Testimonials – Shady Oak Primary School


Former Shady Oak Primary Students' Favorite Memories!

We asked some former Shady Oak Primary students what their favorite memories were here at school. Be sure to come check us out now that enrollment is open for next school year…

Former Shady Oak Primary Students

Hear what some of our former Shady Oak Primary students have to say about what they enjoyed at our school. Be sure to come check us out now that enrollment is open for next school year…

See What Parents Are Saying!

The environment and overall feel of Shady Oak is so unique.  It is more like being at home than at school.  We liked the idea of small class size and experienced teachers.  The curriculum was flexible to allow for students to explore and learn with their interests and the hands on choices made learning fun.  The schedule was flexible and included outdoor play and exploration.  Our son's two years at Shady Oak gave him a love for learning and helped his confidence and sense of responsibility.  When we left Shady Oak for public school, he had no trouble keeping up and enjoyed pushing himself to do his best.  Things beyond book learning like taking care of our environment, respecting those around you, and making healthy choices where also part of everyday discussions and have become part of his life.  The school supports our values and helped to show him how to make good choices in his life.

former Shady Oak Mom

Former Student: At Shady Oak are you doing the election where a group makes their own candidates out of clay and runs them against other groups?

Mrs. Elder: We are studying the electoral process but not the Claymation part.

Former Student: Ok I just remember when we did that, I believe I was in 3rd grade when we did that.

Mrs. Elder: So fun!!

Former Student: I miss doing stuff like that, it was fun.

Mrs. Elder: That is one my favorite part of running a school Project Based Learning, Speech and Genius Afternoon!!

Former Student: Agree. They were fun and helped us learned, that's what teaching should be about.

What parents can expect from teaching staff in primary class for their children include, teaching to all learning styles with continual assessment of each child's styles and reporter such to parents. They also expect assessment, observation and reporting of children's progress in the areas of social, emotional, physical, academic, and spiritual. And lastly, the developing time management skills with children, including the children experiencing logical consequences of not using time wisely.

The Shady Oak staff expects parents to work with their children on "home projects", not doing them for a child. And they also expect consistently being involved with their child in the ongoing's of their class through discussions, going over work, and looking at their Friday folder, etc.

Former Shady Oak Parent

Sophie started school in Readiness for a few mornings per week, after six years of Shady Oak, it would be hard to find another school like this.

A few weeks ago, I stayed in my car in front of the playground after I dropped her off and I was watching all the children playing. I felt deeply grateful, that our daughter has her foundation years here at this school. A tree can grow, but only on a healthy foundation.

Looking for other schools, public and private, we didn't find anything we liked. It's a lot of pressure, the emphasis on grades, lots of homework. Exemplary schools were a red flag to me, because I knew that there would be lots of testing and a lot of homework.

We know Shady Oak has really contributed to her development. We are grateful that she is in this 'bubble of joy' at school. I am thinking that it is better to keep them as long as possible in this bubble. It'll be soon enough that they ventured out into the real world.


Former Shady Oak Parent

Our son, Colton, attended Shady Oak from the time he was in kindergarten until he graduated third grade last year. He has now transitioned into public school. The time he spent at Shady Oak has proved to be invaluable, and the lessons he learned, both academically and socially, are immeasurable. In Colton's own words, "Shady Oak is the best school in the world".

"Was he academically ready for public school?" That is the question I have encountered most. Without question, he was ready! When Colton left Shady Oak, he was reading above grade level; he had a solid foundation in math; and he had knowledge of science and social studies concepts. Colton was more than ready academically.

I attribute Colton's academic success to the wonderful teaching staff at Shady Oak. All of the teachers took interest in my child, helped him through his struggles, and cared enough to make sure he was learning. They were passionate about teaching!

I as a parent always knew what areas he excelled and what areas he may have needed extra assistance. State mandated tests never placed time constraints on what had to be taught. Therefore, his teachers could take the time to make sure every student in the classroom grasp the concepts before moving on to the next unit of study.

Shady Oak yields a plethora of social experiences because of the staff’s belief in play-based, hands-on learning. This kind of learning is contrary to Colton's current school setting where he works at a fast pace, sitting behind a desk with pencils, worksheets, and textbooks. The only time he is allowed to talk and socialize is at recess or lunch. So I asked, when does my child have a chance to build meaningful relationships? Learning should be fun, and school should not be a place that children dread going.

