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With the help of a community behind them, Dowd and Webb Simpson bring unique, new school to Charlotte

October 11, 2018


For Dowd Simpson, this year, the first day of school was a dream.


“It feels surreal,” Dowd recalled. “Oh my gosh, I still can’t believe this is actually happening.”


It’s happening, though. And, it keeps happening each school day.


A year-and-a-half ago, Dowd – a mother of four with a fifth on the way, and wife of PGA TOUR pro and 2018 winner of THE PLAYERS Championship, Webb Simpson – sat down at a table at a Charlotte area Whole Foods to create a school. Along with co-founders Erin Haneline and Heidi Tringali, the trio met there for hours each Thursday, arriving with an agenda, leaving with a to-do list to have accomplished prior to their next meeting.

On Tuesday, September 4th, a collective dream became a reality, as The Oaks opened its doors to students for the very first time.


“I just felt like a mom dropping her kid off at school,” Dowd said. “For that first week, I was a mom. Not a board member, not a founder. To hear, ‘Mom, I loved school. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow’ – it was just amazing.”


The mission of The Oaks is to develop and nurture the whole child – mind, body, spirit, and heart – as an image bearer of God through experiential environments, project-based learning, readiness rooms, and a Christ-centered philosophy that advocates for the mental, social, and emotional development of all students.


“Eight hours in a classroom for a six-year-old just seems off,” Webb said in a recent CharlotteFive story. “We knew we needed a fix and (Dowd) had this idea. When she told me she had this idea brewing and that it was important to her, I knew she would make it happen.”


“Based on my own educational experience and experience with children, we just wanted something different than what was out there,” Dowd said. “We wanted to cultivate a love of learning, and for our kids to grow up with a life-long love of learning. …We wanted short school hours, but also more hands-on learning. We really wanted to push project-based learning and skills, rather than trying to squeeze a bunch of information into your brains.”


Among the many examples of what makes The Oaks different – which includes special field trips each Friday, where the school and children give back in the local community – Dowd calls the readiness rooms her favorite.  


At The Oaks, according to the school’s website, they want to be sure that no child enters the classroom without first being ready to learn. A student who is physically calm, socially connected, and cognitively organized has been proven to have better reception and retention of new information as well as improved recall of previously acquired information.


To achieve a state of cognitive organization, physical calm and social connection (or “readiness”), students at The Oaks visit readiness rooms between their time in each educational environment. Readiness rooms are overseen by trained and certified Occupational Therapists (OTs) and are filled with items and tools for cognitive, social, and physical realignment. After a period of time in the readiness rooms, children proceed their next educational environment in a state of “readiness,” enabling them to receive and retain information to their full potential.


“The trampolines, the swings, tunnels that squish the body when you get through – we’re giving the tools to recognize, to re-center, and re-calm their bodies,” Dowd said. “My kids say this is their favorite space. You transition from the readiness room to the classroom ready to participate. For 10-15 minutes, sometimes, you just have to get your wiggles out.”


Creating a new school from scratch hasn’t come without challenges.


The Oaks is currently renting space from Providence Baptist Church. The school couldn’t even get into the space until two weeks prior to classes starting.


“Families had to take a chance on us,” Dowd said. “I mean, they hadn’t even walked the halls.”


But families did take a chance on The Oaks, and their children are thriving.


Many others have shown their support as well. Thanks to PGA TOUR partner Dell Technologies, 20 computers were donated to the new school.


“Webb and I were overwhelmed,” Dowd said. “The eagerness and willingness of Dell’s generosity – they were just so fast to support. Our partners and the PGA TOUR not only want to support their communities, but the players as well. We’re so grateful for what they’ve all given us. To be able to give a unique educational experience – it’s such a gift.”


A gift that, for the greater Charlotte community, will just keep giving.


“We really trust the people we’ve hired,” Dowd said. “We trust them to fly in their area of excellence. …The whole Charlotte community has been so great. The schools here really are for the children. What we’re doing is meant to compliment what’s already happening. We’re all seeking the betterment of kids in Charlotte.”


“At first, it was like planning a wedding. We knew the big things, and that we wanted to accomplish the big things first. From there, the little things just fell into the right place.”

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