The Odyssey to Odyssey

Exploring Our “Why” and Experiencing our “How”

As you have no doubt seen from our website, we think a little differently here at OLA when it comes to schooling, so, by way of an introduction, I would like to take a brief moment to explain the "why" behind our way of doing things.

As someone with over twenty years in education, I started OLA because I grew alarmed both at the empirical data related to teenage stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness, and self-harm that the traditional model of schooling imparts and the anecdotal evidence I witnessed in my classrooms every day. To bolster this point, I would invite you to consider the following statistics related to this striking tragedy:

  • Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index shows that young adults are now the loneliest generation of Americans, more disconnected and isolated even than elderly.

  • NHS study shows shocking rise in self harm: The number of children and young people under 18 self-harming (poisoning, cutting, or hanging themselves) has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.

  • Self harm among girls aged 13 to 16 has risen by 68% in the past three years

  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth

    defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED.

  • A study of pediatric hospitals released last May found admissions of patients ages 5 to 17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled from 2008 to 2015. The group at highest risk for suicide are white males between 14 and 21

  • Suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 in Oklahoma

As this cover article in Time Magazine titled "Anxiety, Depression, and the Modern Adolescent" and this article in Edutopia magazine titled "In High School, The Kids Are Not Alright" point out, the number of teenagers experiencing significant depression, stress, and self-harm is greater now than during the Great Depression, World War II, and Vietnam. This USA Today article blatantly states that “Youth Suicide Are Rising. School And The Internet May Be To Blame”.

This, to me, is untenable.

Therefore, at OLA, we put human flourishing at the center of our vision for what education should be.

We want to be a place where the formation of healthy human beings in their most formative years is top priority. We help students cultivate rootedness in their lives in order to bear the fruit of wisdom, virtue, and compassion. We work hard to cultivate an ecosystem of care wherein each and every student is known, valued, and cherished precisely for the person they are. We give students the opportunity to tell better stories for their own lives and for the communities in which they find themselves. We strive to be a place that shapes the imaginations and affections of our students not to prepare them for the real world, but to help them shape a better world for us all.

We believe that education should not merely serve to inform the mind, but to form the heart; that a proper education should help students rightly order their lives by properly ordering their loves. We are convinced that a vision of education rooted in health begins not with information, but with the in/formation of persons committed to the well-being and flourishing of themselves and their communities.

To that end, we start each and every day with mentor time so that every student knows they have a safe space to process the celebrations and difficulties that come with adolescence. Mentoring is the heart of who we are, and it allows us to place a high level of attention on the needs of each individual student. It is our answer to the cry of students to know that they are heard, and that their stories matter.

We also make a firm commitment that we will never brand any student with a number or letter grade.

Instead, we believe it is of immense importance to help students walk out their own identity as creators of their own learning without the pressure of tests and grades. As the research on grading shows, striving for numbers and letters creates undue stress and anxiety that leads to depression, angst, and self-harm. As a school intent on loving kids well, we vow to promote their fullest health by promoting, instead, joy, creativity, discovery, and voice without the external pressure of grades. We will celebrate their learning, not rank it. We will foster their humanity, not track and sort it.

By getting to know each individual student, we are able to monitor their progress relationally rather than numerically, thereby furthering our commitment to guide each child’s personal journey towards health and wholeness. To that end, we have joined the ranks of schools like St. Ann's in NYC (a school that has eschewed formal grades from its very beginning in 1965. They also boasts of being in the top 2% of Ivy League admissions because, as they have been told from colleges, their students have greater levels of curiosity, engagement, wonder, scholarship, mastery, and excellence than their peers coming from schools that give grades) to use a full narrative assessment rather than mere numbers or letters to tell the story of a given student’s academic journey. In addition, we are the only school in Oklahoma selected to be a member school of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, placing us alongside such well-established schools as Philip's Exeter, The Buckley School, Berkeley Carroll, Seattle Waldorf, Hewitt, Hockaday and many others as part of a growing movement of schools that believe a narrative assessment provides better value to the student, parent, and college admissions community.

We also take very seriously the latest neuro-cognitive research on brain development that points to the impact a more engaged, robust curriculum has on the formation of a healthy brain. Our curriculum, designed by teachers and students, invites our students to become mathematicians, artists, authors, scientists, astronomers, chemists, historians, linguists, and scholars in their own rights as they chart their own course of inquiry through Exploration courses like:

  • Financial Literacy (Math)

  • Neuroscience and the Mind (Science)

  • Game Theory (Math)

  • Tolkien and The Art of Mythmaking (English)

  • Astronomy (Math/Science)

  • Racial Reconciliation (Social Studies)

  • The Problem of Evil and the Rise of the Third Reich (History)

  • The Female Voice (Literature)

  • Celebrating Differences (Social Studies)

  • Fixing the Body (Science--Anatomy)

  • The Science of Water (Science)

  • Justice by Math (Statistics)

  • Civics and Dystopia (History/English)

We do writing across the curriculum, meaning students do thesis work in every class, even the math/sciences. Our teachers create their own courses, which allows our students to read primary sources for their own work, thereby giving them the opportunity to create content, rather than merely consume it.