He learned the how to work as a member of a community, how to use words to resolve a conflict, how to be independent, but most importantly he learned the value our friendship.  After all, isn't that what most of life is about?

If we had the opportunity, Colton would have continued his education at Shady Oak through fifth grade. Even now, coming back for a visit is like therapy for his soul.

Former Shady Oak Parent

My son Jacob attended Shady Oak Christian and Primary School for 6 years, and my younger son, Joshua, attended for 4 years. My husband and I were looking for a Christian school that said, "The Pledge of Allegiance," to our flag, and played outside a lot! Not only did we find the above mentioned, we found more. We found teachers with never ending patience that treated every child as an individual, as they are. These groups at both Shady Oak schools are incredible. The teachers show love and care to each child along with necessary discipline when needed. I had the privilege of joining the Shady Oak family faculty as the P.E. teacher for a while. I saw almost daily what I have described. On a personal note, I have had severe ear problems over the last 2 years that has required surgery. The ladies at Shady Oak showed so much compassion and care for my family and I. I know they kept us in their prayers and still do. My boys and I miss Shady Oak very much, but we will always be a part of the Shady Oak Family!

Marla Babin


The boys definitely enjoyed the camp, came home each day with such excitement in their eyes. I enjoyed hearing about their lessons and new friends.

My goal for the camp was to help Christian & especially Cameron learn to think for themselves about self control & respect. Each of the pillars taught supported that objective & helped spark some real thought in them.

Christian had a trying & difficult year last Spring which Cam tried to shield him from. The camp covered the core values I'm sincerely hoping will help this school year and on.

Thanks so much, it was a pleasure.

Best Regards, Brent

My son started attending Shady Oak Primary school in 4th grade. In the beginning of the school year, he was a shy child with low self-esteem and had difficulty socializing. The classroom was very welcoming at Shady Oaks, and he was able to find good friends. All of the children were very respectful and the environment was nurturing. During 4th grade, my son made progress towards memorizing the multiplication table and other math facts, something he really struggled with. While he struggled with writing and reading, the teachers focussed on what he is good at, and discovered his hidden talent to perform on stage. During 5th grade , Alexander's reading and vocabulary level improved in large part to the extensive Greek Myths and other classical reading assignments. The lessons were somewhat unconventional by allowing creative play to be performed by the children. The emphasis was on the reading and learning versus on testing of new concepts. He was no longer afraid to read more challenging books on his own. He gained a lot of confidence and started to express his opinions and contribute to many conversations and discussions.

Polina and Peter Conrad

As a teacher, Shady Oak offered me a unique opportunity to teach students the way I know that they learn---through hands on experiences and meaningful connections.  I enjoyed being able to adapt my lessons for each group of students and their interests and skill set.   Often in other schools, you just teach what someone else is telling you needs to be taught in that grade.  At Shady Oak the students set the pace.  With a general theme in mind or a project I would like to try, I could guide the students to question and think and learn all kinds of things not in a textbook.  Small class size allowed for field trips to really make those connections to everyday life.  In the end, all the skills they needed to move on to the next grade were there.  We all had fun and learned new things. Shady Oak is a wonderful environment and I am glad I got to be part of the family.

LeAnn Bravo

former teacher Shady Oak

Our son started at Shady Oak Primary School in 2015, he was in the fourth grade. Prior to that he struggled in school, he had no self-control, was very difficult to teach and was basically non-functional in a classroom setting. He was also taking medication for ADHD. After just two short years at Shady Oak Primary, he was totally off all medication, expressed a love of learning, maintained self-control in the classroom and felt like a successful student. His self-esteem and ability to self-regulate improved exponentially. Currently, he is in the ninth grade, has several friends, is earning A’s and B’s in high school and due to the pandemic working from home. As a homebound student he is taking his responsibilities seriously and manages his time and his work like a pro, neither me or my wife need to remind him to attend a class or complete his assignments.

