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Friday Feature: Boone Prairie School

Colleen Hroncich

Like many newer educational options, Boone Prairie School began because parents were looking for something different for their own child. “My husband and I started the school because we were looking for an option for our son,” recalls Shawna Reinhardt. “My daughter was in a hybrid type option and my son was not really interested in learning. I was looking at what their options were going to be for him when he started school—we homeschooled him for the first two years. And I just needed something where he’d be able to be hands‐​on and able to get up and go outside for recess a couple of times a day.”

The Reinhardts found an amazing school in Florida, but that wouldn’t work because they lived in Indiana. They learned that it was affiliated with Hillsdale College, so Shawna’s husband Bret took a trip to Hillsdale to find out more. He toured Hillsdale Academy, and they showed him how everything worked—the classrooms, the lunch room, the assembly, and all the operations of the school. When he came home, he told Shawna they should start a school. She agreed—despite having a newborn at the time.

They built their new school on their family farm in Whitestown, Indiana, and opened in 2017. Shawna says Hillsdale was very helpful as they got up and running, connecting them with other schools and helping them avoid some pitfalls that others experienced. “We started with K – 5th grade and now we have a junior this year. Next year will be our first graduating class,” says Shawna. “We’ve just been adding on each year as we grow.”

Boone Prairie School is a Christian school that blends classical and Charlotte Mason approaches and follows a hybrid schedule. The classical method is based on “great ideas, great books (including primary sources when possible), foundational truths and principles, and enduring traditions and skills.” Pairing that with a Charlotte Mason‐​inspired philosophy means students learn through living books, cultivate good habits, and spend time outdoors as weather permits. Classes are held three days a week—Wednesday through Friday—and the kids learn at home the other days. This gives families both support, since the primary instruction is done at the school, and flexibility, since they can control their own schedules the other days.

Shawna is committed to meeting children where they are and helping them move ahead. For example, they place kids into whatever math level they need to be in, not one matched to a specific age. “When a new student comes, we start them at their level. We don’t try to force them into a level that’s not appropriate for them,” she says. For some, that level is higher than is typical for their age, and for others, it is below. But Shawna says it’s working well and there isn’t any sort of stigma with not being in your “grade level.” It’s all about putting them where they need to be. For kids who struggle with math, she’s found, “Once you can give them that confidence, then sometimes they don’t think they hate math so much anymore. Oftentimes they’re just missing a couple of key concepts that are kind of holding them back.”

According to Shawna, the whole school stays on similar tracks for history and science, except for high school because their requirements are a little bit different. This allows the families to be able to read the same chapters together and stay on some of the same topics for the at‐​home days. This year, for example, they’re studying Africa in geography, even the high schoolers. So they’re all listening to the same songs at home, learning the same trees, and cooking foods from various African countries. The whole school also learns a Bible verse together each month that usually relates to a character trait that they’re learning that month.

Boone Prairie also offers a variety of extracurricular activities, including chess, archery, yearbook, a skiing/​snowboarding club, and an outdoors club (fishing, hiking, camping, shooting sports, kayaking). For children who are interested in music or sports, the school will help connect them with local options.

For others who are considering starting a hybrid school, Shawna recommends connecting with the Hybrid Schools Project at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. She attended their conference last year and said they did a great job organizing it. She thinks it would be very helpful for anyone in the early stages of starting a school. Unfortunately, it’s too late for this year’s conference—it was held last weekend and was a terrific event. But KSU is launching a new Hybrid Schools Society, which is sure to be a wonderful resource for hybrid school founders and operators.

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