An Alternate PathBillings Educational Academy takes different approach to teaching
by kim nelson
Petite, polite and soft spoken, Margo Haak greets everyone with generosity and a warm smile at Billings Educational Academy on Central Avenue. With 40 years of teaching experience in Washington, Oregon, Texas and Montana and impressive teaching awards and nominations, Margo is someone who is obviously passionate about kids and has lived a life nurturing many students in academics.
In all the years of teaching students in the traditional academics, Margo felt herself being driven to create a unique school with an environment of academic support for students who struggled with the traditional educational atmosphere. Children are traditionally taught the same thing in the same way at school, some children learn and process information differently. That difference in each student and their learning needs fostered the dream of creating a school. In 2001 with a holistic teaching style, unique to each child that Margo’s dream became a reality.
Billings Educational Academy is the result of Margo’s love for continuing academic education for kids that encourages and supports each child’s unique gifts with independent curriculum based on each child’s specific learning style and needs. “We teach according to a child’s learning style. We look at the whole child and give them the extra help when traditional learning is not possible. Whatever frustrates kids in traditional programs from bullying to being labeled as stupid or wherever kids feel unsuccessful and don’t want to attend or hate school - we provide the unique environment to help them learn successfully.” Billings Educational Academy provides that “extra help” or attention where it is not possible in traditional school classes.
“It’s okay to learn differently” says Margo, “and if a child can’t learn in the way that we teach him then we teach him in the way that he or she learns.” Students are allowed to study on sofas, sitting on the floor and can even study while holding their favorite school pet which includes a school cat, guinea pig or rabbit. An Iguana and a school of fish also make this school their home. The school atmosphere is calm and relaxing. The animals can help create a unique bonding with kids where learning can becomes fun and empowering in an environment that encourages and supports exploration into individual styles in a non-traditional learning process.
Along with teaching solid academics, the goal of Billings Educational Academy is to teach heavily on becoming good stewards and good citizens of the world without expecting anything in return.
Students work with many programs including Angel Horses that teach students how to care for horses through brushing, cleaning stalls and general care. The goal is to teach kids through “doing” not just standing up at the front of a class and talking. Caring for others, through the act of charity, is a healthy way for kids to feel empowered in a world where bad things happen. .
Another school program includes the adoption of grandparents from Aspen Meadows. “We visit the elderly and the students focus on being respectful by letting their adoptee grandparent talk about life lessons and the wisdom their lives can contribute to us all. We play games with them or bring home baked cookies or gifts.” The students also service our community through highway trash pick up, serving dinners at the Rescue Mission and through their school recycling program. “We recycle everything possible and have actually received the Bright and Beautiful award for our recycling efforts,” says Margo. Eagle Mount, WJH Bird Sanctuary and the VFW are also involved with the student program of giving back.
Students are also responsible for the welfare, care, feeding and cleaning of all school pets and take a personal responsibility in keeping the animals happy. “Students feel proud of what they accomplish. To take ownership of their school through recycling and pet care and even chores is to finally feel like they belong and provides ownership and pride in their school.” Because they are all dependent on each other everyone plays an important role in the essential values of generosity and compassion. When students start thinking about what he or she can do to correct an injustice you know you’ve helped raise a kid to have a social conscience.
Even when tuition has been a problem for some families of Billings Educational Academy, you will find parents who willingly giving up their lattes or dinners out to help their kid’s success. The students themselves will try and find small jobs so they can stay in the program that makes them feel so secure. This is their school and it is close to their heart so it becomes one big happy family. Parental involvement in education is encouraged and many families have the opportunity to be included in Billings Educational Academy school needs that range from janitorial work to secretarial filing or driving students to the Alberta Bair for theatre, music and cultural programs. “This is how we teach that everyone has something to give and provide a quality of purpose” says Margo.
At any time the students can choose to go back into traditional school for any number of reasons but most students stay at Billings Educational Academy from three to five years and can graduate by taking their GED. To finally feel completely comfortable and safe, not only physically but emotionally, is achieved through the holistic learning environment until the students are ready to leave.
“I’d like to see our school utilize our children’s full potential in a holistic environment, emphasizing self-respect, self-understanding, and concern for moral, social, and ecological challenges” says Margo.
Margo Haak models a life and teaching style that provides a love of learning for her students along with teaching her students how to live life well. SFM