Meet Debbie of Shady Oak Primary School


Today we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Elder of Shady Oak Primary School in Richmond TX.

Before we jump into specifics about your business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.

I have been involved in early childhood development and education for many years. From raising teenage foster girls to traveling the country to train early childcare professionals, education is my passion. When I moved to Richmond with my husband and our two daughters, I quickly enrolled my youngest, Melissa, in the Shady Oak Pre-K program. At the time, 2nd – 5th grade was not offered, so my oldest daughter attended a neighborhood elementary school. Melissa was finishing up first grade and was so disappointed that she couldn’t stay at Shady Oak. At that moment, I promised her I would fix this and I did… just a few years after Melissa graduated from college.

While Melissa was enrolled, I began teaching at Shady Oak. The welcoming staff and flexible structure allowed me to implement a variety of programs that are still used there today, including compliment circles, voting stones, and much more. Several aspects of Shady Oak inspired me. Learning through play made a significant impact on the students. The children have so much fun playing and don’t even realize they are learning. They are excited and look forward to coming to school each and every day, making our jobs as teachers and administrators so rewarding. The focus Shady Oak has on the whole child also made an impact on me. Life skills are taught at a young age, which truly helps set Shady Oak students up for success. They learn to work together, how to communicate, and learn how to hold themselves responsible for their actions and be accountable to others. The children are also given choices in their learning so that they are engaged in their education. Unit study subjects are chosen by the students, helping to foster excitement and a love of learning.

It is for these reasons and many more that I came back to Shady Oak as the Primary School Director. I am so excited to be able to offer this high quality education to families in Fort Bend County. We are producing leaders in the community who have a clear understanding of self and are strong team players.

Can you tell us some of your challenges or obstacles you’ve had to overcome on your journey to starting your own business?

It has been an incredible journey. I started the school with 19 students and doubled our enrollment the following year. Currently we have 41 students. We recently added a 15oo sq. ft. TAB Art Studio. TAB is an acronym for Teaching for Artist Behavior and this philosophy fits perfectly with our Project Based Learning approach. We concentrate on the basics; reading, writing and arithmetic and believe that children learn when the work in meaningful and relevant. In addition, we equip our students to be ready for the next step of their academic career. We focus on critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication. This year we are proud to add our collaboration room where students will work together to solve problems and conduct their Genius Hour each Friday afternoon.

Let’s talk business! Tell us about Shady Oak Primary School.

Through purposeful education, we create a culture based around child-centered learning. No one enjoys being micro-managed. So why should we do that to our children? A child-centered education gives our students a choice in how they learn. We vote on various options often – should we study Math or English first? Do we want to move class outside? The students learn life lessons this way. They may not like the outcome, but since that’s what the majority wants, that’s what they’re going to do. Voting in child-centered education empowers kids to feel that this is their community in which they are a contributing member. We discuss mindset and promote positive self-talk. We help them feel empowered to make choices that serve them. Insecurities grow in all of us throughout our lives. Wouldn’t it be nice if you learned self-confidence at a much younger age? We want to give students a solid self-esteem base to take them into those challenging middle school years. And we end each day with a compliment circle. The students never know who they will be standing next to that day, so all day they are looking for good things in other people. Imagine the self-esteem boost when you get a compliment every day! Through child-centered education, we give our students a safe, loving, and nurturing environment. We are in front of behavioral issues before they become a problem. We spot conflicts and resolve them on the spot. We want children to know we love them the way they are. They don’t have to be anyone else here. A child-centered education lets students explore what moves them. They figure out life lessons in a protective environment.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to your success?

“Child centered, purposeful education, that is forward thinking.”

Get in touch with Debbie at Shady Oak:

Shady Oak Primary School
600 Main St.
Richmond, Texas 77469

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