The philosophy that drives a school and its staff is a very important issue. Key decisions, curriculum, and interaction among students and staff are affected by the overlying philosophy. The Lawton Academy of Arts & Sciences elementary is guided by the personal educational philosophy of its founder, Kay F. Johnson, who has developed and refined this belief during her fifty plus years of teaching experience. The philosophy in the secondary school builds upon Mrs. Johnson’s philosophy, and has been adapted to meet the unique needs of older students by her daughter, Michelle Smith.
We believe in continuous-progress learning. That is, a child should be taught and allowed to learn at his own speed with particular attention given to the following two variables:
1. Time: Developmental stages of the child (social, academic, physical, and emotional).
2. Learning Styles: All children can learn. Since children differ in preferred learning styles, teaching styles must match accordingly.
Accuracy in learning is more important than speed. The goal for all children is mastery of concepts. More specifically, we believe in “process” learning. Children learn best when they “experience,” so learning will consistently move from concrete and manipulative activities to abstract and conceptual learning as the student is able. In this method of teaching, along with the continuous-progress approach, students who master skills will be accelerated in skill levels, not simply enriched.
The values and ethics that made this country great will be taught in this school. It is important that the value of the human soul is not overlooked. A happy child is one who has a balanced life in all three areas: mind, body, and soul.
These include, but are not limited to: a sense of pride in achievement, a sense of responsibility, a sense of trust and security based upon reasonable limits, a belief in the spirit of individualism in tune with a practice of brotherhood and respect, and respect for our nation, its leaders, our flag, and our common heritage. Mrs. Johnson has been able to successfully educate children throughout her career because she tries to see children as God sees them. Activities that include teachings about wisdom from Proverbs as well as stories from the Bible that teach life’s lessons will be included with our literature. God has blessed Mrs. Johnson all these many years and given her success in teaching children… she will acknowledge Him and the blessings He brings to life.
While Lawton Academy’s secondary school is college-preparatory, more importantly, it is a life-preparatory school. It is our desire that students graduating from our program be not only marketable to colleges, but also to employers. Helping students become marketable adults requires efforts from the student, his/her parents, and the school.
To increase marketability, students in all secondary grades are required to participate in advanced-level classes and multiple STREAM (Sciences, Tech, Reading, Engineering, Arts, Math) classes, clubs, and activities. Throughout a student’s middle and high school years, he is required to write weekly. He is also reading at least one hundred pages of a classic in literature. Because of this requirement, Lawton Academy has enjoyed ten years of 100% of its high school students being ready for college English/writing, as reported by the ACT five-year trends.
Additionally, all students are required to take speech, robotics, and archery every year. (There are differing levels of involvement.) Students take middle school Spanish and Spanish I, II, and III in high school because some employers will pay a higher salary to those who can translate Spanish. All graduates of Lawton Academy must graduate with Oklahoma’s Diploma of Distinction, requiring an additional history, science, and math credit. The only exception to this rule is made for students entering Lawton Academy in the senior year. Upper classmen take a business communications course and a personal finance course before graduation.
Students and parents have access to the student’s grades online. Parents are given hard copy semester transcripts, however, and a marketability report card once a year to show how the student is progressing in increasing his/her marketability. Principal/Parents/Student conferences are required once a year, and there is a free study hall each day from 3:30 – 4:30, manned by a core subject teacher each day.
Students at Lawton Academy are required to compete in at least one fine arts or sports activity. Competition helps a student understand how he/she measures in comparison to peers, an important part of marketability. Additionally, students are encouraged to volunteer in community service. If the student is inducted into the honor society, volunteer hours are required to maintain membership.
Because experience is the best teacher, students are encouraged to think of school as a “job,” and as such, behave in a manner consistent with work. New students are awarded points as their “credit score” upon entry to Lawton Academy. Points are earned when the student exercises leadership behavior and exceptional choices. Points are deducted for poor choices (forgetting materials for class is a 3 pt. deduction, for example). Credit scores continue throughout secondary school, making it possible to get into the 1000s in upper high school. Gold and privilege cards are given at certain point levels, and restriction of activities are imposed for credit scores dropping below the original amount given. After all, we are developing leaders here. To drop below what was given requires repeated bad choices… not a very marketable trait.
Besides the awarding and loss of points for daily decisions, the students are “paid” credit score points each month for involvement. For each activity in which they compete, they earn 5 points. Leadership positions can earn 10 to 20 points per month. Wins at competitions, selections for choirs, plays, etc., and other awards earn more points. As stated earlier, privilege cards are earned with higher levels of credit.
