Matt Barnard was a long‐time public school math teacher. As he saw things he didn’t agree with happening at his school, he and his wife, Amy, decided to begin homeschooling their son. They partnered with friends from church, Amanda and Ryan Zaring, who had also decided to begin homeschooling. Amanda covered English and history during the day while Matt covered Math in the evenings.
They realized other Christian families needed affordable educational options beyond the public school. They felt called by God to start a new Christian school. At the same time, a local church was looking for ways to use their building to help advance their mission. It was a perfect match. Refine KC opened in Kansas City on August 29, 2022, with 15 students ranging from grades 1–11. This year, the school has more than doubled, with 40 students from pre‑K through 12th grade.
The small size allows each student to have a personalized experience. “Refine KC has given students a school community where they feel like they belong,” says Matt. “Students are placed in coursework not based on a grade level or age, but based on their current abilities. This allows students who struggle academically to go back and truly master learning objectives, especially in reading and math. It also gives students the opportunity to move forward in more challenging coursework if they are ready. Students are really taking ownership of their learning and becoming better advocates for themselves.”
This approach is attracting students that don’t necessarily fit the mold of other schools. Some of the them are very advanced for their age and others are struggling. It was hard for their parents to find a school that would meet their needs—until they found Refine KC. “Our families feel like they truly have a partnership with us as we all work together to equip these children both academically and spiritually,” Matt explains.
Refine KC meets Monday‐Thursday for regular academics, such as English, math, science, history, Bible, physical education, and music. Most of the students are full‐time, but there are a couple of homeschooled students who only come for certain classes. Every other Friday, the school operates in the morning for enrichment activities, extra academic support, and community service projects.
A typical school day at Refine KC starts with a group lesson followed by small group time for more individualized support. Students must show mastery of a topic before moving on. This approach is meant to help students become advocates in their own learning and develop strong critical thinking skills.
Matt notes that they often get referrals from other schools because Refine KC is so unique with its size and personalized approach. He says they want to keep the school small because that’s part of its character. But if interest continues to grow, he’d be happy to see other Refine KC schools open. Along those lines, they’re very intentional in creating school policies so they can use their experiences to help other school founders down the road.
For anyone who is considering starting a new school, Matt has encouraging words. “Every school startup has its own story, its own mission, and its own niche. If starting a school has been put on your heart, seek wisdom from others who may have already been in the same position. Share your heart with others and form a small team of people who are committed to the mission in your area. It will take many long nights and in‐depth conversations to make the vision a reality. What you envision for your startup might not be exactly what you dreamed; therefore, the ability to be flexible as founders and as a staff is essential.
“Founding and running a school becomes your life. In the end though, it’s worth it as you seek to change the lives of the children and families that will come together. We have also seen God move at Refine KC as He has provided so much. Through our journey, it has been so important to have people pray for the mission as this has truly been a leap of faith for all of us.”
Refine KC is a unique school and wouldn’t be the right fit for everyone. But the year‐to‐year growth indicates many families are drawn to this model. Plus, I was able to tour the school recently and meet with the teachers. They indicated how much they enjoyed teaching in such a personalized, faith‐filled, and family‐friendly school. That’s the beauty of having more options in education—it allows families and teachers to find the environment that works best for them.