Education entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. Monica Hall, founder of THRIVE Christian Academy near Atlanta, didn’t set out to start a school. She was serving as an Army chaplain and gradually realized her soldiers needed more support. This prompted her to open a community center focused on well being. She was also a youth pastor at a nearby church, and people started asking her to add tutoring at the center or start a school. Monica was initially reluctant, but after a few different people suggested something similar, she realized maybe this was what she was meant to do.
In 2013, Monica opened THRIVE Christian Academy, which stands for Truth, Humility, Respect, Integrity, Victory, and Excellence—the six pillars of the school. There were initially just two students—both children whose parents helped inspire her to create the school. Because she only had two students, Monica met up with homeschoolers throughout the year for various activities. She finished the school year with three students and gave them each a “brag book” that compiled some of the things they’d done during the year.
One of the parents shared photos of the brag book on Facebook where a local teacher saw it. The teacher showed up at Monica’s door one day and said she wanted to be part of the school. “I don’t have any kindergartners and you teach kindergarten,” Monica recalls telling the teacher. The teacher said three of her fellow teachers also wanted to join THRIVE and assured Monica that students would come if she hired the teachers.
She was right—THRIVE opened the new school year with 56 students, pre‐K3 to 5th grade. Enrollment kept growing. Monica added a middle school and then a high school. The first graduating class was 2020—the COVID class they called themselves. In Georgia, things started opening back up from COVID-19 restrictions by the end of May, so they held that first graduation on Juneteenth. Monica expects to have around 300 students when school is back in session this fall.
THRIVE utilizes a unique blended curriculum that pairs high‐quality video lessons with in‐person instruction from dedicated teachers. This allows students to have a more tailored, individualized experience. Monica estimates that around 40 percent of her students have special needs. Most of them just need extra attention and are integrated into the general education population.
“Some have a significant educational delay, like maybe they’re in 6th grade but they read on a 2nd grade level,” she says. “So, let’s figure out where the stepping stone was missed. Let’s fill in that gap, and let’s just watch you accelerate.” 14 students have more intensive needs and are in their own classroom with a dedicated teacher and aide, which is pretty impressive for such a small school.
The school also offers a variety of extracurricular academic activities, including debate, robotics, geography and spelling bees, a science fair, and math, history, and quiz bowls. Each year, they take an enrichment trip; previous destinations have included Washington D.C., New Orleans, Memphis, Niagara Falls, Baltimore, and Chicago.
Monica wants to make sure THRIVE alum have plenty of options in the future. “We make sure that they apply to at least three colleges, and we have a 100% acceptance rate now,” she explains. “So far from the senior classes, probably about 60% of them are in college.” The others are pursuing various careers like the Army, EMT, modeling, and entrepreneurship. “For me, the point of requiring them to apply is that they know they always have that option,” says Monica. If they start down one path and it doesn’t work out, they’ll “forever know that push comes to shove I’ve been accepted to schools before. I can go back and go to college if I decide to do that.”
Like most of the education entrepreneurs I talk to, Monica says if you have the urge to open your own school, just do it. “It wasn’t the ideal time for me when I started THRIVE—my son was two weeks old on the first day. I carried him in there in a car seat, fed him, burped him, put him down, and went next door to welcome two 1st graders for the first day of school,” she says. “But the feeling isn’t going to leave. You’re going to keep feeling this tug until you do it, so you’re going to be sleepless anyway. You may as well just go ahead and jump out there and trust God to catch you.”