Founded in 2004 by teachers Bernardine Somers and her friend Patty Neely (who retired in 2008), Morgan Academy is an innovative K-10 private school (including preschool) offering small classes that allow for one-on-one teacher-student time.
Rather than being strictly divided by age or grade level, students at Morgan Academy are grouped into “learning pods” by academic, social, and emotional maturity, with never more than 12 children in a pod.
Entering its 15th year, the community is well aware of Morgan Academy’s success at this point—to go with an assortment of distinguishing characteristics, one of which is 100 percent of students have gone to college to date.
The school’s success is a result of many things—but Somers said it isn’t that complicated. “The academics are taught and the kids learn, and learn well, but before the academics, the staff and I strive to teach the children by example that being a good human being is the number-one priority.”
Respecting opinions, accepting differences, and promoting tolerance and respect is a key theme at Morgan Academy. “When students leave this school, they take with them an understanding and acceptance for everyone—allowing them to find success in life, which ultimately spreads love beyond the walls of Morgan Academy.”
Somers feels that when love and positivity are present in the classroom, there is a sense of security which allows for exploration and leads to confidence and growth—both socially and academically. “When a child feels safe and loved at school, the potential for growth and learning is limitless. I’ve seen students show love outside of the school, and their futures have been, and will continue to be, positive because of this.”
Morgan Academy opened the 2016-2017 school year with a brand-new building and campus—tucked comfortably on 12 acres off of Shepherdstown Pike (Route 230). At the end of a winding lane, the setting provides an inspiring location for students to explore nature, enjoy each other’s company, and receive a quality education.
Art, music, agriculture, and physical fitness are coveted in the same way as math, science, reading, history, and the like at Morgan Academy. Students share responsibilities that include tending to both the garden onsite, and the assortment of farm animals residing accordingly. “Responsibility is an important part of the curriculum here, as well,” explained Somers. “All of the students do chores and clean up the school at the end of each day. They sweep, clean tables, water plants, wash dishes, and tidy up the classrooms.”
In the two years since operating out of the new facility in Shepherdstown, Somers has already seen an enormous amount of growth in both her student body as well as the potential for the school itself. And thus, Morgan Academy has some exciting announcements to accompany the 2018-2019 school year.
“We will be opening a high school program as well as relocating our preschool program to start the school year,” she confirmed.
The idea for a high school has been rolling around in Somers’ head for about 10 years, she indicated, but she’s always informed parents that it likely wasn’t an option.
“However, over the past few years, after parent-teacher conferences each year, parents would say they wished we had a high school … to continue with how and what their children have learned at Morgan Academy.”
To that end, Somers and a staff member counted 18 such requests following parent-teacher conferences earlier this year. “So we decided to give this some thought,” she said. “And around April of this year, we said let’s do it.”
Somers originally assumed she’d probably need a year to get everything sorted out, but a local business person she trusts convinced her that she had everything she needed, and so why wait?
“So we put everything into motion and threw it out to Shepherd University,” she added. “The initial effort will be too small to try and build out infrastructure, etc., and the current schoolhouse campus at Morgan Academy is also too small. So we approached Jack Shaw and Holly Frye at Shepherd and asked them if we could rent some space. We did this in May, and by June, they came back to us and said yes. The space is located in Shepherd’s Butcher Center.”
As far as the curriculum and operational philosophy goes, Morgan Academy high school students (of which there are four at the moment, comprising 9th and 10th grade) will enjoy the same core values and traditions practiced at the main school house—including regular trips back to the “mother ship.”
“We also want to bring back classes like life skills, shop, home economics, consumer math, agriculture, understanding money, and more,” Somers noted. “We’re still going to focus on writing, math, science, history, all the education they’ll need, but a lot of kids simply aren’t receiving this type of additional education anymore, and we plan on including that into the curriculum.”
Not to worry, as mentioned, Morgan Academy high school students will still have plenty of opportunity to work in the garden and tend to the animals at the main school, as they’ve become accustomed to (just a five-minute drive from Shepherd).
What will change for them, however, will be an abundance of new opportunities by way of their new digs. The initial program will be housed in one classroom within the Butcher Center on Shepherd campus, complete with a new staff of qualified high school teachers.
“Additionally, students will get to use the Butcher Center, Shepherd’s Wellness Center, and the Shepherd library when they reach eleventh and twelfth grades,” said Somers. “They’ll even be able to open a Rambler card (typically reserved for SU students) and eat meals in the cafeteria. Obviously, students will be monitored/accompanied at all times. Additionally, they will have an opportunity to pursue dual enrollment at Shepherd as upperclassman.”
Somers will take a max of 10 high school students this year; enrollment is currently open and ongoing. Parents or guardians will be required to drop students off and pick them up in front of the Butcher Center.
A Continuing Story
And then there’s the preschool news. For the last two years, Morgan Academy has boasted a preschool out of its home location, but true to form, this program needs more space as well.
“It became evident at the end of this past school year that we needed more space,” affirmed Somers. “And we love it out there; the dynamic is right and it’s so nice for those little ones to see and be around the older students, even in a limited capacity. But 320 West High Street became available in town [Shepherdstown], and the space is just perfect. The neighborhood is beautiful and the situation is going to be great for everyone.”
Morgan Academy’s preschool program, which runs from 9am-12:30pm, is going from 500 square feet to 1,600 square feet, though they’ll keep a max capacity of 15 kids per day for now. “We’re very excited at how the curriculum can expand with so much more room,” said Somers. “People were worried about losing the nature trails, etc., from the home campus, and I certainly appreciate that, but we have a beautiful acre lot next to the new site, and we plan on taking field trips into town. We also plan on going out to the home building twice a month. The kids will still be involved with the garden and animals—especially chickens. What’s nice is we now have the opportunity to do a garden more geared toward preschoolers … curriculum-based gardening for kids their age.”
Looking back, in just two years since opening the new facility, Somers has seen 150-percent growth, which in turn evolved her thinking about a high school program, as well as the relocation of the preschool. Ultimately, change and growth being a byproduct of any successful model, she wants the community to know how truly appreciative she is.
“I feel very thankful, very grateful that people have helped me with the various stops along the way, and then with the current home building,” she said. “I’m grateful to the parents who have entrusted me with their children’s education, and for the great reputation the school has earned. Sometimes I’m just beside myself. So many people have played a part in this story … and will continue to do so.
“For the longest time, I just thought I’d have a forty-kid school house. And for many years, it’s all I ever wanted. But then I realized, if I could expand, and include the right people who can handle it, why not touch more lives? Why not reach out to more of the community. We’ve done this well so far, let’s just keep it going. Both the new preschool site and Shepherd are wonderful places to do it. I’m just really thankful for that, and equally excited about the future.”Staff Contributor