Updated: Oct 1, 2021
UPDATE Fall 2021: Leah Banford has moved into a primary teacher role at FernLeaf and we've hired a new FLIP director, Sarah Kidston. Learn all about Sarah on our team page.
Woven throughout the FernLeaf mission statement is a resolute belief in the African wisdom that knows "it takes a village to raise a child." FernLeaf's staff leans into that truth every day as Teachers and Administrators work with each other, with parents and families, and with community resources to ensure that students are supported as holistically as possible. From the social-emotional resources that the staff offer to children and families across grade levels, to academic resources that give students support that meets their changing needs, the staff knows that the village for FernLeaf students is diverse and dynamic.
A tangible example of this support is the FernLeaf Intervention Program. Funded with Federal Title I funds, the school-wide program provides at-risk students with regular, targeted small group instruction.
The program (conveniently shortened to FLIP) is driven by Leah Banford and Lorna Festa.
The two work together to consistently facilitate small group instruction for students who are identified by teachers or parents as needing additional academic support in a specific area.
Throughout the season of school-wide remote learning and into the current iteration of both in-person and remote learning options, Leah and Lorna are a quiet and consistent presence in the lives of students who demonstrate academic needs but don't qualify for more formal individual education plans. The team's goal is to offer students the support they need to flourish in the classroom.
Growing up in a family of educators, Leah vowed "never to be a teacher." She went so far as to move as far as she could from her hometown in Georgia, taking a job on a real life dude ranch in the deep mountains of Colorado. Twenty years later, in the midst of COVID and after more than a decade of work as an interventionist at the Crested Butte Community School, she put away her snow shovel and came back to the Southeast.
Lorna, after studying creative writing in graduate school in England, moved to Asheville in 2010. Following the way of many in the valley, she found jobs across fields and forms, working as a copywriter, social media marketer and as a resident team advisor at an in-patient treatment center. Her supervisor at the center encouraged her to consider teaching, and when she found FernLeaf her fate was sealed.
While Lorna and Leah's routes to FLIP are different, they share a passion for the work and the opportunities it affords them.
"I love getting to establish close relationships with kids and parents," Leah said, smiling brightly as she recalled the intimate bonds she has forged with families during the tumult of COVID and the challenges of remote learning.
Similarly, Lorna highlighted how much she loves working in small groups with students, across grade levels and disciplines. "I think humans all have superpowers," she said. "I get to help students discover theirs, even if their powers may lie outside what's expected."
Leah echoed that sentiment: "I love watching kids and groups have AH-HA moments of understanding and growth. It's incredible to watch kids' confidence grow as they figure things out and move beyond challenges."
Just take a look at this sign that currently hangs in the FLIP classroom reminding students every day of their super powers: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and loved more than you know.”
It's possible to forget the wisdom and transformative truth of ancient wisdom like the African proverb. The FernLeaf village made up in part by Leah and Lorna, their work as FLIP interventionists and the Title I funds that allow it, and the FernLeaf staff and parents, however, are a powerful example of that truth in action every day on behalf of FernLeaf students.