Frequently Asked Questions

Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word that signifies a solemn intention formed by heart and mind. Sankalpa is a powerful and apt name for a school as it is often used as an instrument for harnessing one’s internal capacity by aligning and harmonizing the mind and body. With sankalpa, so much more is possible!

This is an excellent question. Mark Twain had apparently said that he never let schooling interfere with his education. This is as much a matter of concern today as it was during his day. Sankalpa Academy strives to provide purposeful education for life through awareness, with a curriculum that is holistic, foundational and individualized. At Sankalpa, every child receives a gifted education through an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP). We achieve this through an assessment of a child's developmental climate and core competencies. This understanding is used to design learning experiences that are meaningful and foundational. Purposeful achievement and belonging give our children a strong sense of joy and pride and thus strengthen the cycle of further engagement and learning.

Our mission is to help children develop the ability to set and achieve authentic and purposeful goals..

Children should want to become the best seekers they can be. We strongly believe that education should help a child recognize and reach her/his potential so the child would grow up to be confident and ethical as well as emotionally, intellectually and physically ready for what life has to offer.

It is not as difficult as it may seem at first brush. Our individualized curriculum is carefully crafted by master teachers, so every child works at a level that is most relevant and appropriate for him/her. Leander ISD, for instance, offers a program called QUEST to foster a child’s creativity. However, QUEST is typically limited to a select few. Most of us have also, fortunately, had experience with at least 1 or 2 outstanding teachers who ended up leaving a lasting impact on us. A deliberate and purposeful approach is therefore not just desirable, it is also possible. Holistic, foundational and individualized education that touches each child and is meaningful to her/his needs is an imperative.

University of Florida researcher Jaime Torre-Halscott considered many potential factors and found that among them all, only teacher predictions of student success correlate well to a student’s actual performance in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. In other words, he did not find any evidence that education added value to those who were not already well prepared. This is the norm that we have all become accustomed to. Unfortunately, there isn’t wide-spread awareness of what more education can offer or what else is feasible.

In addition, personalization is often also expensive. To add to these challenges, most educational institutions are also on a treadmill – they have their syllabus to complete, test scores to achieve and graduation rates to meet, all on a very tight budget. While personalized education can be an expensive proposition initially, we believe that this would actually be an efficient, sustainable and economical approach in the longer term.

There is little benefit in practicing something that you are already good at. On the other hand, if a child is not exposed enough to novel experiences, then he/she may lose out on key growth opportunities. Brain development results from synapses between neurons in differentiated regions through pruning and myelination. A good understanding of a child’s growth opportunities is therefore needed for designing the best (individualized) experiences for stimulating the most promising connections. Such personalization is at the core of our curriculum at Sankalpa.

Further, at a deeper level, a rich and consistent value system and an environment that honors a growth mindset are essential for helping children develop agency and become the best seekers they can be. Schools should therefore be able to provide both individualized experiences and an environment that fosters core competencies such as grit, empathy and creativity.

If your child is in a nourishing and values-based environment and is receiving holistic and individualized stimulation, then your child should stay at his/her current school. This should be the ultimate rubric for assessing suitability of a school and not the resources available.

In a wide range of social contexts and across many nations, we find that the most consequential innovators are often not those who have had the best educational outcomes. We should ponder for a minute on why that is the case. Why wouldn’t best education always produce the most effective disruptors? In a way, the dichotomy between these two groups represents the potential that exists for an individualized education that is both holistic and foundational.

Even so, there probably isn’t a right answer to this question that would apply to all children and all families. We can certainly speak to the potential, but the cost-benefit analysis will vary according to individual circumstances and available private school choices. While there are many narratives such as the one in https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/why-im-a-public-school-teacher-but-a-private-school-parent/386797/ that extoll the virtues of a specific private school, these still largely speak only to the potential since not all private schools are created equal.

Projects and themes are both differentiated by a child’s age and preparation and then individualized by the needs of each individual child. While climate and environment are key elements at Sankalpa Academy for all children, it is especially important that preschool children experience a safe, caring and emotionally supportive community. As many are just entering learning environments outside their homes, for them to really explore and thrive, they need to first feel safe and respected.

Our classrooms will host highly qualified specialist mentors who will gently lead the children to accelerated mastery. We believe that carefully crafted scaffolding, a personalized mentor-mentee relationship that is aware of the child’s core competencies and an open inquiry model that has minimal structural constraints (Socratic discussions) are conducive to deeper learning. This would be the format for all subjects including math, language arts and science. We expect, for example, that most students would be about 2 grade levels ahead in math and achieve a deeper understanding of its foundations.

While we have 8 children per mentor for 2nd grade and below, higher grades will have 12 students per mentor. More importantly, we will have a significant amount of individualized guidance for most subjects.

