experience & Passion

Onward Learning provides an exceptional educational experience tailored to each child’s unique gifts, interests, and developmental needs.

 Our staff brings a variety of extensive experience as well as a deep passion for nurturing the healthy development of children academically, socially, and emotionally.  

OUR STORY | Founder & 1st-8th Grade Teacher, Mary Jo Fairhead

My name is Mary Jo Fairhead and I am the crazy behind the Onward Learning journey.  Onward Learning is ten years in the making and I am beyond grateful for all who have supported and guided our team in this endeavor.

I have been an educator and mentor of all ages as a coach, teacher, and most recently an elementary school principal.  Throughout my career, I have seen how a safe and healthy learning environment can inspire children to discover their unique gifts and find their purpose.  Those children are capable of changing the world around them in the most profound ways.  I have also witnessed how an educational system can extinguish curiosity and confidence by forcing all children to fit into one box without reverence for each child’s unique talents, skills, interests, and needs.  Unfortunately, it seems this has become the norm in mainstream education and that is why I believe there has never been a more vital time to prioritize our childrens’ future.

Throughout my time as an educator and mother, I have envisioned a school where children would enter an environment of complete and absolute love every time they step into their school—A school where class sizes are small and teachers know each of their students on a deep level.  I have envisioned a school where curiosity and creativity are not only appreciated, but encouraged and nurtured.  I yearn for my children and the other children in our community to never be forced into the same box, but instead to be guided in finding their unique strengths, passions, and purpose in this world.  

On this journey, I was introduced to David K. Richards, founder of Growth Public Schools and Heart of The Matter: Changing Schools For Changing Times.  An incredible change-maker, intuitive guide, and educator, David has given me many of the tools needed to bring this school to life.  Through David, I met Sukhi Bal, co-founder of a love-based, innovative school located in Canada called Xploration Centre. Sukhi introduced me to a true pioneer in education, Phillip Moore.  Phillip is the author of The Future of Children and for 42 years, led a love-based, nature school in Michigan known as Upland Hills.  Phil has opened my eyes to the possibilities of a school such as Upland Hills and has been an invaluable guide in the journey of creating Onward.

We have had many other incredible individuals devote a tremendous amount of energy and time to this dream.  Combining the strengths of our team and the wisdom and guidance of the visionaries mentioned above, Onward Learning has emerged in our tiny community of Martin, South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  I could not be more excited for the future of our children and the vision of Onward Learning!

Sidney Wangerin - Pre-K & Kindergarten Teacher

Sidney has a heart of gold and does so well with our littlest Onward students.  Sidney and her family have been a wonderful addition not only to Onward, but to our community.  Sidney has brought a positive energy and so many great ideas to Onward.  She has a sincere passion for nurturing and caring for children and is always looking for ways to learn and grow both professionally and personally.  She has spent many hours learning the philosophies and practices of Montessori Early Childhood education and has recently earned   her certification through the North American Montessori Center.  

Gracie Olivier - Teacher Assistant

Gracie works with all ages, but predominately ages 1-5.  She brings a sense of calm to our school and goes above and beyond for our little ones.  She has a sincere passion for the vision of Onward and we are beyond glad she has found her home with us!

Kris Carlson -Elementary School Teacher

Kris teaches predominately 1st-4th grade, but also teaches art, woodworking, and performing arts to the whole school.  He brings 20+ years of teaching experience to Onward Learning, as well as a remarkable understanding and perspective on child development and learning.  Kris’s passion is teaching through music, art, and imagination, something all ages become intrigued by and enjoy.  We love having Kris in our Onward family sharing his gifts with all of us!

Get In Touch!

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Call Us

(605) 515-3262

Mailing Address

PO Box 1037

Martin, SD 57551

Located in Martin, South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Reservation.