We are so incredibly proud of our son and the boy he has become. We were so very worried that he was going to be “that kid”, always in trouble, unable to learn, a “statistic”. But no, the loving attention and unwillingness to give up on him that he felt from his teachers and the administration at Shady Oak made all the difference! We did our part at home also and my son worked very hard out of the classroom with therapists to make the necessary changes. If you are looking for an environment where the staff truly care about your child’s overall well-being and success, where academics are delivered in an engaging way and based on meaningful and purposeful instruction, look no further than Shady Oak Primary School, you will not be disappointed.

Former Shady Oak Primary Parent

We chose Shady Oak for our two daughters for one very simple fact: the school's philosophy centers around the development of the WHOLE child. Throughout their stay at Shady Oak, my daughters were challenged academically. They were taught the basics, but they were also encouraged to stretch their minds, to ask probing questions, and to make connections between interdisciplinary topics. At the end of their time at Shady Oak, my daughters were more than ready to tackle the academic rigor of other schools. But as a parent what I found even more important were the multitude of other skills that my daughters learned at Shady Oak and continue to use to this day.

The educators at Shady Oak helped my girls learn how to respect others' ideas and beliefs, how to be a good friend, how to compromise, how to lead, how to follow, how to help those that are less fortunate, and how to be a steward for our planet. I think that because my girls were taught all of these things by incredibly compassionate, intelligent, and creative educators at such a young age, these social skills became a part of my girls' characters. For that I am forever grateful we found Shady Oak and made the financial sacrifices to send them to this amazing place that just gets kids need more than addition, subtraction, reading and writing.

Nicole Peffley

Dear Debbie and All Shady Oak Teachers and Mentors,

A letter does not suffice to say how very much you all are appreciated. During the last 3 years that our girls have attended Shady Oak we have seen them thrive and blossom! The creativity and joy that our girls have for learning has been amazing to watch. Erica was so disappointed the last day of school because she wants year round school! She was so excited about the end of year testing! Not only do you teach them valuable skills and educational material but we see you do it out of love and God has truly gifted you all in a way that they will carry their whole lives.

I also want to share that the love that God has given you to teach has been so influential on the girls. Erica and Sophia both in the last few months have made a personal commitment and prayed that Jesus would enter their hearts! We are speaking with our pastor about when they would like to be baptized. We would love it if any or all of you could attend this very special occasion and we can let you know closer to when that will be.

Tessa's creativity and love for singing and dancing brings us such joy and I know that her joy of learning has been passed down by you all as well. I am amazed each time she comes home and shares her experiences she has had during the school day.

Sophia has gone from very reserved to taking on leadership roles. Again, this I believe is a direct correlation with the teaching styles you provide them with. She is becoming confident and more responsible as well. While she still doesn't like math all that well we are working on that one! She is always reading and writing stories.

Ryan and I are so happy we moved down here and we have gotten to be more involved with the girls. I wish I would have signed up to be a room mom this last year. However the previous year being a room mom was such a fun time for me. Being able to experience and see how much goes into making the school run was pretty awesome. I know that your days don't end at 3:15 and there are countless hours grading and creating lesson plans. My sister is a middle school teacher and she has shared with me the joys and pains that teachers experience. The triumphs and the failures and I want you to know that Ryan and I pray for you all daily. The pains you experience from the long sleepless nights to the paper cuts and having to repeat over and over lesson plans and instructions can get overwhelming at times. But please know that the seeds you are planting in our girls lives are showing fruit and they are growing into such beautiful young ladies and this would not be so without your mentorship, leadership, faithfulness and grace you bestow on them. I love picking them up at school and seeing the projects that all the kids are carrying home. I pray that you all have a restful summer and we hope that the girls get to experience another fantastic year at Shady Oak!

God Bless

Jen and Ryan Brady

Thank you for implementing ClassDojo. I had not heard of it before and I think it's a great idea. Last year, I had mentioned that I appreciated when the teachers jotted me a note, or just told me, if Joe did anything particularly outstanding because I wanted to reward on my end if/when this occurred. Well instead you implemented something even better!! This is a great way for parents to get that information, plus more! It is appreciated more than you will ever know that our school truly listens to parents' feedback. Thank you for all your hard work always!

