Friday Feature: The Gathering Learning Studio

  • May 31, 2024
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Colleen Hroncich

While the small Christian school her children attended was amazing, Angie Nippert felt a restlessness in her heart when she dropped them off each day. She didn’t know what it was, and the busyness of life kept her from investigating further. But eventually she and her husband decided they just didn’t want that life anymore, so they told their kids they were leaving the school.

“We had no idea what we were going to do, but we knew we needed something different,” she says. “And it was right around that time that we found all these resources around alternative education. My husband and I both are kind of researchers at heart, so we both dug deep and really started exploring.”

The book Courage to Grow by Acton Academy co‐​founder Laura Sandefer had a huge impact on Angie and her husband. They considered moving to be closer to an Acton Academy or starting their own. Then came the pandemic. “When COVID hit, it gave me confidence to say we can do this—we can homeschool,” Angie recalls. She realized she could use the same software programs they’re using at school right in her home for free.

Angie appreciated that having her kids at home let her see how they were wired when it comes to education. One liked learning directly from a teacher. Another learned best through projects. “We were able to see all these differences and nuances in our children, and we were like, ‘let’s try this next year,’ she says. “So we did. We pulled our kids, and our home became our school. We invited a couple of other families to join us. And it was at this point, in a very limited capacity, that we were able to try some of these ideas that we had read about but we weren’t able to implement.”

In December 2022, Angie learned about the KaiPod Catalyst program. She applied and was accepted into the program. In January 2023, she started working to create The Gathering Learning Studio. Angie explains that Gathering differs from a microschool. “We don’t do any direct instruction. Parents are homeschooling, so they are the official educators on record. We are providing the supplemental resources. Parents can choose two, three, or five days a week currently to come to the studio,” she says. “The parents pick the curriculum; we just support whatever curriculum they choose. And I help them with that. A lot of these families have never homeschooled before, and that’s such an overwhelming process. I try to help them as much as possible to figure out what might be good curriculum for them.”

Angie hired a learning coach who spends the day with the students. The mornings are spent on independent academic time where the students work on their individual lessons. The learning coach can answer questions, help them if they get stuck on a math problem, encourage them, and assist with time management.

Entrepreneurship is a big focus, so each year the kids will start their own business. “They have to decide: What are they going to do? Is there an end product that somebody’s going to pay for? How are they going to find the supplies—good supplies in a cost‐​efficient way?” Angie says. They learn about profit and loss, marketing, and other business skills. Then they set up booths at a citywide garage sale, and it’s a fantastic learning experience. Some had a lot of joy because people were buying their products. Others had disappointment when people stopped to look but didn’t purchase anything. But that was also a learning experience because entrepreneurial ventures don’t always succeed.

Afternoons at Gathering are for project‐​based learning. For the first project, they visited an escape room and learned how the owner creates the games, puzzles, and challenges for the participants to do in the escape room. Then the students had six weeks to work in small groups to create their own escape rooms. At the end, they had an exhibition night, and the people from the local escape room went through the students’ and gave them feedback. Angie says the kids learned game design and soft skills like collaboration, conflict management, time management, and how to set and persevere through the goals.

The second project focused on graphic design where they brought in someone who works in advertising and marketing. She led the students through a four‐​week session around how to create a brand. She taught them about how to use Canva, what colors go together, how to pick the colors, how to pick the fonts. And then they had to create a business logo and a marketing branding page that they would use for their business—real or fictitious.

Angie is clearly onto something. The Gathering has doubled in size and is close to needing a waitlist at the current location. She’s secured a new location that will be available in late fall after renovations are complete. That “will give us triple the amount of space we currently have, allowing us to open up registration to even more families,” she says. “We are also starting an option where parents can choose to have us pick their child’s academic curriculum, or they can continue to pick curriculum for their children. We are really starting to see momentum with families who are not having a good experience in traditional school and would like a more personalized, self‐​paced option of learning vs. just homeschooling families.”

Angie’s long‐​term vision is to have The Gathering be a true learning studio‐​type atmosphere with a student lounge that’s like a co‐​working space where they can get their work done. But there would also be little creative spaces throughout the studio where students could dive deep. For example, there could be a filming or podcasting studio, a crafting room, a woodworking space. “Areas where students can really explore, practice, hone those potential employable skills that could not only get them a job now, but could carry them through if that’s something that they find a lot of passion in,” she explains. She’d love to be able to open those spaces to the public for workshops as well so others can experience that type of learning.