This blog post was generated from the following episode of the LiberatEd Podcast with Kerry McDonald. Find more at: https://www.liberatedpodcast.com/
In the quaint farmhouse nestled on her expansive property in Wichita, Kansas, Jessica Ramsey has transformed a cozy classroom into a hub of learning. Here, she offers personalized one-on-one tutoring sessions to local school-aged children, leveraging her expertise as a seasoned teacher. Jessica's passion for education led her to resign from the public school system in 2021 and embark on an entrepreneurial path. Her venture, Farmhouse Phonics, has not only become a resounding success but has also positioned her as a mentor to fellow educators seeking a similar path. With a remarkable track record of helping children in her community improve their reading skills and achieve academic proficiency, Jessica's story is an inspiring testament to the power of individualized learning. In this blog post, we dive into the first half of Jessica Ramsey's journey and the motivations that led her to pursue a new path in education.
Starting with a Love for Teaching
From an early age, Jessica had a clear vision of her future as an educator. Growing up, she found immense joy in attending school, learning, and even playing pretend teacher with her five siblings at home. Encouraged by her mother, who had also aspired to become a teacher, Jessica's path was set. Following her passion, she pursued a degree in education from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, where she gained valuable insights into managing classrooms and meeting the diverse needs of young learners.
From Classroom to Classroom
After completing college, Jessica embarked on her teaching career, initially securing a position at a parochial school in Wichita. This experience provided her with valuable lessons on classroom management and honing her instructional skills. As her journey continued, she transitioned to the public school system in the area to further enrich her teaching practice. The resources, professional development opportunities, and ongoing training in the public school system opened up new avenues for growth, fueling her love for teaching.
A Passion for Early Literacy
Throughout her teaching years, Jessica primarily worked with elementary-aged students. It was during this time that she became acutely aware of the challenges some children faced in reading and literacy. While her early teaching experiences were marked by successful outcomes, she noticed a disparity when she moved to a new school and encountered third-grade students who lacked a solid foundation in reading. This realization fueled her interest in early literacy and the significance of phonics instruction as a stepping stone for reading proficiency. Jessica became a staunch advocate for phonics education, recognizing that decoding skills were essential for language acquisition and comprehension.
The Turning Point
Jessica's teaching journey took an unexpected turn when she aspired to become a reading interventionist. However, despite her qualifications and experience, she was informed that she lacked the necessary master's degree to obtain the position. This moment became a pivotal juncture in her career, as she pondered her options. Determined to continue making a meaningful impact on children's reading abilities, Jessica decided to explore alternative avenues. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to online education provided her with an opportunity to experiment with one-on-one tutoring. Initially, she began working with a single student to help strengthen her literacy skills. Word of mouth quickly spread, and soon, Jessica found herself juggling multiple tutoring sessions after her regular teaching hours.
The Birth of Farmhouse Phonics
Encouraged by the positive response and the growing demand for her services, Jessica realized that she could make a greater impact outside the confines of a traditional classroom. As she considered her next steps, she envisioned transforming a space in her farmhouse into a dedicated tutoring environment. With the support of her family, she repurposed an area adjacent to their home, creating a cozy, welcoming atmosphere for her students. Equipped with an abundance of manipulatives, resources, and research-based materials, Jessica designed her classroom to cater to the individual needs of each child.
The room exudes a warm and inviting ambiance, with comfortable chairs and a carpeted floor where young learners can engage in hands-on activities. Jessica's loyal companion, Blue, a rescue dog who has become an integral part of the tutoring experience, often joins the sessions, instantly putting the children at ease. Blue listens attentively as the children read aloud, occasionally offering her toys as a sign of encouragement. The presence of this furry friend creates a sense of comfort and companionship that fosters a positive learning environment.
One of the key aspects Jessica appreciates about her tutoring space is its physical separation from her home. The dedicated entrance provides a clear distinction between her personal life and her professional endeavors. This separation allows her family to freely move about the house without disrupting the learning environment. Simultaneously, it allows Jessica to maintain a sense of professionalism while still embracing the cozy, homely atmosphere she has created.
Within the walls of Farmhouse Phonics, cabinets brim with meticulously organized manipulatives and resources. Each tool is thoughtfully selected to support the development of essential reading and phonics skills. Whether it's letter tiles, sight word cards, or engaging storybooks, Jessica ensures that her arsenal of teaching materials is diverse and adaptable to meet the unique needs of her students.
The Power of Phonics: Creating a Nurturing Learning Environment at Farmhouse Phonics
As Jessica guides her students through their lessons, she often sits alongside them on the floor, fostering a sense of camaraderie and closeness. For older students, small bar stools provide a comfortable perch. The flexibility of the space allows Jessica to tailor her teaching approach to each child's learning style and preferences.
Farmhouse Phonics not only represents Jessica's dedication to her craft but also symbolizes her commitment to creating a nurturing and effective learning environment. The success she has witnessed in her students, coupled with the overwhelming support from parents and the community, serves as a testament to the impact she has made.
In her farmhouse-turned-tutoring haven, Jessica discovered her secret to success. She firmly believed in the power of phonemic and phonological awareness, recognizing them as the fundamental building blocks of reading proficiency. Regardless of the students' age or grade, she began her sessions by assessing their phonological awareness, and carefully identifying areas of weakness. From there, she would diligently work to strengthen those skills before moving on to phonics assessment.
