Helping children be seen and understood

Authored by Ray Nothstine

Shiren Rattigan exudes expertise when it comes to understanding all the changes happening in education. It makes sense given her background. Rattigan not only comes from a long lineage of educators but has taught in public and private schools in the U.S. and abroad.

It only takes seconds when conversing with her to realize she knows what she is talking about, particularly when it comes to the frustration and angst so many parents and students feel in many traditional schools. A lot of students aren’t receiving the chance to be themselves or thrive in a small supportive community which has resulted in a demand explosion for more choice in education.  

Rattigan is the founder and head of Colossal Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Colossal is a microschool. “Small” really doesn’t describe Colossal, “different” is the word that stands out.

“Parents are frustrated that their child is not being seen in the current education system,” says Rattigan. She adds that the microschool model allows Colossal to stay nimble and adaptable, pivoting as needed to provide the best education for students. “We believe that the personal connection between educators and students is irreplaceable and that this dynamic is what truly unlocks a student’s potential.”

A differentiator that stands out with the Colossal curriculum is the student engagement in the community. “In a world where the traditional classroom often feels like a bubble, it’s crucial to ask: what is the value in going out into the world to learn?” Rattigan calls it “experiential learning.” She knows that children are soon going to be required to fully be a part of this world so why not give them a head start on how to handle the unique and differing perspectives in a pluralistic society.

The idea is that students are not just problem solvers and innovators, but they are seen as part of the community.

“A prime example of this is the “Swaggy Seniors” club that was created by our students,” says Rattigan. “They took it upon themselves to organize Christmas caroling at senior centers during the holiday season. We simply provided them with the means to make it happen, such as transportation and support.”

Shiren Rattigan

She says that this is just one way that Colossal is helping to create good citizens infused with virtue. She also brings up a time when students addressed the lack of a crosswalk in a certain area of a local park. Her students conducted their own traffic study and presented their findings to the city, demonstrating civic responsibility in action.

Core subjects are a key part of learning, too. “Colossal Academy’s model emphasizes the importance of literacy, numeracy, STEM, and technology competency, but also highlights the critical role of nature in synthesizing these competencies,” declares Rattigan.

Florida is a universal educational savings account state, so they require assessment tests to track student progress. Rattigan emphasizes this is a no-pressure situation for students and the environment and team atmosphere pays dividends in the learning process. It’s not unusual for students with more precise knowledge of another topic to help teach lessons.

While Florida is a school choice model nationally, Rattigan says there is plenty of room for improvement, particularly in a high-cost area like Southeast Florida. For example, schools like Colossal still don’t get the same per-pupil spending through the ESA as most public schools across the state. Rattigan also mentions specific improvements the state could make to increase access to transportation for students and a more comprehensive school lunch program. “Florida has the opportunity to not only maintain its reputation as a leader in school choice but also ensure that all students have access to high-quality education options,” says Rattigan.

It’s no secret that many students find school boring and that’s always been at the forefront of Rattigan’s mind. Learning is tailored for individual students at Colossal but this microschool stands out as a community that ventures out far beyond any walls.

When students are ready to leave Colossal, Rattigan hopes that instilled in them is a rich understanding of science and agriculture, as well as entrepreneurial skills that promote adaptability and mobility in a rapidly changing economic landscape.

“The true inspiration in my work lies in the connection and protection of children,” says Rattigan. “The spark of discovery that occurs between dedicated educators and young minds is what truly fuels my passion,” she adds. “Witnessing the magic that happens when passionate educators are paired with curious and active young learners is an experience like no other.”

Authored by:Ray Nothstine


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