A reading list for a typical OLA student would include such texts as: 

  • The Nichomachean Ethics, by Aristotle 

  • Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

  • Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant

  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio

  • Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl 

  • City of God, by Augustine

  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

  • Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

  • The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore 

  • Elements, by Euclid

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey

  • The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry 

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot

  • Heart of Flesh, by Sister Joan Chittister

  • Thinking in Numbers, by Daniel Tamet

  • Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin 

  • The Odyssey, by Homer

  • The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

  • and Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt.

Our 6-12th graders do high-level work studying, researching, writing, and teaching on such topics as: misogyny and hip hop music, a Freudian analysis of the Third Reich, Jungian archetypes in modern advertising, a statistical analysis of debt and divorce, sexual violence in prisons, an Aristotelian study of botany, Euclidean geometry in The Elements, prostate cancer research, the connection between food deserts and economics, race and violence in education, thermodynamics and gas consumption, and the Eastern influence on shame and moral development.

We have seen incredible fruit in the lives of our students and in the quality of their work. Without grades, students have done serious academic work, created ambitious projects, and found passion in their studies that they never experienced before.

Over the course of an academic career at OLA, a given OLA student might:

  • write a ten page page thesis paper on white privilege in American subculture in Racial Reconciliation ( Social Studies)

  • investigate the idea of dark matter and the physics of quantum mechanics in Math: Quest for Wonder (Mathematics)

  • present on the work UNICEF is doing around the world to defend and empower children in Peacebuilding and Holistic Communities (Social Studies)

  • explore the environmental impact of oil and gas pipelines on natural ecosystems in Perspectives on Energy (Science)

  • teach out on Carol Dweck's concept of growth mindset in Neuroscience and the Mind ( Science)

  • use their geometry skills to help build a tiny house from the trailer up in Math Class as Soul Craft (Geometry)

  • give a speech as Malcolm X while studying his response to the Jim Crow South in Leaders of the Past and Present (Social Studies)

  • research thermodynamics and ecosystem population density in Nature's Folklore (Science/English)

  • investigate the impact fatherlessness plays in incarceration in Justice by Math (Statistics)

  • teach out on Euclid’s First Four Axioms in Math: The Universal Language (History of Mathematics)

  • compose an original piece of music in a recording studio with a platinum record singer/songwriter

  • create an original model of a Tesla coil designed to power an electric light bulb for a class project

  • read Crime and Punishment and study it through its original language (Russian language)

  • interview the local District Attorney for a speech on Adverse Childhood Experiences in Debate

  • create a living mural for the Plaza Walls District in Art class

  • do a Voyage apprenticeship with a local graphic design artist or work in a local automotive

    garage learning how to rebuild a car engine

  • write, memorize, and perform original spoken word pieces on propaganda and the female experience in front of over two hundred people at one of our Celebrations of Learning events

Our students also have the unique opportunity of using the world as their classroom. At OLA, students have been able to:

  • march the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

  • visit the Art Institute in Chicago

  • live amongst the Cochiti people on one of the nation’s largest Native America pueblos

  • study peace and conflict resolution in Ireland

  • experience the 9/11 Memorial in NYC

  • tour the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

  • hike, river raft, rock climb, and camp in the Colorado Rockies

  • walk through living history in Colonial Williamsburg

  • explore living ecosystems at the Grand Canyon

As you can see, there really is no way to convert this amount of original scholarly work and active engagement into a grade point average; quite frankly, we do not even try because we do not see our students in any way as average!

In just three short years, Odyssey Leadership Academy has already earned and accomplished a host of commendations and recognitions, including:

We are proud to pioneer our quarterly Celebrations of Learning events, showcases where students display their work in the form of art, poetry, spoken word, music, dance, drama, fashion, science experiments, woodworking, and more at community-wide events that draw in over 200 people (Check out one of these events).

I am convinced that what we offer colleges and universities are students who are well-versed in thinking deeply, engaging critically, working collaboratively, expressing creatively, exploring curiously, and leading from a place of service; but we are just as proud of the fact that we offer communities leaders who are walking out the virtues of humility, open-mindedness, gratitude, civic responsibility, attentiveness, compassion, and wisdom.

Our graduates not only go on to the colleges and universities of their choice (many with significant scholarship offers), they go on to tell beautiful stories with their lives.

To date, our graduates have:

  • been accepted into the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Arkansas, Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Brigham Young University, University of Central Oklahoma, and Hendrix College

  • received Dean’s, Regent’s, and President’s distinguished scholarships from their universities of choice totaling over $200,000 in scholarships offered to OLA students

  • studied overseas in Switzerland and Hawaii

  • done gap years working with faith based organizations in Jordan, serving refugee students in Seattle, and loving on kids in orphanages in Honduras

  • gone on to serve our country in the military and armed forces

As you can tell, we are a school committed to reimagining the very fabric of what education can and should be! We invite you to come see for yourself what makes OLA such a special place. We think you will find that within our rhythm of mentoring, highly engaged classes, experiential learning, and commitment to community, there is an alchemy that transforms “information” into the in/formation of genuinely unique, and truly amazing human beings.

Sincerely,

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Dr. Scott Martin
Founder and Executive Director Odyssey Leadership Academy

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