One of the distinctive aspects of Jessica's approach was her refusal to be bound by grades. She didn't merely teach students based on their academic level; instead, she taught children how to read, whether they were five or thirteen. The range of her students spanned from young children struggling to grasp basic phonics to older students grappling with complex words. Jessica embraced this diversity and understood that the key to success lay in pinpointing each student's struggles, identifying their lacking skill sets, and uncovering the gaps in their phonological concepts and phonic sounds.
For Jessica, mastery was essential. She didn't believe in moving forward until a skill was thoroughly embedded and orthographically mapped. Every session, without fail, began with phonemic awareness and sound-symbol review. If a student encountered difficulty with a specific sound, they wouldn't simply gloss over it. Instead, they delved deeper, exploring the sound through reading, spelling, and orthographic mapping. Jessica's commitment to ensuring a strong and lasting understanding meant that she didn't shy away from repeating these exercises, sometimes for months, until the skill was mastered.
Empowering Older Elementary Students through Phonics Instruction
As the conversation delved deeper, Jessica shared her insights into the challenges faced by older elementary students. In their classrooms, phonics instruction waned, and teachers often lacked a robust phonics background themselves. Jessica recognized the need to bridge the gap between learning to read and reading to learn. She emphasized decoding, encoding, morphology, and the importance of understanding syllable types to tackle longer, more complex words. But beyond the technical aspects, she placed great emphasis on the confidence gained by struggling readers. Providing support after school or during the summer, Jessica witnessed transformations in her students—improved grades, heightened self-assurance, and a renewed love for learning.
Despite her resounding success, Jessica couldn't help but ponder the countless students she couldn't reach. She lamented the lack of sufficient support within schools and the struggles many children faced throughout their educational journeys. While her schedule was packed, she yearned for more resources and assistance to expand her reach. Jessica knew that her work was just a drop in the ocean and that there was a significant need for targeted interventions and additional support systems. Still, she found solace in the knowledge that she was making a positive impact within her community.
Paving the Path: Insights and Advice for Education Entrepreneurs
As Jessica shared her experiences and insights, it became evident that her journey from being a classroom teacher to becoming an education entrepreneur had been transformative. She provided valuable advice for those considering a similar path, whether opening a tutoring company, starting a microschool, or leaving the conventional classroom to become an entrepreneur.
One crucial aspect Jessica emphasized was the importance of choosing a suitable location for teaching and meeting students. She shared her own experience of tutoring out of her classroom during the summer, with her boss's support. Additionally, she mentioned public libraries and even a friend who tutored at a local Starbucks, highlighting the significance of finding a comfortable and quiet space that fosters effective learning.
Thorough assessments at the beginning of each tutoring journey were another key recommendation from Jessica. Understanding each student's specific needs and knowing where to start was crucial for providing targeted instruction. She implemented a strategy where she asked parents to email both her and the classroom teacher when she began working with a new student, creating an open line of communication. This collaboration allowed her to tailor her lessons based on the teacher's insights and upcoming curriculum. Moreover, having students bring their backpacks and folders enabled her to review their schoolwork and address any errors or gaps in understanding.
Collaboration emerged as a recurring theme in Jessica's approach. She stressed the importance of working hand in hand with parents, classroom teachers, and reading interventionists, viewing themselves as a team united in the goal of helping the child succeed. Jessica spoke highly of the collaborative atmosphere among education entrepreneurs in Wichita, where she had found a community of like-minded individuals. She mentioned other tutoring centers that had evolved into established microschool networks, reflecting the growing interest and demand for alternative education options.
The Future of Education: Empowered Parents and Emerging Paths
Discussing the future of education, Jessica recognized the changing dynamics between families and schooling. She observed that parents were taking a more active role in their children's education, conducting their own research and seeking best practices. The pandemic had played a significant role in this transformation, as parents realized both the challenges and benefits of being more involved. Jessica predicted a surge in microschools, homeschooling, and parents embracing a more hands-on approach.
As for Jessica's future goals, she expressed her desire to expand her impact. She envisioned having her own Schoolhouse on her property and employing additional teachers to meet the needs of more students. Collaboration remained at the forefront of her growth strategy, as she considered working with a school psychologist friend to further extend their reach.
The conversation touched upon the thriving education entrepreneurship scene in Wichita, where a collaborative atmosphere prevailed. The pandemic had fueled the demand for schooling alternatives, leading to the emergence of microschools, learning pods, and low-cost private schools. Jessica credited the Vela education fund for its support in her journey, providing micro grants and fostering a community of education entrepreneurs.
In closing, Jessica shared her contact information, inviting listeners to connect with her. She encouraged them to follow the Farmhouse Phonics Facebook page for updates and ideas, while also providing her email address for direct communication. With her successful Tutoring company, Jessica had made a significant impact in her community, and she welcomed inquiries from teachers interested in following a similar path.
As the conversation with Jessica concluded, it was clear that her passion for education entrepreneurship and commitment to student success had driven her to create Farmhouse Phonics. Her insights and experiences provided valuable guidance for those considering alternative education paths, inspiring others to embark on similar journeys of their own.