Starting a school in the age of open and freely shared

So often in education we hear the excuse: it’s too expensive to implement. There just isn’t any money. Budgets are tight.

That’s not an excuse I’m willing to accept. I know what is possible when you start with NO money. I know that lives are changed as a result of followed dreams and passion. I know that real success has nothing to do with a bank account.

While money is helpful, it isn’t what is holding you back.

Matthew and I started Anastasis Academy with no money. No endowments, no big donors, no one backing us financially. We started with ZERO dollars. Well, not exactly zero, we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 out of our own pockets to start a school. That $140 paid for copies of information for the info nights we held, it paid for our business license, and it paid for our domain name and one month of hosting. We hired teachers before we knew the money would be there. We leased space from a church trusting that we would have money to give them.

We decided we would be a tuition-based school, not because we set out to be a private school (we believe that EVERY child deserves access to the model we offer at Anastasis), but because it was the path of least resistance. We decided to base our tuition on per pupil spending in the district we are in. We wanted to show that this model of learning could be done anywhere, money isn’t the issue. As families signed up to be a part of our school, we collected a $500 enrollment fee. This is what ensured that we had enough money to get through the first month of school. We still pride ourselves in not spending any more than we have. We operate within a balanced budget. Is it tight? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely.

Money isn’t what is holding you back.

We live in an incredible age. The age of open and freely shared. Truthfully, it is this age that made our thriving school possible. We take resourcefulness very seriously around Anastasis. It is a attribute that we strive to pass on to our students (not always successfully!). There are tools that we use that have continued to make what we do possible. Best of all, they are free. They make resourcefulness easy. Below are the tools we highly recommend for any school looking to be better stewards of money for the population it serves:

