This feature is part of the National Alliance's 2021 Back to School Month campaign.
Why Not You Academy will open next month to approximately 100 9th graders in Des Moines, Washington.
Nearly five years ago, co-founders Scott Canfield and Garth Reeves, both assistant principals at the time, felt inspired to bring innovation to students in an educational space where each student is known, seen, and valued. In 2018, the duo dove into planning and implemented a community co-design process, where they heard from families to learn more about the things most important to them.
“The best way to make deep trusting relationships with families you will be serving in the community is by going door to door introducing yourself, forming those relationships in person.”
– Scott Canfield co-founder
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the co-founders pushed the opening date to 2021 and continued to plan. They partnered with the Why Not You Foundation, a nonprofit founded by NFL player Russell Wilson and singer Ciara that works to decrease poverty through education. Having both Russell and Ciara as role models helped to further motivate students. During interactions with students, they both encouraged scholars to set goals, put them on paper, and to have accountability partners.
Why Not You Academy features a unique program known as Leaving to Learn. Students will identify their interests, network with individuals in those respective fields, job shadow, and participate in internships. This is all an effort to ensure learning is authentic and representative of students’ interests.
"A major part of what we do is helping students identify their passion, their purpose, and their vision for what they want to do with their lives."
– Scott Canfield, co-founder
Students will create a personal learning plan where they will write out their vision statement. Academic advisors will help students plan backward to stay on track and reach their goals. The plan will be a living document and will evolve throughout the next four years.
The first days of school will be about building community and culture to establish a safe and welcoming school environment. As members of the founding class, this year’s students will be able to decide what types of school clubs they want to start.
“[It’s important to] help develop that growth mindset in our students and know that any mistake or bump along the road is a sign that you are getting better because you are overcoming a challenge.”
– Scott Canfield, co-founder
The first theme of the school year will be, Coming of Age. Scholars will have an opportunity to reflect on their experiences, how they have grown through the pandemic, and how they wish to continue to grow. School leaders emphasize the idea every single day counts—and each day, students will have the opportunity to see how it connects to their post-high school aspirations.
Why Not You Academy will continue to grow, adding a grade level each year up to 12th grade.
“Education is a key pillar of the work we do and fundamental in our mission to develop future leaders,” stated Carly Young, executive director of the Why Not You Foundation. “The opening of the Why Not You Academy in Des Moines, Washington is a significant milestone for our organization and one that our founders Russell Wilson and Ciara hope to see replicated in other locations throughout the country in the years to come.”
Brittnee Exum is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Learn more about Why Not You Academy in Des Moines, Washington.