French Broad River Academy redefines middle school

April 17, 2024

Middle school. It drums up memories of awkwardness – braces, acne, growth spurts, higher expectations and more homework. Not something many of us want to revisit. But, French Broad River Academy redefines the middle school experience – offering a competitive academic program in tandem with outdoor education and leadership opportunities.

Will Yeiser and David Byers officially launched the French Broad River Academy in June, 2009 celebrating their 15th anniversary this year. However, the story of FBRA goes far back to summer camp in the early 1990s when David and Will were campers and later, counselors together. The two stayed in touch over the years. They both ended up teaching for Asheville City Schools and began collaborating on international trips to Costa Rica for Will’s Spanish students at Asheville Middle School.

“As a former camp counselor, whitewater guide, ski instructor, and then middle school Spanish teacher, my career began when I combined all of these worlds and started the French Broad River Academy, ” says Will Yeiser, Executive Director and CoFounder. “Our legacy is a new generation of river stewards committed to the betterment of society.”

Read our full interview with Will below…

Where did your vision begin? How has it grown?

We began with a simple question…how could we make middle school more like summer camp? How could we build a community around unique shared experiences that provide authentic opportunities for failure while delivering exceptional educational outcomes? How could we build character and confidence in young people and provide them with the skill set to not only succeed in life but to reach their full potential and attain happiness. We opened our doors in 2009 in an abandoned studio space in the River Arts District with six families that were willing to take the leap and we have grown to two riverfront campuses in Woodfin to accommodate our split-gender program with over 130 families.

What made you choose the Asheville area?

Access to rivers and mountains in the French Broad Watershed make Asheville the perfect location for our program.

What has been your greatest challenge? Your greatest victory?

Our greatest challenge was opening a school during the great recession of 2009 and operating on campus during the pandemic. Our greatest victory is seeing the amazing things our students are accomplishing to contribute to the betterment of society.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in your field, what would it be?

Focus on specialization and differentiation.

What’s the greatest business advice you’ve been given?

Failure is not an option.

What’s next on the horizon?

On April 11, FBRA announced plans for construction of a new academic building for its girls program on its South Campus in Asheville. We are thrilled to move forward with this project for our Girls Program,. The project will establish an expanded and permanent home for FBRA’s Girls Program on the 3.3-acre riverside campus just north of downtown Asheville. The project will coincide with construction of the $32 million fully-funded Woodfin Greenway and Whitewater Wave Project, a world-class, engineered wave for kayakers and surfers planned along the river between FBRA’s South Campus and North Campus, which is home to the school’s Boys Program.