Alternative forms of education come in many different forms. Some, like Montessori and Reggio Emilia, include a standardized curriculum practiced all over the world. Other programs are just coming of age with the help of technology, like the Khan Academy.
Another such institution is the Sphinx Academy located in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Founder Wafaa Elghoroury was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the unique learning environment she has created. Enjoy the interview below!
What were your motivations behind starting your own school?
At around 5 years old, I took my son to be tested for ADHD after his Kindergarten teacher insisted there was something wrong with him. He was diagnosed with “severe ADHD.” After struggling with what that meant for a few years, I finally took him to an educational consultant who announced he was gifted with “superior intelligence”. I had just finished my US Medical License Exam and was getting ready to apply for a psychiatry residency at the time. I set that aside and started focusing on gathering information on different educational models.
I sought a special education BA degree alongside Montessori training. Throughout the courses, I came across two important facts: that all children can learn, and that all children learn differently. I also realized that many children with learning differences were gifted and talented.
Over time, I could not reconcile myself with the traditional educational model for myself as a teacher or for my children. I visited many schools and took part in different educational workshops. I explored the idea of blended learning, micro schools, and big picture schools, all focused on small numbers and facilitators instead of teachers. Finally, the idea for Sphinx Academy materialized.
The truth is, I would have never thought about starting Sphinx Academy if a similar model existed.
What does the Sphinx Academy offer that parents can’t find in other educational settings?
The way that Sphinx Academy is set up is focused on being student-centered rather than model-centered. In almost all schools I’ve visited regardless of the model, the focus was on implementing the model rather than accommodating the students. There were sweeping generalizations in almost all schools I’ve visited.
In our school, students can take their classes online or onsite, independently or with a teacher, individually or in groups. They can take all their classes a certain way or mix and match based on how they learn.
What are some of the most unexpected things that you’ve learned since starting Sphinx Academy?
I’ve learned that choices can sometimes overwhelm students and the real job of a teacher / coach is to help them navigate and explore those choices.
I’ve also learned that what motivates one student is not what motivates another and that fairness does not always mean equality.
Are there educational philosophies that you feel align well with what you are doing?
I made many of the Montessori Secondary education methods I learned during my training available at Sphinx Academy including Socratic Seminars, community service, entrepreneurship opportunities, internship opportunities, individual plans, etc. However, I do try to give students choices rather than make any of these things a requirement for graduation.
You have the opportunity to work with your own children at Sphinx Academy. What has that experience been like?
I grew much closer to my kids after they have joined Sphinx Academy. Their support over time became something I valued and counted on. I also noticed that they grew closer to each other after a while.
Do you have any suggestions for other parents who also serve as their children’s teachers?
I highly recommend a structured day to separate the roles of teacher and parent since it can strain the relationship sometimes.
Parents can be exceptionally good at teaching their children especially in the early years. However, I would recommend finding different options for courses and coaching like a home-schooling co-op or a micro-school especially during secondary school years. I personally am not my own kids’ learning coach at Sphinx Academy and I rarely teach them myself.
Even though I homeschooled for a long time, I found that it was not an optimal situation for my children. I suppose if it were, I would not have started Sphinx Academy!
Can you share more about the goals of international travel being part of your curriculum?
One of our future goals as we grow is that every student would get the opportunity to travel at least once while at Sphinx Academy. We believe it offers an eye-opening experience about diversity and culture both at home and abroad that is very difficult to replicate any other way.
Your year-round schedule seems very accommodating for families and the interests of students. Has it proven to be effective?
Absolutely. The biggest challenge we have are the misconceptions revolving around the idea of “summer school.” However, students who have tried it found out very quickly that it released much of the stress associated with the restrictions associated with a traditional schedule. Year-round students have the opportunity to lower their daily load, spread out their vacation, retake previous courses for a better GPA, make time for internships or paid jobs, explore more electives, and much more.
Do you have any advice for parents who are searching for a school that is the very best fit for their child?
I always ask parents and students considering Sphinx Academy about their priorities. In my opinion, that is the most important question for them to think about before choosing a school.
In my experience, an advantage for some families can be a disadvantage for others. Size, academics, sports, high school dances and social events can all be part of the decision-making process.
Once families can pinpoint their priorities, it becomes much easier to find the best fit. No school is going to be a perfect fit and ideally you want the school that provides the closest fit that aligns with their priorities.