While some aspects of this type of a curriculum may be available at a few public schools, there are several reasons for why this could be challenging for many public schools.
i. Funding models make public schools more accountable to state legislatures than to parent communities. That can make it difficult for schools to deviate from historical ideas on education and curriculum.
ii. Since school districts are often quite large, it can be quite challenging for an individual school to break free from the district’s curriculum. In other words, the inertia of large organizations can slow innovation and make individual schools less nimble.
iii. Individualizing curriculum can add to the initial cost structure. For example, talented and gifted programs for acceleration or creativity (such as TAG, PACE, QUEST etc.) are often not available to all students. Similarly, it can be expensive to ensure that history and language arts curricula are equally relevant for all children.
iv. Finally, there is often pressure on schools to deliver short term results. They may not have as much of an incentive to make really meaningful investments in longer term development (such as character development or qualities such as empathy and grit).

Charter schools still need to meet several state regulations. For example, state regulations often place demands on curriculum content and require schools to administer standardized testing. At a minimum, these can be an onerous tax on teacher and student time, and may not always add value.

Mindfulness is one kind of awareness, focused awareness of the present moment. While heightened awareness of the present moment can help in some cases (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/study-meditation-improves-memory-attention/275564/), it turns out that it can also hurt our ability to analyze or evaluate past information (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201511/does-mindfulness-meditation-affect-memory). In any event, it would be more helpful to improve overall awareness and understanding and thus a child’s metacognition.

Many of these foundational competencies have been shown to be teachable.

Programs such as QUEST in Leander Independent School District in Texas have been shown to develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills in children.

A study in Child Development called "Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects" by Rebecca Taylor, Eva Oberle, Joseph Durlak, and Roger Weissber analyzed the residual benefits of 82 different socio-emotional learning programs such as MindUP, RULER and Roots of Empathy. These programs involved more than 97,000 students from kindergarten to middle school in the U.S., Europe and the U.K., from six months to 18 years after the programs were completed. The researchers found that social-emotional learning resulted in significantly better longer- term positive life outcomes.

Dr. Dweck and others have shown that well designed feedback and appreciation culture can reinforce resilience and produce a growth mindset that can motivate children to take on increasingly ambitious pursuits.

Dr. Mischel's marshmallow test at Stanford in the late 1960s has shown that building tolerance for delayed gratification can result in significantly improved grit and more positive life outcomes. Even more interestingly, it was shown that one can even design exercises for boosting a child’s self-control (and thus slowing their hunger for gratification).

We definitely need to be very judicious in curriculum planning so as to make the best use of every child's time. Developing core competencies such as ambition, grit and emotional intelligence through awareness should help children become faster and more opportunistic learners and thus help them accomplish more than they would otherwise. These are foundational competencies and not soft skills.

Please see the answer to the previous question. Since we only have a limited number of hours in a day, it is all the more important that we carefully select the objectives and curriculum so every child can make an optimum use of his/her time.

Every child will have an individualized plan that identifies and prioritizes the child’s best opportunities and empowers her/him to approach her/his activities with intention and purpose.

Skills needed to succeed in life are at the core of the Sankalpa Academy experience. Since Sankalpa focuses on helping children become the best seekers they can be, purposeful and foundational learning at Sankalpa should only enhance the chances for admission into the college programs of their choice.

Recess time and play are widely recognized as valuable engines for child development and are an important element of the Sankalpa experience. Beyond the work of Friedrich Froebel, Rudolf Steiner and others in the past, there is also substantial recent research that establishes the importance of play for young children (for example, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.,” by Brown, Stuart; Vaughan and Christopher, 2010. Avery Trade.). Further, from physical well-being, character and team building perspectives, team sports is also a very important element of the curriculum at Sankalpa Academy.

In addition to the short-term effects of stress on memory and learning, there can also be very detrimental long-term effects due to stress. It is very important to be aware of the emotional health of every child so we can ensure that their work-life balance is not impaired. However, as the proverb goes, it is also true that smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors. So, tolerance to some amount of modest stress may be desirable. Understanding the child is again the key. There is in fact research from Dr. Marios Kyriazis of the British Longevity Society, Dr. Suresh Rattan from the Laboratory of Cellular Ageing at the University of Aarhus and others that suggests that seeking out moderate amounts of stress is beneficial for our health.

Sankalpa Academy is a secular school that does not adhere to any specific religious doctrine or tradition. However, we do cherish each child’s desire and right to explore existential questions, ethics and emotional engagement. Respect for self and others, courage to be honest and authentic, gratitude, compassion, wisdom to discriminate between available choices, willingness to put in an honest effort and to take responsibility and resilience in the face of failures are some of the key values that we cherish at Sankalpa.

Our small classrooms and climate and core competency assessments and our individualized curriculum are all designed to reach and understand every child and to empower them to find her/his voice. Helping every child find a strong anchor in his/her own personal value system is one of our key objectives.

As an institution that offers purposeful education, we value and embrace the goals of project based learning (PBL). While we do not require that every learning experience include a project (individual or group), we do periodically monitor a child’s understanding of the relevance of their work and its real world connections. We want projects with multiple children to offer the right scaffolding and meaning to each child’s learning and to not become a crutch. In other words, in the case of group projects, assessment of individual learning is also a key objective even though such assessment can sometimes be a challenge.

Austin is home to many talented teachers. Since we value individualized mentor-mentee relationships and authentic child-led education, Sankalpa classrooms will host specialist teachers that are likely to be more qualified than those in an equivalent grade in other schools. Some of our faculty will also come from the educational psychology departments. Our experience also is that most teachers are eager and able and will exceed our expectations when they are empowered.

