for you, because you won’t be bullying me either way.”
Mrs. Cook had a shocked look on her face. “Good job Katie, you weren’t rude, but you told them exactly how you felt. High five girly.” she said to me, both the girls jaws dropped. “But she bullied us.” Heaven said. “No, I heard the way you two girls spoke to her before lunch, that was bullying. This is standing up for yourself. I think both of you girls need to go to the office.” She said to them. That was All I had to do, it seems too easy, but it really really solved the problem.
A few hours later we were at the third and final recess of the day. Both the girls came up to me and apologized. There is no reason for me not to accept their apology. They seemed sincere, “thank you, apology accepted.” I said. The rest of the day we just read stories with Mrs. Cook, and talked about the rest of this school year. It was a lot of fun. I think i’m gonna like Mrs. Cook.
“-And that was my day, how was yours mom?”