Lucas and Kenisha Skaggs. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett
Lucas and Kenisha Skaggs. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Grant will allow academy to SOAR

 An Evans’ microschool is on its way to reaching more students thanks to a $500,000 award.

SOAR Academy, currently housed at In Focus Church in Evans, was a finalist for the $1 million YASS Prize, which was awarded Dec. 14 in New York City.

“I am so happy for my kids,” said Kenisha Skaggs, who founded SOAR Academy 12 years ago.

A microschool is an independent learning center. Skaggs calls the private academy a “one room schoolhouse” with a family feel.

Eight teachers work with students who range from elementary to high school; some students have learning disabilities while others have just not kept up academically; some are autistic; and some are homeschooled students who use the program to augment their curriculum.

Sixty students are enrolled; half attend in person while the other half are online. And she has a long waiting list of students she hopes will soon be able to receive needed services. She anticipates a possible student body of 150.

At SOAR, they offer individualized learning opportunities. Central to the mission is literacy.

“There’s a huge gap in kids not reading,” she said. “We have to get kids reading.”

And if kids can’t read, they can’t hold a job or function in society, she added.

The Augusta University graduate started her program after working in a commercial learning center for several years. She was discouraged by the tenets of No Child Left Behind. She also witnessed how a standardized approach to education doesn’t work for all students through her own sister who is neurodivergent.

Experts evaluated Skaggs’ sister and gave her parents little hope that she could receive higher education and perform more than a menial job. Her parents didn’t listen and took her education into their hands. Today, she works for the federal government in a high level IT/HR position, Skaggs said.

Many neurodivergent students have computer and science capabilities, but they just don’t learn the same way, she said.

After leaving the commercial tutoring center, Skaggs started tutoring students in the attic of her house. SOAR then moved to an office complex for several years before moving to the dedicated space at In Focus, and with the $500,000, the school will move into its own space to help more children.

She and husband, Lucas, who serves as the academy’s co-director, have looked at several possibilities in both Richmond and Columbia counties and hope to have a site scoped out during the next school semester. They also want to expand into South Carolina to assist students in Aiken and North Augusta.

MORE: Augusta University Literacy Center forms partnership with Augusta Tech

Seeing the need for expansion of services, they applied for, and the school received a $10,000 VELA grant for non-traditional learning about a year ago. That prompted them to look for more grants, she said.

Receiving the YASS Prize was a rigorous process with several rounds of elimination. Skaggs said in addition to the funding, they’ve received mentoring from top leaders and have formed partnerships with other non-traditional schools. The networking piece has been an invaluable part of the process, she said, as they’ve gained more tools to help their own students.

Philanthropists Janine and Jeff Yass developed the YASS prize in response to COVID. They’d originally supplied funds for computers for Philadelphia schoolchildren to use during the pandemic, but they were disheartened that “technology was being substituted for learning,” Janine Yass wrote in an article for Forbes Magazine.

They decided they needed to do more for education.

The goal of the YASS Prize is to support “class education providers who can tackle the big education challenges of the day and deliver an education for students that is sustainable, transformational, outstanding and permissionless. It’s more than an awards program or a philanthropic endeavor. It’s a movement intended to transform education for everyone,” according to the YASS Prize website.

“In 2022, the Yass Foundation for Education awarded more than $20 million in grants to new and alumni organizations, including the prestigious $1 million Yass Prize to transform education, given to the group that most exemplifies the STOP principles.”

Skaggs said she’s excited for what the future holds for SOAR and her students.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at Have headlines delivered to your inbox by signing up here.

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