At Sankalpa, we strongly believe that education is most effective when a child is ready and eager. So, while there may occasionally be a modest amount (not to exceed about 10 minutes per grade level per day) of homework (either to help the child gain mastery or to allow the child time to explore further), we would like to make sure that the heavy lifting is always done at school. Homework will only be assigned if the child is passionate and interested in further exploration or reinforcement of a subject.

Testing at Sankalpa will have 3 objectives: (i) formative testing to tailor student experiences and instruction (ii) statistical testing to improve our teaching methods and (iii) skill-builder testing to help children master test-taking skills. We will not administer tests solely for comparing children to each other on a relative scale.

We host parent-teacher meetings at the start of the academic year and once every semester. We also offer open houses and parent education opportunities all through the year. Additionally, parents can seek appointments with individual teachers, as needed, to discuss specific issues.

Our website (https://www.sankalpa-academy.org/programs/after-school-program) will have an up to date list of our afternoon clubs. We are currently looking at Yoga, Art, Debates, Math Matters, Chess, Soccer, Cooking and Writers Workshop. Our final offering will depend greatly on parent interest and scheduling logistics.

Sankalpa Academy offers three unique assessment programs. These look at a child’s academic preparation and potential, IQ and her/his core developmental competencies.

We are still finalizing our itinerary for the field trips. We will communicate this information at a later date.

While you can drop children off as early as 7:45am, classes will actually begin at 8:15am. School will officially end at 3:00 pm and after school clubs will begin at 3:15 pm and end at 4:45 pm. Children need to be picked up either by 3:15 pm or by 5:00 pm, if they are attending any of the after school clubs.

As with any school, environment and classroom climate are a significant consideration at Sankalpa Academy as well. An intentional, holistic, awareness-based approach is the closest one can get to the nationally renowned Conscious Discipline program. Parents will be notified about any behavior that is deemed disruptive so we can collectively come up with a holistic solution.

Nutrition and health are key elements in Sankalpa Academy’s holistic curriculum. We are actively investigating the possibility of preparing wholesome, vegetarian (and organic, when possible) lunch options on-site at Sankalpa Academy. Our offering and individualization based on constitution, dietary restrictions and preferences can be discussed with the director during enrollment.

Uniforms can help minimize distractions that can be caused by clothing and accessories. There should be less fashion related peer pressure if everyone wears similar clothes. However, while we will offer t-shirts with our logo, since the children being enrolled now are very young, there is no mandate that they wear uniforms to school.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, enrollment would be limited to children who would be between three and eight years old on September 1, 2018. Please check our website for additional admissions information.

Our admissions process is outlined at: https://www.sankalpa-academy.org/admissions. Please read it carefully and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. It is best to stop by and engage with us early. This is a one of a kind school in the Austin area and we expect that the available spots will fill up quickly.

Research shows that parental engagement with their child’s school and educational program improves student achievement and fosters parents' confidence in their children's education. Students with involved parents have been shown to learn faster, have better social skills and show improved behavior overall. Since parental involvement also helps the extended learner community at Sankalpa, we offer a financial incentive to encourage parental participation. While we do collect a parent conference fee during enrollment, all parents who are able to attend all parent-teacher conferences and the quarterly parent- education seminars and workshops (not to exceed 5 hours per quarter) will receive a full reimbursement of this fee.

 

Sankalpa Academy does not have the financial strength at the moment to offer financial assistance to needy families. In lieu of scholarships, Sankalpa is very pleased to offer weekly math and language arts clinics at no cost. Please stay tuned for further details.

Given the community benefit, educational institutions are legally able to and often choose to organize as a non-profit in the US. Historically, there have been several advantages to organizing as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) in US, primarily tax exemption for the organization and tax deductions for donors.

 

In return for these benefits, non-profit organizations are required to be governed by an elected board. While this can often be helpful for most organizations, seating a qualified board can be a challenge, especially over a longer time-frame, for organizations that embrace a more ambitious vision that deviates significantly from the norm. It is not easy then to ensure the fidelity of the board and the school to the founding vision. Our school therefore relies on an Advisory Board (and not on a Board of Directors) for guidance and counsel. In addition, there is a second and more important reason for why we have chosen to organize as a for-profit school. It is our belief that we cannot build great teams without giving them a strong financial stake in the organization that they serve. We have therefore chosen to set aside 40% of the profits for the faculty and leadership of Sankalpa Academy.


Regardless, since the financial viability of private schools is often very challenging in the US, for-profit schools in a legal sense are often "no-profit" schools in practice, just not a legal "nonprofit". 


We also understand that, with the recent passage of the new tax law, the definition of a 529 plan "qualified education expense" has been expanded to include K-12 expenses. Starting in 2018, annual withdrawals of up to $10,000 per student can be made from a 529 college savings plan account for tuition expenses in connection with enrollment at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school (excluding home schooling). We understand that such withdrawals are now tax-free at the federal level. This description has been prepared for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as tareliesx, legal or accounting advice for your circumstances. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.