Character Counts - SLO Classical Academy
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San Luis Obispo Classical Academy San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy’s blog! We are a classical school offering several options to make our education work for families with infants through high schoolers. Our signature hybrid program, which is part-time classroom and part-time home instruction, provides an engaging education for preschool through middle school (with full time options available). We also have a university model high school. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because, in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home.

Semper discentes—always learning together.
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Character Counts

Then in October 2020, I found my saving grace.  It was 8 students at SLOCA middle school. 

-Cara Wasden

At SLOCA, character is at the core of what we do. We all know our school is pretty amazing and that students, parents, teachers, and staff all work to be a “community that forges character”. However, when someone outside/new to our community discovers how wonderful our students are, we just have to share.

Read on as UMS teacher Mr. Newman introduces us to his sister, Cara Wasden, who then recounts her experience with a group of SLOCA UMS students.

My sister, “Coach Cara,” has been sidelined since the pandemic began and the opportunity to work with some of our UMS students excited her.  She’s heard me share about our thick community for years and jumped at a chance to teach public speaking to some of our UMS students.  Since Zoom became part of our lives, she was able to set up two separate 10-week courses and teach from Petaluma, her home base.

– Cade Newman


Meet Coach Cara:

Public speaking is a fate worse than death for many.  For me, public speaking “saved” my life.

After learning speaking skills in Toastmasters, an international speaking and leadership organization, I started teaching those skills to middle school students in 2016.

I’ve asked my students to open up and share their stories and be willing to be vulnerable. That’s how we truly connect with others. For this reason, it’s only fair that I open up and be vulnerable too.

For the past 25 years, I’ve lived with chronic daily headache pain, much of which stems from my constant body tics living with Tourette Syndrome.  By having constructive things to focus on such as visiting senior groups (the graying kind), taking elementary school kids on nature hikes, and teaching public speaking classes, I’ve been able to temporarily take focus off of my headache pain.

Before the pandemic hit, all of those activities were my “painkillers.”  Helping others brought me relief and great joy.

After Covid hit and all my activities came to a halt, my physical pain really began affecting my emotional and mental well-being, and I went into a deep depression for the next 7 months.

Then in October 2020, I found my saving grace.  It was 8 students at SLOCA middle school. 

{Coach Cara and her class}

I began teaching my first public speaking class on Zoom for students who live five hours away from me. They were also having a challenging year, like most of us. But somehow they mustered enough energy to meet me on Zoom each Friday with a smile on their face and a willingness to open up and share their honest thoughts and feelings. Their joy “woke me up” again. 

I was also able to offer them a gift – a place to connect and share their truths, and an opportunity to grow in their communication skills and confidence.

Students shared stories about not feeling accepted by peers, feeling all alone because of the color of their skin, life with a disability, a love for acting, a love of playing volleyball, a new discovery of the beauty of nature, a kind act in a small store, and the love and appreciation for family.  

At the end of the class, one student wrote “Coach Cara, your class was the most enjoyable part of 2020 for me. It put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.”  That student took the words right out of my mouth.  

Then this spring, I found out that I won the lottery twice. Mr. Newman offered me another opportunity to teach “at” SLOCA .

The teachers and parents at SLOCA must be doing something right because these students are some of the kindest and most respectful students I’ve worked with. They also helped me feel more confident in teaching on Zoom, and along with an in-person class this summer, I’ll also be teaching another Zoom class in Colorado this July.  

I’m still in a great deal of pain every moment of every day, but these 15 students who met me in my new virtual reality, deserve my undying gratitude.  The heart and humor they bought to my Friday mornings was a beautiful gift that kept me going. 


Thank you, Mr. Newman and Coach Cara! It is always so encouraging to hear that our kids are impacting those around them and that their character is truly shining through them. Keep up the good work SLOCA teachers, parents, & students.

2 thoughts on “Character Counts”

  1. The importance of the “environment” for each of us during our elementary, middle, and high school years cannot be sufficiently expressed. This story provides some idea of the value that SLOCA has given to it’s students in developing their personal character which they will carry with them throughout their lives.
    Thank you to the teachers, staff and administration at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy. I know that our daughter, our family and those around her will reap lifelong benefits!

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