Prodigy Leadership Academy teaches based on student interests as well as core curriculum

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Kids practice moves during an Okinawa-Te Karate Jutsu class at the Prodigy Leadership Academy in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

Wonderful dynamics: Russell Grammer uses the phrase to describe how he sees Prodigy Leadership Academy as different from most other schools.

This year the small school on Broadway in Cape Girardeau has doubled the number of students since its opening three years ago. Grammer, director of the school and a teacher, said he saw a need then for a different type of learning environment after he taught public school for more than 10 years.

The dynamics Grammer describes revolve around the individual interests of the more than 40 children age 5 to 16 who attend the school.

"I wanted to offer something different for children that were slipping through the cracks for various reasons," Grammer said, "whether they were children without a support system or just struggling with academic subjects."

Grammer said he supports public education and that the purpose of the school is not be competition with other schools. The school's staff spends a large amount of time on building strong reading, math and other required skills, but the students are encouraged to take further steps outside traditional subjects because Grammer said he believes they can learn a purpose for why they exist and learn their place in the world.

Director and teacher Russell Grammer and Jeramic Chantala, 8, read a story called "The One-Man Band," at the Prodigy Leadership Academy in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

For that reason, he said, subjects studied in addition to core subjects come from the students' own interests.

"When the students find something of their own they are interested in, we want to be able to tell them to dig your heels in deep," he said.

The way the school works, students have freedom to do that, he said.

Tuesday at the school, Abby Arbeiter, 8, and Juliette Gray, 10, were using flashcards to learn Latin. When asked why she thought it was important to learn Latin, Gray answered, "Because most of the Masses way back then were in Latin. Why not?"

Grammer said his interest in starting the school came from seeing situations where students were taught a curriculum where everyone was expected to learn the same thing the same way.

Children practice moves Tuesday during an Okinawa-Te Karate Jutsu class at the Prodigy Leadership Academy in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

"I've fielded calls from parents crying because their child was not doing well in a different school situation, and I just wanted to be able to provide something different that could help solve that," he said.

Grammer said when children are taught to express their interests and connect those interests to their schoolwork, they learn better and faster.

Ashley Davis helps teach music at the school. She volunteered there through a university class she had last year and was intrigued by the atmosphere and teaching methods.

"The kids here are bright and so eager to learn. It's very different because there's not a lot of pressure to teach them something they aren't interested in," Davis said.

She said feels at home at the school because being there makes her feel like she can be herself. "I'm a Christian, and I belong here," she said. "Everyone does."

JR Williford, 14, left, holds a kicking bag as Kobin Kempe, 13, practices his front kick and instructor Matt Wright, right, watches during an Okinawa-Te Karate Jutsu class at the Prodigy Leadership Academy in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

Students pray each morning and all denominations are welcome, according to Grammer.

Children are encouraged to express their faith at school, Grammer said, and he often fields questions from the students about why they have beliefs different from other students. He said he sometimes assigns the children homework to ask their parents the same questions.

Often the teachers' lesson plans and students' assignments revolve around the many field trips the students take. Grammer said the type of experiential learning is important because it allows the students to see why the future is important.

One example Grammer gave was a field trip students took to the federal courthouse to see a man on trial for trafficking who faced life in prison. Grammer said the students came back to school with much to discuss among themselves. Grammer asked the students what they would tell the man if they could go back to when he was in fourth grade.

"Experiences like that are ones you have to get for them outside the four walls," Grammer said.

He said the methods used at the school seem to help the children think in deeper ways.

The school also invites numerous guest speakers. Last year, Grammer said, the speakers ranged from a high-school dropout to a Harvard graduate.

Grammer said the school now has 10 students who come from the Sikeston, Mo., area. Many students attend on scholarships made possible by donations from the community. Others attend because parents are able to pay the $4,800-per-year cost of attendance.

Grammer said he does not intend for the school to continue growing because he does not want to assign more than 15 students to one teacher. He said he also wants to keep the school's family feeling.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

232 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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