As a couple that travels frequently in their careers, Zach and Megan Duke were trying to determine the best way to educate their 5-year-old daughter Malia. This was in 2019, and although there were a number of wonderful schooling options in the area, there wasn’t one geared toward homeschool-minded, faith-based families. So the Dukes decided to start one of their own. In 2020 they launched Indiana Leadership Academy (ILA), designed to nurture foundations, multiply leaders and teach students ownership.
“The timing was divine because the pandemic really helped shift people’s perspectives about alternative ways of doing school,” says Zach, the headmaster for ILA.
Though ILA is legally a private school, parents who gravitate to it want to help with their kids’ homework and truly be part of their child’s educational experience.
“Our goal is to train and equip both students and parents,” Megan says. “I think that’s a unique differentiator because becoming a lifelong learner happens in the home as well as at school.”
The way Zach explains the school’s mission is by comparing their role to that of a Sherpa. Sherpas are skilled in mountaineering, and guide people up the steep Himalayas.
“We are like Sherpas in that we don’t say, ‘Give us your kids and we’ll get them up the mountain,’ but we also don’t say, ‘Hey, good luck finding the mountain yourself,’” Zach says. “We act as those equipping guides, working in partnership with families as we climb that mountain together.”
The Dukes have added a grade each year since ILA’s inception, and now they offer kindergarten through third grade. They plan to continue doing so until they reach grade 8. Classes are small (10 to 12 students), which enables kids to receive customized attention in the classroom.
The majority of their curricula comes from the Charlotte Mason method, which incorporates an experiential, hands-on learning model. They include traditional academics like math, reading and writing, while also weaving in biblical studies, nature studies, music, poetry, foreign language and scripture memorization.
“There’s a long list of subjects that help cater to the overall well-roundedness of the child,” says Megan, noting that they focus on three core competencies – leadership, character and perseverance.
“The mindset that we’re going to engage, endure and not give up builds mental fortitude,” Zach says.
They want to help students learn habits and disciplines that create a love of learning. A big part of that is teaching leadership. One often doesn’t have a true grasp of a subject until training it and passing it on, and rather than assessing skills through standardized testing, they take the students through a leadership training process.
“Going through school I was amazing at test taking, but I was also amazing at forgetting what I was tested on two weeks later,” Zach says. “Learning something deeply and experientially, and knowing how to pass that on, is what makes it stick.”
Zach and Megan recently received a text message from a mom of one of their second-grade students. She explained how her introverted son came home from school and shared how he had stepped up and led the class that day. The experience provided a huge self-esteem boost.
“We are so grateful for our top-tier teachers at ILA.From day one they have exceeded all expectations”, says Zach.“Our head teacher, Lydia, also trains the onboarding teachers in curriculum and culture.”
Something else that distinguishes ILA from other schools is their half-day schedule. By offering focused hours, students learn quickly and effectively. It also aids in muscle memory in their brains. They hold classes Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to noon (on Fridays schoolwork is done at home). On Mondays and Wednesdays, parents lead extracurricular activities from noon to 1:30 p.m. These activities may include soccer, basketball, softball, crafts or science experiments.
“We give parents the freedom to teach based on their interests and passions,” Megan says.
In addition, every Wednesday they engage in a disciple-making program that helps students understand who God is and who they are in Jesus Christ.
ILA offers families a great deal of flexibility, so if they want to homeschool for the day or need to take a trip, the teachers provide parents with assignments to administer from home (or on the road).
The Duke family has deep roots in the Center Grove community, having been here since the early 1800s.
“What we want is for every single school in this community to be firing on all cylinders,” Zach says. “We want to see this community flourish for the next generation.”
“Our son loved learning the classical curriculum not taught at most schools now. We also enjoyed working on the curriculum with him. It felt like homeschooling without the planning. You certainly feel like family at this unique school.” – Laura K., former ILA parent
“Our daughter is absolutely thriving at ILA. We were extremely careful in our search when we were considering where to invest in our child’s education – Christ-centered, strong curricula and passionate instructors. ILA exceeds our expectations in all of those areas.” – Renee R., current ILA parent
“We had the best experience at ILA and highly recommend for anyone wanting a strong biblical foundation for their child’s education. We were blown away by not only the curriculum, but also by the extracurricular activities offered.” – Megan S., former ILA parent
“ILA is the perfect fit for our family. We love the close friendships we’ve formed with the other families and tutors. Our kids love going to school. It’s never a fight. We’re so thankful we can build a strong foundation for our kids’ lives through ILA.” – Brittany N., current ILA parent