Two local educators have become so sought for their teaching and tutoring services in Spring Hill that they are now incorporating and blossoming as a nontraditional school.
Denise Shevel and Susan Snowdon are long-time educators who offered a one-time program at their church and stumbled upon a need in the community. Stepping in to meet that need snowballed into the creation of an avant-garde academy called Motivating Outstanding Minds, now entering its second year this fall with the historic Rippavilla as its intellectually engaging campus.
Shevel’s and Snowdon’s homeschool tutoring program has progressed enough at this point that it is seeking donation scholarships as it enters into a 501(c)3 program to invest in their students and families. This marks a significant milestone considering their humble beginnings.
Shevel and Snowdon met long ago during their extensive, parallel careers in the Williamson County School District. Snowdon retired in the spring of 2021, and both of them were especially attuned to families discontent with how the pandemic had fractured their children’s social lives, splintering some into homeschool groups.
“Several of the parents at church and our life group and kids were reaching to us saying, ‘Can you tutor us? Can you support us? Can you come to our homeschool group and teach a class,’” Shevel recounted for Home Page. “That’s when we just heard the call from God saying, ‘We need to open up a homeschool tutorial.’”
Before that, though, they also offered a community event called Fab Friday. It was a bible lesson that doubled as a moms’ night out. Parents were able to go out to dinner or catch a break while these certified teachers watched their kids for a bit. That became a recurring event.
Next, they started having parents petition them to come teach here and there. These parents knew them from church, from school, from community activities like the engagement of The Well Outreach in Spring Hill and countless other ways. As a result, they decided in March 2021 to start a homeschool support for parents in the form of a tutorial for grades three through five.
“A lot of these families, they’ve got to work,” Snowdon explained. “They’ve got to be able to be with their children, support them educationally, and this was a wonderful way for us to lean into these parents, into the community, continue to work with the Well of Spring Hill, tutor kids that really needed it, work with ministry families in churches who needed tutoring at a reduced price and just so many wonderful doors that God kept opening.”
The summer before opening M.O.M., they were still trying to figure out where they would establish their academy. Shevel had left messages for the event coordinator at Rippavilla but had yet to work anything out with them.
She called again two weeks before they were set to open, still having no location, and the call unexpectedly led Shevel and Snowdon to a serendipitous meeting with Eric Jacobson, CEO for the Battle of Franklin Trust, which took over management of Rippavilla after a mismanagement scandal.
“We met with Mr. Jacobson, walked the property and told him what our vision was,” Shevel said, “that we wanted to reach the Columbia-Spring Hill community, that we were the only hybrid tutorial in this area and what our goals were to meet the students’ educational needs. And he was onboard immediately. We had no money; we’re just starting this. And I threw a ridiculous amount out, and he said, ‘Absolutely, sure.’”
They opened M.O.M. in August 2021 at Rippavilla’s Ikard Center and went on to meet even more needs than the social ones. Despite being a small operation, they meet all the state standards plus extracurricular activities and a hybrid model of state-vetted materials and Christian curriculum. With a historic site as their campus, they have been able to enhance education with field trips onsite as well.
Snowdon comes with bachelor’s degrees in sociology and psychology plus master’s degrees in education and special education. Shevel brings a bachelor’s degree in education with a specialization in music. Snowdon’s 35 years of experience and Shevel’s 23 years combine for 58 years of excellence.