How some educators are creating unique learning options for students who benefit from personalized education

by Dan Blacharski

How some educators are creating unique learning options for students who benefit from personalized educationEducation is more than the conveying of facts, and today’s students and their parents face overwhelming challenges, higher stress levels, and more decisions than ever as they follow their journey to become better learners and human beings. The future of education demands a new approach that combines the traditional teaching methods with meeting the increasingly wide array of student needs, and an approach that prepares students to become the next generation of innovators.

Instilling that spirit of innovation in students means having a strong STEM program, but that’s only the beginning – it requires finding each student’s passion, teaching entrepreneurship, and recognizing that education is never a one-size-fits-all proposition.

“I am excited about all we’re doing for innovation and leadership within many of the schools we work with,” said Victoria Newman, founder of Greenwich Education Group (GEG) in Greenwich and Stamford, Connecticut. The educational support organization, which celebrated its 14-year anniversary in February, provides a rich array of academic resources, counseling, and support, as well as a choice of three NEASC accredited independent day schools; each uniquely qualified to meet the needs and issues of a diverse set of learners. Newman is well-positioned to be a guiding force in creating the next generation of innovators. A passionate educator and administrator, she was recognized by the US Small Business Administration as the Connecticut Small Business Person of the Year in 2016 under President Obama.

Newman says that there has been a much greater success when parents partner with schools, versus those who do not. “Schools appreciate parent involvement and giving of their time,” said Newman.

According to Newman’s recent article in the Greenwich Sentinel, one of the most noteworthy trends in independent schools is key signature programs which act as differentiators, including service learning, global studies, and maker spaces, a greater investment in health and wellness, and increased levels of collaboration among schools and prospective families. “In terms of science and engineering, we have a MakerBot 3D printer at both Pinnacle and Spire, coding programs, and an entrepreneurial club. It’s important to figure out ways in which we can foster passion for students.”

Newman started a tutoring and test prep business in 2004. “I had worked as a teacher in the Stamford Public Schools and Greenwich Public Schools, then we moved to Singapore. When I came back, I really wanted to do something in the field of education. I wasn’t sure at the time if I would be successful. Instead of going house to house and tutoring elementary school kids, I created a little office on the second floor of a building in Byram near all the car dealerships. Within a year, we moved to our second location in Cos Cob, and from that, everything GEG does has grown organically. We filled a niche in our community. I wasn’t setting out to fill every need, I was setting out to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families.”

What Newman discovered very quickly was that there was a pressing need for a new type of private school. Greenwich Education Group’s first school, Beacon, was for gifted and exceptional students. “We had students applying to Beacon,” said Newman. “However we found that we had kids on the autism spectrum applying, and kids who needed more of a focus on health and wellness, and we had more kids applying that had a variety of needs. Based on that, we founded the Pinnacle School and the Spire Schools in 2010, and then we opened up the Links Academy shortly thereafter. Links offers one-on-one individualized instruction using a flexible schedule.” Pinnacle is GEG’s school for kids on the spectrum, while Spire is targeted at children who need a focus on health and wellness. All offer unique, individualized learning options in the classroom.

Parent involvement and higher teacher pay aren’t the only success factors involved in creating a positive educational environment, though. Students, especially the younger centennial generation of today, face much more stress than students of previous generations. “There is more stress on high school students today,” said Newman. “Families are more complicated. Social media doesn’t help.” Addressing those stresses are essential factors in creating an environment conducive to learning – and in preparing students to grow and thrive.

That type of preparation calls for individual attention. “Getting into college has become more difficult and challenging, and the stakes are higher than they used to be,” said Newman. “Our independent college experts have been incredibly helpful in guiding kids to be their best selves, because there really is a lot of competition out there.” But with every student’s needs and desires taking a different direction, Newman says it’s important to remain flexible – accommodating personalized assistance for everything from college planning, to crisis intervention, or even planning for a gap year. Newman explains that GEG’s Educational Consulting and College Consulting services are designed to help students overcome those challenges. “There are different approaches to everything,” said Newman. “Our college counselors and independent college experts have been incredibly helpful in guiding kids to be their best selves.”

Social and emotional challenges continue to be on the rise, and Spire and Pinnacle were created to meet the needs of those students. “They are both college prep schools, and the students are average to above-average in intelligence, but they just have something in the way, whether they’ve been bullied, or they have anxiety, or they need to build self esteem through an inclusive environment that can help with coping skills.” In addition to specialized programs at Spire and Pinnacle, GEG’s Collaborative Center for Learning and Development focuses on customized programs that build on each student’s strengths, rather than focusing on areas of weakness – a process that engages the student and emphasizes self-knowledge.

For Links Academy, “It’s an amazing program because it’s one-to-one, and it can finish out a kid’s curriculum. We have kids who have migraines, we have kids with Lyme disease, kids who are the lead in the Cirque du Soleil on Broadway and need a flexible schedule, and we have big-time athletes. We have a wide array of students, and schools will work with us and allow us to confer credit and transcripts along with them because we are NEASC accredited and NCAA eligible.”

“Our biggest job as educators,” says Newman, “is to enable kids to realize their potential, and to give them the tools to help them become successful.”

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Dan-Blacharsk-small-150x150Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and author of the book Dotcloud Boom. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing, and he is editor of NewsOrg.Org. Follow @Dan_Blacharski

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