Doing the Impossible
How does one open a school? I wouldn’t know how to open up a shoe store!” Joanne Sappo laughed as she declined the request by parents to open a school for their children. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but a school isn’t like any other business. It is rare for one person to just start a school. I have no money to invest…I have no building…and no understanding of the legalities behind this kind of venture.”
The second request came a few weeks later when Sappo was invited to dinner. Mothers and fathers were seated around a big table. After dinner, tearful pleading and urging began as mothers and fathers expressed the needs of their own children. The tears were impossible to ignore. Sappo tells the families that she would look into the prospect of opening a school.
First, Sappo approached public school representatives who advised against it. One administrator stated “There is no way for you to open a school if it’s not a religious school.” Another described his own effort and failure in opening a private school, though he had support and financial backing. One person after another told Sappo in one way or another that this was an impossible task. Attorneys at a Law Office nearby jointly discouraged the project. Feeling justified to beg-off from the project, Sappo decided to try one last resort before breaking the news to the parents. She reached for the life skill that has always guided her through decision-making, and that is to go directly to the source. So, before giving up, Sappo would put professional opinions aside and go to the primary source for information and guidance in opening a private school. A call went in to the State Education Department‘s Office of Non-Public Schools. Sappo heard the first words of encouragement, along with a promise of support, for the now quite possible plan that was soon to become a reality.
Three weeks after the initial meeting with parents, Sappo School opened its doors with these words, “I will teach your children for a year. If they make progress, I will continue another year. If that year finds students progressing better than they had in public school, I will continue one more year, and soon. You parents will determine this success of the program. Here we go –let’s start our first year!”
Sappo designed a school room in the home she shared with her sons. The first three students made excellent progress that first year. These initial three included one gifted five years old, one ten year old, and one twelve year old. Two were non-readers and one was a seriously delayed reader. By the end of the school year, the two non-readers were reading, and the delayed reader was reading more fluently. Word spread and there were twelve students enrolled by early spring of that same school year.
By the start of the next year, Sappo had two investment offers presented. Each offer came with the promise of “big money” even a return of “millions”. All offers were refused since they compromised the integrity of the program. This was the beginning of a battle against greed and corruption that continues to be fought to this day. The shocking world that denies children the right to an adequate and fulfilling education opposed Sappo’s efforts from the start and that experience is fully logged in a manuscript under the tongue-in-cheek title “The School That Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Strengthening her resolve to fight against the “nest of corruption”, Sappo never let this distract from what each and every student needed to find success. It only proved to move her forward with greater momentum.
The learning experience was enjoyable. Lessons matched the individual needs and personalities of the students. The blend of ages formed powerful bonds as younger students looked up to older students as role models. Older students were encouraged to regard the younger students as little “brothers and sisters”. This model of individualism, relationship building and reading focus became the framework for Sappo School’s holistic model for education.