Solid Ground School, a new independent school in Athens, is an elementary school with a nature-based curriculum that will open in Fall 2019.
While this curriculum will still include the basic subjects, such as English, math and science, these lessons will be taught in a way that corresponds with the school’s philosophy. The school currently has 18 children from ages four to eight enrolled.
Weston Lombard and Christin Butler, the school’s founders, believe the nature-based approach will help students build practical skills, a sense of community and a love for their natural surroundings.
“This is a general teaching of how to use our available resources to supply our needs so anything from growing food to building housing, so we get all the students engaged in different projects,” Lombard said.
At the school, students will be taught how to cook, build, make a fire and make natural medicines and teas from the plants around them.
Butler said the curriculum is based on input from the community members, teachers, parents and especially the students.
“The way that our curriculum comes together is you pull from the children’s interests and then you also pull from what the community values,” Butler said. “So it will mostly be parents and other members of the community who are active in the school community and also what teachers have to offer in terms of developmental tasks that would be appropriate for the age or may be of interest to the children.”
Solid Ground is the name of the 17-acre farm where class will be held. There is currently one indoor classroom that will contain a space for class, an art room and a workshop room. There is also a playground made by Lombard using natural and repurposed materials.
The school follows the same calendar as the Athens City public schools. While staying open throughout the winter months, Lombard and Butler still plan on having outside activities.
“Winter is a time where the children can develop a lot of resilience, it’s cold out so they have to run around a lot more to keep warm and they learn that they can do fun things even if it’s not immediately easy,” Butler said. “They build up this ability to persevere, they build up this ability to enjoy themselves and they begin to trust that they can do things even if it’s a little bit hard and a little bit challenging.”
The school currently has three educators Lombard, Butler and Keith Barron.
Lombard’s history with the farm began almost 10 years ago when he began running outdoor summer camps each year. He said that he loves sharing the farm year-round and will continue to run outdoor camps each summer.
Butler, who has a served as an English teacher for years, has been looking forward to this for quite some time even though this has only been in the works for a year.
“For me this is a dream I’ve had for a long time,” Butler said. “I’ve been wanting to have a school that honors children’s voice, that allows children to follow their own interests and provides this rich context for experiences.”
Both Butler and Lombard said their inspiration for starting this new school was their children. Knowing that their children were going to begin elementary school, it made the two look deeper into the kind of schooling experience they wanted them to have.
While the school is currently being funded by Lombard and Butler, once they see larger enrollment numbers the independent school will be tuition based. The two are now looking into grants in order to avoid turning a child away due to the tuition cost being too high.
Sean Parsons, Athens City School Board member, said he wishes the new school the best.
“There are some very fine people serving on their advisory board who are passionate about their work,” Parsons said in an email.
Lombard and Butler are hoping to expand in the future to include more indoor facilities, such as more classrooms, and an indoor gym for the cold months. They also plan to expand the age group, instead of ending at eight they are hoping to extend the opportunity until sixth grade.
Butler said all of the students will be together most of the day. Due to age differences, they will be split up for certain projects and learning objectives.
The founders are looking forward to the new chapter in Athens education and share that the goal is for the students and parents to walk away with a great experience.
“I’m hoping they will be creative and strong problem solvers, so they will meet any challenge and have the confidence to learn how to figure things out,” Lombard said.