Students who find themselves on the losing side of credit score points can apply for “charity.” This means that they will request help from someone who has many points. For fifty donated points, Mrs. Smith gives the donor a real $10 gift card to a business of his choice. (This represents the “tax break” given for charitable donations.) Any student who finds himself in trouble with points can request this service.
Continuing the “school-as-a-job” theme, students are divided into four “companies,” each with a CEO. These companies compete in team-building activities for group points, including group challenges, team-building activities, and philanthropic opportunities. We call the companies “houses,” and each house brands itself at the beginning of the year. Each house is also responsible for one news broadcast a month. The winning team of the quarter gets lunch out on Mrs. Smith’s bill.
With all of this “real world” training, it would seem that the fun of being a kid is lost. Nothing could be further from the truth at Lawton Academy. We work hard, but we play hard, too. Besides the normal holiday parties and occasional field trip, we have lock-ins and trips to Six Flags and honor society trips out of state and dances and all sorts of fantastic outings. We build recreation into our schedule as well. Students have a twenty-minute recess mid-morning, and the core subjects are all completed Monday – Thursday so that Friday can be more activities-oriented. Just the nature of the day makes it a really fun weekday. We have no uniforms, and actually encourage students to be creative in their dress and hair fashions… within reason, of course (i.e., we don’t want to see body parts we shouldn’t be seeing; no wearing slogans with illegal substances, bad language, or harmful slogans, etc.).
The fun is restricted for students who do not keep at least a 2.5 GPA. Weekly from the 4th week of each quarter to the 9th, GPA’s are figured, and students whose GPA falls below 2.5 are placed on “extra-curricular restriction.” Activities needed for a grade (a speech competition, for instance) are not included, but every recess and break are spent in a classroom studying, and all parties and outings are restricted. We take the money parents are spending on a better education seriously.
To gain admission to Lawton Academy secondary school, students must show that they are truly self-driven. Applicants can prove this with an interview and three semesters of grades and good test scores. Because those accepted are highly motivated to excel, our students tend to develop a bond more similar to a youth group than a regular high school. It is our hope that they will quickly rise to leadership in their later employment and set up teams of workers similar to what they’ve experienced here.
Philosophies Common to Both
The fine arts are one of the few remaining channels for creativity in this current society. All students at LAAS, from the very youngest to the seniors in the high school, receive instruction in music, drama, and art. Student work in these areas is shared through art galas, plays, concerts, and publications. Our emphasis is giving students a life-long avenue for creativity. One example of progression in our school is that of playing a musical instrument. Preschool students learn steady beat and reading musical symbols while playing Boomwhackers. This concept is continued in Kindergarten with hand bells. By 1st grade, we are moving the student from playing one note in a group performance to playing the entire performance simultaneously with his peers through xylophones. In 2nd grade, students learn how to read music through playing the recorder. 3rd graders continue the recorder, playing in parts. 4th and 5th graders play guitar, ukulele, or a band instrument. 5th and 6th grade students may try out for Circle the State, a singing group of twelve who go on to perform with a group of over two hundred singers. Middle school and high school students may sing solos or in ensembles that compete in OSSAA’s solo/ensemble contests alongside students from Oklahoma public schools and other private schools in the area. Once students reach high school, we encourage them to branch into the kind of music they want to play, which often manifests itself in the form of a “garage band” or a solo act at an open mic.
Technology offers wonderful tools to be used by the students in expressing ideas, creations, and thoughts. Computers are utilized at all levels at LAAS. Elementary students are taught typing and drag-n-drop programming. They are taught to use Google Docs and Slides as well as Microsoft Word and Power Point Presentations. Sixth through twelfth grade students are required to have a laptop at school for use in their core classes. No classes are online; instead the teachers utilize the computer as a tool. The computer use extends to production of a news show in our television studio, CAD and animation programs, and photography programs and video editing and rendering programs. The secondary building is equipped with a “maker space,” a manufacturing area for student creation. Tools available in this space range from Arduino boards to a drill press.
To truly be productive throughout the day, adults benefit with a little break every now and then. Kids are no different. Students in the elementary school have three recesses a day. Students in the secondary school have a twenty-minute break in the morning, as well as time before and after school to “hang out” with each other.
In both the elementary and secondary, students are placed into multi-grade groups for fun team building and to foster mentoring and camaraderie. Everyone here can teach someone something!
Learning is an exciting adventure to be experienced to the maximum!