Learning From the Ground Up

Wendy Grimshaw is an educator who believes in learning from the ground up. In October 2015, she opened the doors of The Learning Barn, offering agriculturally-oriented classes that incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in the curriculum.

“It wasn’t until I left the public-school setting to complete my residency in the integrative STEM education doctoral program at Virginia Tech that I decided to homeschool my son,” Grimshaw says. “That was the beginning of the journey that led to a STEM-based home-school program that would become the Learning Barn.”

Living in Botetourt County, Grimshaw experienced agriculture up close and personal. “Farms and that whole way of life are diminishing nationwide,” she says. “As an educator, I realized I could tap into many of those agriculturally-based skills and concepts. I definitely think there’s a need for that education in our school, whether private or public. When you buy a sweater at the mall, there are a lot of steps in-between that put it there. I want my students to know about those steps.”

The Learning Barn offers classes through the homeschool community’s educational co-op and has after-school options for public school students, as well as hobby farm workshops for students of all ages. Grimshaw has also launched the Farm and Fishing Club and took two teams of high school students to the KidWind Challenge (a national program for students to design and build wind turbines) at George Mason University. “We won first and second place in the regionals and went to New Orleans for the national competition,” she says. “We won fifth and 18th place in the country!”

Grimshaw still recalls the day she brought her idea of the learning center to Bart Smith, Director of the Roanoke SBDC. “It was such a great day,” Grimshaw recalls. “Bart said, ‘Tell me what I can do.’ He stopped by the next day, and from that day forward he was supportive in everything I’ve done. The SBDC assisted with my business plan and even networked to help me find a lender and acquire $200,000 in loans to open The Learning Barn.” Although Grimshaw had 25 years of teaching experience, she still needed advice on setting up the “business side” of her learning center.

As she continues to pursue her Ph.D. in STEM Education from Virginia Tech, Grimshaw is excited about possibilities for the future. She’s already making plans for a summer camp and more workshops for community-centered education.

“Even though my business is a new model here, the SBDC still knew how this area might respond to my learning center,” Grimshaw says. “As my business grows, I know I can always go back to them. The SBDC is my safety net, and they’re really great people.”

Currently, The Learning Barn has 18 students, and during the school’s first year, two high school teams won the KidWind Regional Challenge, and received the Judge’s Award at the National KidWind Challenge. “The SBDC networked to help me find a lender and acquire $200,000 in loans to open The Learning Barn,” Grimshaw said.
Virginia SBDC