  • Wiggio- Wiggio is a tool I’m surprised more people don’t know about.  It makes it easy to work in groups and get things done! Matthew and I used Wiggio a LOT in the early days. We hosted virtual meetings and conference calls, created to-do lists and assigned tasks, sent emails/texts/voice messages as needed, uploaded a variety of files to shared folders so we had easy access, managed events with a shared calendar, and hosted polls. Wiggio existed before Google plus, at the time, it was absolutely the BEST tool to do all of the things we needed to do to get up and running. And it is free. It also had great integration with Zoho which we used a lot of!
  • Zoho- Like Google Docs, Zoho lets you create documents that are stored in the cloud and easy to share. Best of all, they have tons of business tools that made the business side of starting a school infinitely easier for newbies. We are two educators who started a school, we needed something to help out with the business side of things. Cue Zoho. As I mentioned before, Zoho also had easy integration with Wiggio. Win!
  • WordPress- I can’t stress enough how critical WordPress was to us starting a school. It was as a result of this very blog (hosted free on WordPress) that our school was started. A parent of a student that I had previously taught read through a post where I detailed this crazy idea to start a school. The next day, I got a call from her and another parent who told me emphatically that they were ready to sign up our first 5 students. WordPress has continued to be critical for us as we connect with the larger world of education. We host all of our blogs through WordPress (or edublogs for students) and continue to use it to share what we are up to on a regular basis. Our school blog is also a free WordPress blog (http://standagain.wordpress.com)
  • Wix- Wix is one of my all time favorite finds. Wix made it possible for me to sit in my kitchen and create our website (http://anastasisacademy.com) without being embarrassed by my lack of html skills. When you have a website that looks legit, people believe that you are. Thanks to Wix, we didn’t have to hire anyone to design our site. I still build and maintain the Anastasis website. Thank you Wix!
  • Edu 2.0- Edu 2.0 is our learning management system. It provides us with a walled community where we can share announcements with students and families, students can blog, we can create class forums and groups, we can keep a shared calendar for all of our events and information (important when every class takes a field trip once a week!), and students/parents/teachers can send messages through.
  • Twitter- Twitter is our favorite way to share what we are doing (in bite sized chunks) and learn from others. I learn more on Twitter in a week than I did in 4 years of formalized education. Seriously, if you don’t have a personal learning network on Twitter, do it now! Any time I’m at a loss for how to solve something, I reach out to a community of experts and am never disappointed. Twitter is a constant source of inspiration and keeps what we do at Anastasis cutting edge every day.
  • Facebook- Facebook helps us connect with our families. We created a Facebook page for Anastasis and it has been a great way to share with families. Facebook helps us to foster community and culture at Anastasis. We share news, great education articles we find, video, pictures, etc. on our Facebook page. Added benefit, whenever we have a snow day, the kids are first to know because they see it on Facebook. :)
  • Skype- Skype has helped us in numerous ways. The first year, it allowed us to interview teachers from around the world. This is how we interviewed @michellek107 (that brave soul who moved to Colorado just for us!). Skype also keeps us connected to other educators and lets us talk face to face no matter where in the world we are.  We also use Skype in our classrooms to connect to other classrooms. @michellek107 is a big fan of classroom mystery Skype- her kids love it!
  • Google apps/Google plus- SO much of what we do is thanks to Google apps for education. We host all of our school emails through Google apps, we organize email groups, we create/store/share documents through Google apps, we keep a staff calendar, we manage our Chrome books. In short, we could not function without Google apps!
  • Pinterest- Pinterest is, in my opinion, the best thing since sliced bread! I mean, the wealth of ideas alone is worth the hours I spend on Pinterest. What I love about Pinterest is that it isn’t an educational site. Anastasis is a very non-traditional school. If we were limited to what we find on the educational boards on Pinterest, it wouldn’t be very useful for us at all (pinning worksheets is SO dumb, for real!). But we can also serendipitously bump into design, art, music, food etc. THAT we can work with and transform into our own thing. Ideas are sparked and hunches collide in that environment. We don’t purchase ANY curriculum (this is one of the best parts of Anastasis). We aren’t tied down to what a curriculum offers. Instead, we use inquiry to guide our learning (and Common Core Standards) and we go out and find our own resources, and lessons, and ideas. For each inquiry block, I create boards for our teachers, a launching point of ideas. This becomes our curriculum. I can easily create and share boards with students, teachers, and parents through one link. Best of all, it never becomes stagnant because I can continually add to it. As students come up with their own lines of inquiry and passions they would like to pursue, I can continue to share resources. It is accessible on the kids/teachers iPads which is also a win. **Educlipper is also a FANTASTIC tool, we can’t wait for it to work on our iPads!
  • Meraki- Meraki is so much wonderful! At Anastasis, we are a 1:1 iPad school. Students own their iPads, but we needed a way to manage them and push apps to them while the kids were at school. Meraki meets and exceeds all expectations for a device management system. It makes my life (as tech queen) so much easier. I can easily push apps directly to student devices as needed. I can restrict things that I need to, I can share documents, I can troubleshoot remotely, I can send messages directly to an iPad. FREE!!
  • Evernote- Evernote, how I love you! Every student and teacher at Anastasis uses Evernote. We use Evernote as an e-Portfolio to keep all of our work. Evernote is great because it allows students to store even non-digital native work digitally. When students work on something in the prototype lab, they are able to snap a picture of their work and save it digitally as well. There are so many fantastic, also free, apps that make Evernote even more useful. The ability to access Evernote from any device is really helpful when parents want to see what their kids are working on. Evernote also allows teachers to share notebooks and materials as needed. Super helpful in a paperless school!
  • Remind 101- Remind 101 has been a great way for us to quickly communicate with families. We use Remind 101 by classroom to let parents know about  field-trips and any changes in plans. This is an important feature when you have students out of the building once a week! We also use Remind 101 as a school to let parents know when we have a snow day, lock down situation, or any other emergency.
  • Mastery Connect- Our first year, we used Mastery Connect to communicate student progress through standards with our families. We started with Mastery Connect’s free version. Mastery Connect has grown a lot in the last few years. It has some really wonderful additions that make it a great option for grading!
  • YouTube- YouTube has been a great way for us to share videos of the amazing things our kids do and create.
  • Project Gutenberg- When you don’t have a library, eBooks become important! Project Gutenberg has a digital library of more than 30,000 free eBooks to read on the computer or iPad. We also heavily use our local libraries and take many field trips there!
  • The Noun Project- sometimes you need icons for various school projects, signs, etc. Enter The Noun Project. Thousands of icons ready to use! We use them for classroom signs and projects.
  • Compete and Quantcast- these tools tell me how many monthly visits other private schools’ websites are getting and the search terms that bring them the most traffic. This helps me tailor our Google ads so that I don’t waste time with so much guessing. If it works for them, it can work for us, too.
  • Making Ideas Happen- the workflow in this book was enormously helpful to me when starting Anastasis. I still use the Action method to keep myself moving forward and making progress. While the book isn’t free, you can check it out at your local library for free. I use http://actionmethod.com regularly.  99u is also a continuous source of good things!

There are truly hundreds more apps, ebooks, audiobooks, videos, etc. that we utilize on a daily basis to keep Anastasis running like a well-oiled machine (you can find them on my other blog, iLearn Technology). There are so many people who share, and share freely. Money isn’t the excuse.

Lives can be changed as a result of passion, resourcefulness and a lot of elbow grease.

Education can be done better, you are the one to do it.

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4 comments

  1. LOVE THIS!!! I want to be you. I’ve admired what you and Matthew have done over the past few years wishing that I had the courage to step up and replicated it in my neighborhood. I wish you would write a how-to book about starting a school. You rock and your list of resources is amazing.

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