Anna Rosa

Shady Oak Parent

Good morning, Debbie,

Thanks for inviting me to your school’s RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY of the Shady Oak Primary School. Got there early and visited with Joyce Trigger, longtime colleague of mine. I visited her when she had just purchased your school and saw how much time and effort it would take to make this school evolve into what she envisioned. Joyce gave me the tour of your school and told me more about how wonderful you have been in making all this happen. I also saw just how much the school has evolved into another masterpiece. So glad to hear you took this school over and made it what it has become today. Your vision and mission for the school and the children you serve are all so WONDERFUL. There is such a need for school with alternative approaches to learning for a great majority of children. Your new “TAB”, Teaching for Artistic Behavior Studio is wonderful and a great addition to what is truly needed. Your efforts need to be advertised more and telling parents and educators what you are doing and the great results you are having.

Judy Carnahan-Webb

Debbie Elder invited my daughter Corinne to speak at Shady Oak when she first learned that Corinne had written and illustrated a picture book for young children, My Friend Eepworm. Corinne has struggled with mental health special needs since early childhood and created eepworms to help her cope with the distress she often felt. Debbie felt that Corinne might inspire her students to reach for their own goals, especially when they are experiencing challenges.

We were warmly welcomed by students, staff and teachers and thoroughly enjoyed our visit! The children were very respectful to Corinne, showing interest and curiosity. They listened attentively, asked thoughtful questions and made comments that added to the discussion.

It is obvious that Shady Oak is a special place! I can tell that the students' social emotional development is nurtured as much as their learning. They are getting a wonderful whole-child educational experience!

Diane T. Goyette, M.A.

Child Development Specialist Trainer, Consultant & Speaker

It has been amazing to watch my child grow, develop a positive self-image and a "can do" attitude while attending Shady Oak over these past 4 years. Debbie sees the potential in her students and nurtures it! I believe that Shady Oak students are going to be kind, responsible, motivated, team players, and solution-seeking adults. There is no limit to what they can achieve. Thanks for building a strong group of teachers to inspire students.

My daughter discovered her love of public speaking when Debbie started the speech class in 3rd grade. The ability to speak in front of people with confidence is so important and will be a valuable asset throughout her life. In 5th grade, she was invited to speak in front of hundreds of adults at a conference.

I recognized at a young age that my daughter was dyslexic and was able to get her the support she needed. She will always struggle with reading but has learned to not let that be an excuse. While her confidence may not be high in that area she was able to excel in another. The way math is taught at Shady Oak she was able to move through her assignments and started pre-algebra in 5th grade. She had a great foundation when she went on to middle school.

Daysha Hopkins

Former Shady Oak Parent

Our son Peyton was on medical homebound for three years prior to him attending Shady Oak for his 5th grade year. Having a highly intelligent child concerned me enough with homeschooling, let alone sending him to a small private school. My only regret is that I wish I knew about Shady Oak from its inception. Not only did Shady Oak help my sweet child, but it also saved his life; it really did save his life in so many ways. Shady Oak gave Peyton a chance to reintegrate into a school setting, feel safe in his soundings, have confidence in who he is, and was trying to become. Peyton grew so much in one year at Shady Oak; it was mind-blowing to watch it on a daily basis. The highlight of my day was picking him up from school and hearing about his day, too the point of tears when he would hop in my car and tell me about it! The education at Shady Oak is top-notch and the approach is revolutionary! We still to this day talk about Shady Oak. Peyton contributes his success to his experience with Shady Oak, and we joke in my family that if I could’ve kept Peyton at Shady Oak for the rest of his academic career I would’ve! I once was a scared parent and understand the fear of change when it comes to your child(ren) and their education, have no fear with Shady Oak, the best decision you’ll ever make.

Windy Calvert

Former Shady Oak Parent

See What Students Are Saying!

The Eight Years I’ll Never Forget...

Nine times out of ten, people of all ages are shocked when I tell them I attended a private school up until sixth grade. I see their eyes widen when I describe the small classes that consist of twelve kids and one teacher. I typically get a laugh when I state the art room used to be a huge storage closet. They think I’m lying when I speak about feasts made by students, for students, and they are astonished when they realize how independent we kids are at Shady Oak Primary School. Okay, I think you get the idea that Shady Oak is unlike any other school out there. So, let me tell you about the school experience that changed my life.

