Students at SOAR Academy don't always learn seated in desks. Charmain Z. Brackettt/Augusta Good News
Students at SOAR Academy don't always learn seated in desks. Charmain Z. Brackettt/Augusta Good News

SOAR Academy experiences growth after receiving national recognition

When it comes to learning, Mary Katherine Gorlich’s high school aged daughter needed more than the traditional classroom experience offered.

Diagnosed with two forms of dyslexia, ADHD and severe hearing loss, she doesn’t enjoy socializing with girls her age and needed an environment where she could learn according to her needs.

“She wants to do her work, get it done, draw and be left alone. They allow that here. At her other school, they required socialization, and she didn’t fit in,” said Gorlich, whose daughter is thriving at SOAR Academy in Martinez. The school was a finalist for the YASS prize in December 2022.

Gorlich’s daughter is now “excited about getting a degree in art,” and she’s found a passion in the political arena after a visit to the Georgia state capital and meeting government officials, much to Gorlich’s surprise.

“This was my kid that didn’t want to talk to people,” she said.

 And those are the kinds of success stories Kenisha Skaggs, who founded the school 13 years ago, loves to hear.

Read more: Grant allows school to SOAR

After working in a commercial learning center, she started the school to help students who were left behind in the traditional classroom. Her efforts garnered national attention and a $500,000 cash prize in 2022 as well as opening doors beyond her imagination.

At the time of the award, SOAR Academy was renting 5,000 square feet from an Evans church and had 60 students with a lengthy waiting list. This year, the school is in a new space with 9,000 square feet on Washington Road and has 100 students plus another 50 homeschoolers and students from partner schools who utilize their space and programming.

A SOAR Academy classroom. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“The YASS Prize gave us a lot of credibility and exposure,” she said.

The school has gained new funding sources and has partnered with other private schools in the area since the award announcement.

Skaggs had hoped to purchase a space for the school, but zoning issues and other criteria made it difficult to fulfill that goal thus far.

“I thought it was going to be overnight. It’s not,” she said.

Most of the students at SOAR have obstacles to learning.

Students at SOAR aren’t categorized by grades, and their disabilities don’t define them, Skaggs said.

Often, there are a wide variety of ages in one room. Children on the spectrum are in one area; children with emotional and behavioral issues are in another; children with other needs are in another classroom.

They don’t sit at traditional desks. They are allowed to sit on the floor or get up and move about.

“We have a couple of kiddos who are super independent. If they don’t want to be near people, they don’t have to be,” said Gorlich, who is also the school’s SPED/IEP support person.

For the students with autism, if they need to stim, they can, Skaggs said.

 “If they need to move when they learn, they can. If that’s what works for them,” she said.

Madeline Gregory, the school’s office manager, is also the parent of a SOAR student.

Gregory is originally from Panama; her husband is from the U.S. Her bilingual son had problems learning written English grammar. She’d homeschooled him, but she knew she could only take him so far.

“In public school, he would go a grade behind, but he was advanced in other areas,” she said.

Students learn in non-traditional ways at SOAR Academy. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

She enrolled him at SOAR and is glad she did.

“He would not read or write before,” she said.

 Now, he enjoys writing.

Not only did the YASS Prize has help SOAR to partner with other area private schools and share resources, but it facilitated relationships with schools in other states. Representatives from schools in Florida recently visited the site, Skaggs said.

And it’s also opened up a door for Skaggs’ husband to return to his home state of Oklahoma, where the couple will create SOAR program.

“It’s been incredible,” said Skaggs.

Although she’s moving from the area, Skaggs said the local work will continue, and she expects it tot thrive.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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