Faith in Academics

Professional golfer Webb Simpson and his wife, Dowd, are part of a team launching a new private school this fall.

When the door opens to pro golfer Webb Simpson’s SouthPark home, there’s a stunning, fresh-faced blonde who could pass for a college underclassman standing in the entryway with a warm smile and a big spread set out for an afternoon interview in the kitchen.

She is unpretentious and unassuming. She is not an underclassman, though she was when she first met Webb.

She is, Dowd Simpson, Webb’s college sweetheart and wife, now pregnant with the couple’s fifth child—and one of the co-founders of a new school in Charlotte that she and her husband say focuses on faith and family, the two things that matter most to them.

Webb’s dad is the one who convinced Dowd to date his son when Webb was an incoming freshman at Wake Forest University.

“His dad came up to me and says, ‘My son is a freshman and a dorky golfer and it will really help if he’s seen with you,’” recalls Dowd.  “His dad offered me $100 to go out with Webb and I laughed and told him I would do it ‘if he’s half as cute as you.’” Webb and Dowd married January 2010.

Dowd, who is 33, is the oldest of five in her family. Webb, 32, is one of six kids. Both have a strong Christian faith.

“I grew up in a big family and my parents were super involved,” says Webb, one of the best golfers in the world. “Apart from my faith, family is second most important…and it’s far ahead of golf.”

And— with faith and family at the core—the Simpsons are pursuing another passion: education. They are part of a team launching The Oaks (theoakscharlotte.org), a brand new private school here in Charlotte. It will be a nonprofit, year-round private school offering a biblically-based education that provides hands-on experiential learning and developing a child’s mind, heart, body, and spirit.

“It’s not a Christian school,” Dowd explains. “Our doors are open to whomever wants to come—but we will teach curriculum from the Bible.”

For the Simpsons, The Oaks is about creating the types of experiences that shapes children into curious learners who feel a connection to their community.

“We’re going to be focused on growing them as individuals,” Webb says.

Learning on the road

The idea for the school started to take shape about a year ago when Dowd realized she wasn’t sure what kind of education she wanted for their kids. Their oldest, James, is 7, Willow is 6, Winnie is 4 and Mercy is 2.

The Oaks will be housed at Providence Baptist Church on Randolph Road. Ironically, that’s the same place where the Fletcher School launched in the early ’80s, started by another set of parents who were frustrated by the lack of options for their kids.

When they were younger, she and the kids traveled with Webb on the road 25 weeks a year.  James, their oldest, hit the road with his parents when he was just 2 weeks old. The PGA even offers a daycare and many of the kids on the tour grow up together—something the family loved.

Dowd says, “I traveled with Webb for 10 years. Our life was on the road. Traveling with Webb was easier than being without him and the kids didn’t know any different. They stuck to a routine. Home is not just four walls and a roof; it’s where we all are together.”

Dowd homeschooled her oldest two for a few years, but soon realized she wanted her kids to have the socialization element of a more typical classroom. A native Charlottean, she grew up going to Charlotte Country Day School and Charlotte Latin School.

But she says nothing felt quite right.

“I did not grow up loving to learn, I grew up learning how to perform for a test,” Dowd says. “Kids are born with a God-given curiosity, and I wanted a school that was a part of nurturing and developing the whole child. I don’t have a background in education. I just want what’s best for my kids.”

Webb agrees. “Eight hours in a classroom for a 6-year-old just seems off,” he says. “We knew we needed a fix and she 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.”

Dowd and a friend realized they both had “this crazy idea to start a school.”

That friend, Erin Haneline, is now a co-founder of The Oaks. “I think we share the same passion and desire to provide something different than what is currently available,” Haneline says.

Haneline had also tried homeschooling and didn’t think it was right for her or her kids. The two women started meeting at Whole Foods in June 2017, and eventually connected with Heidi Tringali, an occupational therapist who believes all kids can benefit from the kind of activities she does in her work.

That’s why one of the hallmarks of the school is what’s being called “readiness rooms,” where kids will literally be trained to get ready to learn. The rooms will be filled with trampolines, plush furniture, and swings…all things that encourage kids to get some energy out while being comfortable and ultimately calm. “Cognitive organization, physical calm, and social connectedness is the human state that allows for optimum learning,” Tringali explains.

Webb believes this approach will work. “I personally didn’t enjoy school because I sat for so long and we think we’re solving that with The Oaks.”  While the couple’s oldest son will stay at the school where he started last year, Willow, their 6-year-old, will be in the inaugural class.

From hitting the links to hitting the books

The school will be K-3 to start and be based on already proven curriculum. The three founders have spent the last year hiring teachers and say they’re grateful for the community support they’re already receiving. “A lot of people really love the vision,” Dowd says. But the women know in their inaugural year, it’s a gamble for families, and one that doesn’t come cheap. Tuition is $12,500 a year.

The classes will be smaller (the entire school caps out at 32), the school day will be shorter, and Fridays are set aside for special field trips—giving back to the community. The students will work on service projects throughout Charlotte.

Dowd says that’s the part she loves most about The Oaks.

“My favorite piece of the whole school is the Friday plan,” Dowd says. “We want these kids to know it’s about helping each other and making our community better and I think over time these kids will start believing that finding true joy is serving other people and not ourselves.”

Dowd says that’s a guiding principle for her and Webb as they raise their young family, and she’s excited to see that spread through the community. She’s hoping the school grows, too.

“My vision is that in five to ten years, we start The Oaks Institute, where we develop our own curriculum and we have schools in different parts of Charlotte,” she says.

Webb adds, “I think it’s amazing and seeing it come to life is really cool because they’ve worked on it for so long.”

Webb says while he is obviously staying on the PGA tour, he’ll be as involved in The Oaks as he can. “I have a voice in the community because I’m an athlete, I can reach people fairly easily,” he says. “I’m just gonna be spreading the word, being an activist.

“And if they need a golf coach I’ll be there any time.”

Featured Image: CATRINA EARLS PHOTOGRAPHY

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