(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center recently completed its “The Works 2020” start-up accelerator with seven participants. We are spotlighting them in a series of articles. Today’s article features Brenda Murphy and Bethany Martin of SailAway Learning and Academy.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The name SailAway probably brings-up thoughts about a sailing adventure on the high seas. You want to enjoy it, but you know you need to be prepared for any challenges that you might experience during the nautical journey.
Well, that’s exactly what SailAway Learning and Academy wants to provide in partnership with parents. The goal is to ensure that every child is prepared to achieve academically by learning to love learning and becoming healthy, well-adjusted adults.
“Sail stands for ‘serve all in love,’” says Brenda Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer. Away combines “academic wisdom” with “and yare,” the latter word being a nautical term meaning quick, agile and lively.
The Kingston-based company that participated in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s latest “The Works 2020” program evolved from a decision made by Murphy about 25 years ago. After working in public relations, writing a theater column for a national newspaper, and home-schooling her five sons, Murphy told us, “I decided to switch gears.”
What really inspired her was helping kids learn to read. SailAway started as a tutoring service helping the children of friends and has evolved into much more. First up was a micro-school founded in 1999 that was designed to serve students who had fallen through the proverbial crack.
Initially launched in Murphy’s home, the micro-school outgrew that space within four years, and the Founder moved to Kingston where the operation is still located with a satellite office in West Knoxville. By definition, a micro-school is small with SailAways generally having five to eight students at a time.
For some, it is an ongoing activity through high school. Others, however, “spend a short time here, filling academic gaps, healing wounds, and becoming confident in their ability to achieve in any learning environment,” SailAway writes on its website.
Other programs developed from the original micro-school and tutoring services. One is the SailAway Literacy Program, the organization’s proprietary, innovative approach to teaching-and-learning reading and composition skills. One aspect of the program draws on an important skillset that many no longer embrace – cursive writing. While mandated by the State of Tennessee, Murphy says that teaching cursive writing is a challenge for many teachers.
“Students can master cursive in a matter of six weeks,” she says. “It gives people an ability to see themselves as capable and competent.”
Two other offerings under the SailAway umbrella are its Diagnostic Evaluation and Academic Assessment Center and “Strong at Home,” a video series that encourages, informs, and inspires parents with the resources and support they need to be strong at home, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in many students taking classes virtually.
Martin, Director of Operations and an alum of SailAway, explains that she became involved as a home-schooled high school student. “Our success is measured by them (students) graduating or moving on,” she says.
So, what drew the SailAway team to “The Works 2020”? It was the opportunity to touch more parents, teachers and students through the packaging of its cursive writing program with lesson plans and videos in yet another business line. Murphy wants to start with 10 to 15 pilot sites utilizing SailAway’s materials at the outset before further expansion.