Will Yeiser and David Byers officially launched the French Broad River Academy in June, 2009. However, the story of FBRA goes far back to summers at Camp Mondamin in the early 1990s when David and Will were campers and later, counselors. The two stayed in touch over the years during their various outdoor endeavors in Chile, Jackson Hole, Switzerland, and they both segued into classroom teaching through the Teach for America and KIPP programs. 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.
Will Yeiser also partnered with French Broad River Keeper Hartwell Carson and began taking middle school students on the French Broad River. The river and the surrounding watershed became the classroom. Whether students were conducting water quality testing, collecting tires, or building rain gardens, Will experienced the engagement, learning, and growth firsthand that comes with experiential learning.
Will took his concept and ideas to the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he obtained his Masters in Education in School Leadership while designing the plan for the French Broad River Academy. After recruiting six families, securing a lease at an old tannery building in the River Arts District, and obtaining a donated Pontiac minivan, FBRA opened its doors in August of 2009.
By 2014, the all-boys school had grown to the capacity of 72 students, 13 full-time staff, dozens of canoes, and a compelling presence in both the educational and outdoor communities of Western North Carolina. FBRA received its accreditation from the Association of Experiential Education in 2013. In 2014, three acres of river frontage were donated to FBRA for its future campus. In the fall of 2015, that dream of a riverfront campus became a reality, and the boys moved into their green-built, Deltec structure in Woodfin, North Carolina.
FBRA Girls opened its doors in August 2015, and paralleled the same single-gender educational model created for the boys which has been so successful over the past six years. FBRA Girls began with twenty 6th-grade students, and by the fall of 2017 had grown to accommodate its target enrollment with space for 72 girls. FBRA for Girls is located in the Riverview Station campus at 191 Lyman Street in the River Arts District of Asheville and is Directed by Jennifer Horschman.