Meet the innovative Founders behind the newly opened InWonder Academy in San Clemente, California. Orange County natives Marissa, Meera & Kendra are bringing outside the box thinking and reimagining to your child’s educational experience! InWonder Academy is currently accepting applications for little changemakers for their TK and Kindergarten mixed age classroom. InWonder Academy defines changemaker as someone who transforms the world in positive and profound ways. Learn how these ladies are developing a school that will help turn your little ones into changemakers, what a typical day looks like at the InWonder Academy and how these women inspire one another to create an environment where kids can express their full potential while being supported in their own passions, curiosities, and unique sense of self.
What was your inspiration behind creating InWonder Academy?
The three of us come from different backgrounds and experiences, but we all have a passion for innovative education and supporting the next generation in their growth and learning. One evening we met for dinner and discussed some of the gaps in the educational system and reimagined the ways a school could support our own kids. We envisioned creating a caring environment where kids could express their full potential while being supported in their own passions, curiosities, and unique sense of self. That day, we discovered that we were perfectly aligned and balanced in our skills, passions, and interests to create the school we dreamed of.
What is your relationship as Co-Founders?
Our years of friendship makes this whole process so much sweeter. Meera and Kendra were in kindergarten together and were fellow Girl Scouts. Meera and Marissa became very close friends in high school. Marissa and Kendra were college roommates. After college, Kendra began teaching internationally and eventually returned home to complete her M.Ed, Meera completed an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, and Marissa completed M.A. in Psychology, MBA, and became a certified Parent Coach. All our paths crossed at different times throughout our lives and then came together at the perfect moment to build this school together. Our team is based on friendship, respect, and love. We consistently influence each other, challenge each other, and support each other. At the core of our work is a deep foundation of connection, passion, and gratitude, which ripples out into the school and community we are creating.
What separates InWonder Academy from other early education programs in the area?
InWonder Academy puts students and families at the center. We are committed to providing individualized experiences through flexible projects and curriculum. We are working closely with parents and families to ensure that they are part of their child’s learning journey through opportunities like community events, parent coaching, and volunteering. At InWonder, we are designing our learning philosophy based on the latest educational research and our own experiences in education, parenting, business innovation, and mindfulness practices. We love to think outside the box and reimagine the education experience!
Why did you choose San Clemente to open your innovative school?
We all grew up in Orange County and wanted to support innovative educational opportunities in the area. We felt connected to San Clemente because of its rich history and ideal climate for being outdoors and engaged in our community. When we found our building in San Clemente, we knew immediately that it was the home for InWonder Academy.
What one thing have you learned about one another during this massive journey starting a new school together?
Marissa – I’ve learned that our team has a beautiful balance and flow. We take turns being stressed and grounded. We take turns leading and being influenced by each other. This balance helps us utilize our strengths in the best ways. We are always ready to play and be silly. We could be in the most stressful moment and one of us will say the exact right thing to make us all start laughing. I always leave our team meetings feeling refreshed and joyful – no matter what challenges we face on that day.
Meera – It is hard to sum this up to one thing. I have learned an enormous amount from both Marissa and Kendra. I have deep gratitude for being able to be on this journey with them. This work we do as a team has helped me deepen my ability to have grace for myself and others, reframe my thinking, and be more conscious about my feelings and thoughts. I have grown so much from my time working on developing InWonder because of our team synergy. We help each other grow.
Kendra – I’ve learned how well we all work together, and how well our strengths play off each other. I’ve also learned that we are extremely committed to working with our growth edges to help us understand and facilitate that growth for others. We are willing to embody the values that we’re putting on paper. Anything that’s a part of our school culture– compassion, emotional regulation, grounding and mindfulness techniques, conflict resolution, creative problem solving– we’ve explored in ourselves first throughout this process. It starts with us. And this is the message that we want to instill in our students: To create change, it always starts with self.
Can you please explain your vision behind the concept of “ChangeMakers”?
A changemaker is someone who transforms the world in positive and profound ways. We believe that instilling values and skills for this type of change begins early with a sense of self. We start by looking at the ability to make changes in ourselves and those around us through self-regulation, positive friendships, and secure relationships. We expand to include environments such as our classroom, our neighborhood, and our community spaces. We build relationships with these spaces, wondering and noticing how our actions can affect change. As students mature, they will explore questions about how their actions could affect change in larger systems and environments. We want our students to be connected and caring members of society who feel empowered to make changes in their world.
What does a typical day look like at inWonder Academy?
Our daily rhythm starts with intentions and goals for the day, moves into independent exploration opportunities, outdoor time, community lunch, and project time. Project time involves every child participating in projects relevant to their personal curiosities within the theme that the class is exploring. These projects integrate many content areas, including math, science, history, global studies, reading and writing. This is a highly engaged and collaborative part of the day as students investigate, read, collect data, create, and write to support their own learning.
Best piece of advice you got from another entrepreneur?
Marissa – One foot in front of the other and don’t look back. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving. Create value for others by asking the right questions and finding the best ways to support them.
Meera – Work smart, not hard. Spend time focusing on the bigger picture and the little things will come on its own. Trust yourself and the process.
Kendra – Small steps are key. You don’t have to change everything all at once. Start with the here and now, choose one thing that’s in front of you that could be different and build from there.
Also, always Maya Angelou’s famous quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
What has been the biggest struggle for you all during this process?
Marissa – My biggest struggle has been the art of balancing motherhood and independent passion. Every struggle has opportunities and mine has allowed for some beautiful opportunities – like my kids coming along to see the building construction and getting to help contribute to important decisions about the school. Through these opportunities, my kids are watching me create change, while developing their own changemaker skills.
Meera – I feel my biggest struggle during this process has been finding time to be a new mom and an entrepreneur. When we started conceptualizing InWonder, I was 3 months pregnant with my first child. This entire process has been about growth, the unknown, and trusting my gut. It feels similar to how I felt and still feel about becoming a mom. I’ve had to learn how to balance time spent with my family and working on developing the school. I am certainly no expert, but the process has helped me grow to be a more confident role model for my daughter.
Kendra – The biggest struggle has been keeping up with the personal evolution needed to support the actualization of this creation to bring a shared dream into a living, breathing space for others. Being in a process of constant expansion feels a little bit like jumping out of an airplane and building parachute after parachute on the way down and not stopping until you build one that works. It takes a lot of focus, courage, and trust to keep innovating and building mid-fall. But the three of us have a strong vision, passion, and years of education and experience under our belts, so it was time to jump.
Where is your favorite outdoor place/space to enjoy in South Orange County?
Marissa – The beach! Give me some sand and waves and I am happy.
Meera – My family and I love the SJC train station. We also frequent Trevors and Hidden House cafe!
Kendra – Anywhere I can be surrounded by trees and nature!
Please tell South OC Moms where they can register and learn more about InWonder Academy?