By Marilou D. Horton
In August 2022, Deonne Wittmann began fulfilling her dream of opening a full-time private school in Long Beach with a one-room schoolhouse vibe. Now, the Wittmann Learning Center needs playground equipment to complete the educator's vision, and she is asking for help.
The empty fenced-in lot behind the private school is eager to embrace the smiles and giggles of youngsters swinging, sliding and socializing with their peers. To accomplish this, Wittmann, who holds both her bachelor's and master's degrees in education, has created an online Go Fund Me account.
Wittmann explained that when the center moved into a larger building across from its original location, rent increased drastically, and no money remained for the much-needed playground equipment. A parent of one of her students suggested asking for financial assistance online.
"I went on there [Go Fund Me] to ask the community for help with the playground," the former Quarles Elementary teacher explained. Through her Go Fund Me account, the director has received many messages from residents of the area who want to help. She added that every penny raised is documented and will go toward playground equipment.
"It's for the children. To grow the business, I have to have a place for the kids to play,” said Wittman. “Right now, they run around with nothing to do. The children need it, and they deserve it."
Wittmann first opened a local tutoring and afterschool program in December 2021. Through conversations with peers and parents in Long Beach, she discovered a need for a small, Christian-based all-day education program. She explained that the facility incorporates the Bible into the curriculum and teacher-created assignments, while following standards used in the public school system. The Wittmann Learning Center utilizes Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a Bible-based, Christian K–12 curriculum consisting of reading programs, core curriculum, required electives and additional instructional programs.
The director, who first pursued a college degree in music education before committing to elementary ed, says she believes that many of the problems in public schools today began when religion was removed from the classroom.
"I taught in a private Christian school during my first year as a certified teacher, and then I taught in public schools. There is a vast difference. I wanted to go to a family environment here. We are small, and the kids get along," Wittmann said. She added that the students know they have expectations and consequences at both school and home.
The experienced educator has seen a significant difference between her students from the beginning of the school year to where they are today - self-discipline. Wittmann and the other two teachers at the school educate the children on how to take ownership of their learning. She says they are not regimented by the common core or the scope and sequence as in public schools. As a result, Wittmann says her private school teaches the students everything required, but using inquiry-based learning.
"Here, the students take ownership of their learning, and the teacher is the facilitator," she explained.
Wittmann added that she follows a checklist to ensure she is teaching the same standards as in the public school system. However, an advantage of a private facility is a smaller class size, one-on-one instruction, and the assurance that the educators are addressing each student's individual needs and learning styles.
"Not all the students who go here have some challenge or disability that prevents their learning in the regular classroom; however, some do. So, I want to ensure the community knows this is a school for anyone interested. Because we are a small school, we benefit from one-on-one instruction."
Currently, the private all-day school has eighteen students, ranging from kindergarten to the sixth grade, and a preschool class. Learning standards are in place, and the educators at Wittmann Learning Center use them as they would if teaching in a public school.
"The students must learn to put commas where they need to go,” said Whittman. “They need to know how to add and subtract. The ACE curriculum has a scope and sequence. We use a traditional way that is easy for the students. If what is in the book doesn't work for them, we do it another way and differentiate instruction for each child." Much of that includes nature-based learning, field trips, and learning through real-life situations.
Wittmann's vision for the private school is that the students continue to grow, remain self-sufficient and sustain their existence.
"I would like to increase our preschool program to ten or fifteen kids, where I can hire another teacher. I would also like to have some high school enrollment."
The educator, who is also board certified, said she has a five-year plan which includes positively impacting the community and increasing the school’s attendance numbers. At the same time, she does not want to grow too much.
"I still want us to remain small and continue to have a family environment, while maintaining that one-room schoolhouse feel."
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