ELMWOOD PARK — While most schools rely on test scores to indicate their successes, EverGreen Academy has found another way to mark achievement: Joy.

“Our core value is joy,” said Grant Meier, founder of EverGreen Academy, which is located on Taylor Avenue in Elmwood Park.

“Joy” because when Meier set out to launch a new school within the Racine Parental Choice Program (more commonly referred to as “voucher schools”), it was his mission to create a learning environment kids would want to return to.

“We believe children learn best when they are in an environment that is stress-free, fun and offers plenty of art, music and a variety of physical activities,” Meier said. “If children enjoy being there, and regularly see teachers and staff enjoying their work, it creates a more enjoyable learning environment for everyone.”

Core values

When Grant sat down to define EverGreen Academy’s mission and core values, which also include “security,” “perseverance,” and “respect,” he never questioned whether the school would be strong academically, as well. The research showed academic success would inevitably follow.

“EverGreen really stemmed from a desire to address the dissatisfaction some families were experiencing with schools in the area for various reasons,” Grant explained. “We decided why not start a school that combined everything we would like to do and see in a school that wasn’t currently being offered.”

Modeled after Finland’s methods and other similar approaches to education, EverGreen Academy features an innovative curriculum with a multifaceted approach that includes art, music, physical education and play (there are “three recesses a day”) as part of the student’s core learning experience.

“Logically it would seem that more time spent on academics and testing would produce better results,” Meier said. “But, and the research supports this, it really doesn’t. What we’ve found is the more physical activity and recess the students have—even though it takes away from time in the classroom—helps the students do better academically.”

Let’s face it, three recesses a day would make any kid want to go to school.

“The benefits of play have a dual benefit,” Meier said. “It makes the students want to come to school, and it helps the teachers reach academic success with their students because they have more prep time and the kids are less fidgety.”

A nurturing environment

While play is a vital part of EverGreen Academy’s secret to success, it’s not the only ingredient. Meier is also very proud of the school’s strong anti-bullying stance. Fostering a safe and nurturing environment is part of teaching the whole child, something Grant believes EverGreen is able to do what most other schools cannot. Looking at the steady climb of enrollment since EverGreen opened its doors in 2013, it looks like the non-conventional approach is working.

“In our first year we wondered where the students would come from,” Meier said. “We had a building, and we had teachers on board, but we needed students.”

On EverGreen Academy’s first day of school, 100 students filled the desks. Come year two, EverGreen doubled its enrollment to 200 students.

“And that was almost exclusively from referrals from the first 100 students and their families,” Meier said. “We think that says a lot because it means the parents were talking us up.”

A steady growth

Since then, EverGreen has experienced a steady increase each year, raising the total number of students to 240 in year three, and to 280 students this current school year. But don’t expect Evergreen to get too large.

“Growth is great, but the truth is there is an advantage to being a smaller school,” said Meier, adding that the school plans to limit total enrollment to around 400 students. That comes out to two classes of about 20 students each per grade, 4k through 8th grade.

Currently, the school has two campuses at its Elmwood Park location — the East Campus at 3131 Taylor Ave. for 4K through third grade and the West Campus at 3554 Taylor Avenue for fourth through eighth grade — but plans are underway to bring the entire school under one roof. The new building will be located on 30 acres in Mount Pleasant, about a mile away from the current campuses at 3351 Chicory Road.

“Our 4k through 5th grade will move to the new location first. After that, in a year or so, we will move the middle school so we have the whole school there,” Meier said. “Ultimately, it is to our benefit to have a single location.”

For more information about EverGreen Academy visit evergreen.k12.wi.us or call the school at 262-456-1079.