I started attending Shady Oak at age three, and even then, I knew it was different than any other school. In kindergarten, my friends and I worked together to cook "meals" in our play kitchen. By second grade, we were chopping actual vegetables and serving the entire school gourmet meals. We started Speech class in third grade, and by fifth grade, I had spoken in front of a group of 750 adults as part of a keynote speech. Unbeknownst to me, all that collaboration and communication would pay off big time during the 2020-2021 school year. Yep, I’m talking about the never-ending spring break of last year, aka the beginning of COVID-19. No one expected the switch to online school to last so long, but here I am, waking up five days a week and walking three feet across my room to go to school. Turns out, that not-so-standard elementary school set me up to successfully navigate my way through my first year at a not-so-standard junior high.

The first hurdle I had to jump over during this year was learning how to communicate in the virtual learning environment. Since I couldn't hold face-to-face conversations with my teachers, I had to find other ways to get my questions answered. To solve this problem, I resorted to emails. In the beginning, I would put my emails into Grammarly, edit them over and over again, then pull out all my hair because I was scared I was going to miss a typo or risk not getting my point across. But thanks to one class at Shady Oak, I was able to overcome the fear and write emails in my sleep.

At Shady Oak, the Speech class teaches you how to think on your feet and react to different situations.  Before I stood up to speak in front of the class in Speech class, I would play the “What’s the worst that could happen?” game with myself. I would imagine scenarios in my head and figure out what I would do if that were to happen. What if I trip and fall on my way up to the front of the room? Get up and make it look like you did it on purpose. What if I say something wrong? Keep going. What if I don't get my point across? List all the reasons you could elaborate on your topic.

Now, I realize you can't trip and fall in an email asking your math teacher about homework, but you can still ask yourself similar questions. I now email my teachers daily without any self-conscious thoughts crowding my brain every time I look at the "Send" button. If my teachers ask me a question during my video calls, I use all the speech class advice and skills to talk to a class that I barely know.

February of 2021 brought on another challenge: online group projects. I had never done an online project, inside or outside of school. But throughout my years at Shady Oak, we did many group projects and group discussions; really, everything we did had some group aspect. I learned to listen to others’ ideas and work out any complications we came across. It wasn't long before I was emailing my group members and setting up meetings left and right. I listened to my group's opinions, gave mine, and solved any problems we had. What could have been a mess turned out to be a great project, all because I had learned the skills I needed to collaborate successfully at Shady Oak.

Looking back, I found that my years at Shady Oak were chock-full of great experiences that shaped the way I approach virtual learning nowadays. From doing online group projects to emailing teachers, me saying that this school year has been different would be an understatement. But I wouldn’t have tackled those hurdles the way I did if that small private school in Richmond hadn’t taught me all those crucial lessons about success and leadership.

Kaylie B.

I think it’s a really good school because they don’t just teach you Math and stuff; they teach you how to live your life. I [also] like that you put the classes together sometimes (like 1st and 2nd grade) and don’t keep them separate.

Christian S.

I like how they don’t give a lot of homework and when you’re done, you get to play. They teach you manners and to be kind to people.

Dane B.

Summer Success Summit At Shady Oak Primary

Dear Debbie - I just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the Summer Summit Happiness book!  It really is a work of art. Great job to everyone 🙂

I didn't tell you some of the things I noticed after the Summit.  One day, out of the blue, Joe hugged me and dad and told us Thank You for all we do, or something to that affect.  It was very unexpected, and very nice.  I've seen a lot more "appreciation" out of him lately.  Also, another thing that happened while we were stuck out of town not able to get home during the hurricane (we also had grandparents with us who were beginning to drive us batty and so our grumpy moods were flying), was again, out of the blue, he came up to each one of us and asked us what emotions we were feeling!  That was pretty cool.  It took me back a minute and of course made me wonder how much the kids were being affected by our grumpiness.

I've also seen a lot of generosity too, like sharing his birthday gift card with his sister, and wanting to do random things for me.

We are blessed to have him (and Julia too at Gateway!) in such an amazing environment.  Thank you for all you do!


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