On a lovely, spring day last April I headed out to visit Skyview Learning Academy located near Douglas, Nebraska. After a relaxing jaunt on country roads I arrived at a large metal building surrounded by newly sprouted blades of grass stretching for the sun.

As I walked toward the front door I was greeted with a handshake and a confident smile from one of the older students. “Welcome to Skyview,” she said pleasantly, looking me in the eye. “I’m Sydney.”

Inside I was welcomed by Michele Ray, Skyview’s principal. She and her husband live in the big, white house behind the school and their three children are enrolled in this new, one-room elementary school.

“Our children were on the waiting list at a similar school in the area for over a year and a half before my husband and I decided to start Skyview,” said Michele. Although she and Michael are members of the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lincoln, nearly half of their 17 students are from families who aren’t Adventists.

While many schools across the nation are experiencing a decline in enrollment, as Skyview wraps up its first year of operation they have hired a third teacher for the coming school year. Mr. D. and his wife, Ms. Heather, will be joined by Ms. Tabitha who just graduated from Union College with a degree in elementary education. All three teachers are state certified but the school has decided not to undertake the lengthy and expensive process of receiving accreditation at this time. “We’ll be adding grades as needed,” said Michele. “It was a blessing this first year not to have students in every grade.”

Faith and friends

Michele says that building the school was a venture of faith. The Rays worked closely with local vendors and took every opportunity to recruit volunteers. “Several of the employees at Menards are now our friends. A couple of guys even came out here on their day off and volunteered to help us put up the insulation.”

Many of their extended family members and friends have been supportive in this undertaking.
“We’ve had a lot of miracles,” said Michele. “And we’re so excited to have recently received our non-profit status. Now we can purchase supplies without paying taxes.”

Practical, nature-based learning

The learning process at this school is very hands on. Studies and assignments are adapted to individual learning styles and needs. There’s also a strong focus on the world of nature surrounding the school. Their gymnasium is used during inclement weather, but most days the students play outside.

Recess is the first subject of the day, after morning worship. “The students need to get their blood flowing freely so they are ready to learn,” explained Michele. They move comfortably between playing in the small forest of evergreen trees, the meadow area, and a wooden “playhouse” structure on the edge of the orchard. Spring wildflowers were blooming that day and Ms. Michele received several dandelion bouquets from generous little hands. The school mascot, a large friendly dog, followed the children happily, along with assorted cats and kittens.

The students are taught responsibility and respect in practical ways. “This is the only school I know of that teaches children how to clean toilets in addition to teaching reading and writing,” Michele said with a smile. Students do all the cleaning at Skyview, including sweeping and mopping the smooth, concrete floors that are heated from beneath. There’s a list of tasks posted in each area of the building to remind students what needs to be done to enjoy working in a clean space.

Going shoeless inside helps minimize cleaning. Each student is also required to keep a pair of mud boots at Skyview—on the boot tray beside the back door for easy access.

A typical day

On the day I visited, the six Pre-K and Kindergarten students were learning about Earth Day and how to continually show respect for our Earth, not just on one day of the year. Their art projects—enthusiastically made from recycled materials—included rhythm shakers, cereal bowls and cardboard aprons.

On the other side of the room the fifth and sixth graders were deep into a math lesson. The curriculum is self-checking. Because the entire space is open, students can choose a quiet corner to complete their work without distractions and still be within view of the teacher.

Mr. Bun, the black, litter trained rabbit that hops freely around the building, is always ready to be petted, though he prefers not to be picked up. “He likes to chew my cords, but otherwise he’s great,” Mr. D. said. Students take turns caring for him, as well as the outdoor animals. Three-person teams of “farmers” feed and water the hens each morning and gather the eggs. By next year they hope to also have goats.

Vision for the future

They are planning to add a mudroom entryway and a storage lean to on the back of the school building. A sloped area on the side is the future home of an outdoor amphitheatre. Because the school building is a metal structure—including the roof—long-term maintenance will be minimal.

“We want to add a structured music program, along with art and more practical life skills like cooking, sewing and working with shop tools,” said Michele. Ms. Tabitha is already constructing a greenhouse to extend the growing season for the three raised-bed gardens.

“After the fire marshal finished his recent inspection, he predicted that by this time next year we’ll have a waiting list,” said Michele. “Our society is eager to embrace this holistic type of learning.”

Visit Skyview Learning Academy