The new school

For a small Southern city, Asheville has quite a diverse collection of schools (and pre-schools) for parents to consider. In addition to your traditional public schools and classical private, college-prep institutions, there are arts- and environment-based charter schools, magnet schools, family in-home daycares and Montessori schools that stress learning and hands-on experiences as opposed to merely being expensive babysitting services for working adults. The list, it would seem, is practically exhaustive.

Starting strong: Two students at the new Odyssey Community School, where the Sword and the Stone are present to signify the beginning of an educational journey. Courtesy Odyssey Community School

However, amidst that rich educational soup, there has arisen another school that aspires to elevate the learning experience from the type that many of the area’s moms and dads experienced as youths, not to mention offer another alternative to the area’s already established host of alternative schools. And the kicker is, those same moms and dads can also utilize the school for their educational enrichment through an emerging series of lectures, films, classes and other means to help adults “evolve their mind, body, and spirit” through the school’s approach to “integral learning.”

The Odyssey Community School, a private, fee-based institution located at 90 Zillicoa St. in Montford, opened its doors this past September. It currently has enrolled 50 students in classes ranging from pre-K through eigth grade. Eventually, says founder and Executive Director John Johnson, the school will expand to include a high school on its expansive campus, which is located near the UNCA Botanical Gardens, Reed Creek and the future site of the Health Adventure.

The mission statement sums up the school’s ambitious plan: “Integral learning is a life-long adventure that ignites and supports the awakening of the individual, society and the greater field of life. It is a love affair with life and living. It is passionate awakening and embraces the largeness of one’s true self while holding a deep appreciation for the truth and life-fulfilling gifts of others. Odyssey is a community dedicated to integral learning.”

And integrate it does. The school, formed by Johnson (who also founded and led West Asheville’s Rainbow Mountain Children’s School) and a handful of Rainbow Mountain parents who wanted to take education in a new direction, takes what they term a six-strand approach to learning, utilizing a handful of diverse learning styles. In addition to the basics, lesson plans and subject areas include an “aesthetic” strand that cultivates the imagination and develops aesthetic literacy. The “emotional” strand assists the child in understanding and communicating in the world of feelings, says Johnson.

Meanwhile, the “mental” strand attends to the skills and knowledge that are useful to the student as a lifelong learner. The “moral/social” strand supports ecological thinking about the connections between all creation. Then there’s the “physical” strand that nurtures the development, care for and respect of the physical body—as well as attends to the biology of learning. And, finally, Odyssey institutes a “spiritual” strand in its learning that, according to the school’s prospectus, “supports the child’s recognition and communication of his or her own truth, the ability to live from the heart, and the exercising of her or his faculty of creative imagination.”

“Our potentiality is to be a learning community center for children ages 3 on up until—whenever,” says Johnson, explaining how his school intends to differentiate itself from other holistic schools in the area.

Visit www.odysseycommunity.org for more information.

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