When Abigail Jennings’ little girl went to bed a few weeks ago saying, “Mommy, I just can’t wait to go to school tomorrow,” Jennings felt happy and validated in her decision to help establish Pioneer Springs Community School.Pioneer Springs was launched last August as a small, nonprofit, private school, situated near the Charlotte/Huntersville border, not far from University City. The old Croft Schoolhouse, a historic landmark, houses the school.Nineteen children attended kindergarten and first-grade classes in Pioneer Springs’ first academic year. Second grade will be added in the 2013-14 academic year, and a grade will be added in each successive year. Camp Pioneer Springs – for children ages 4-8 – commenced the first of three summer sessions June 17. Camp hours are 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.Like Jennings and her husband, Randolph Lewis, the other founders, Cheryl and Brian Demers and Erin McDonald and Erik Giles – are parents who lost the school lottery that would have enabled them to enroll their children in Corvian Community Charter School. So the couples decided to form a school like Corvian. Coincidentally, Corvian, which is K-4, was founded in 2010 by parents in a similar situation.“Our plan is to stay small – only two classes per grade – so we can maintain our sense of community and achieve our educational goals for each student,” Jennings said.Tuition is $5,500 per year per child. The founders submitted their application to become a charter school to the board of education, and word about whether it will be accepted is expected in mid-July.“If we receive our charter status, our school will become free for children for the 2014-15 school year,” Jennings said.Charter schools are public schools, but they are not regulated by a school district. Local demand for such alternatives to public school is high, because of the benefits that the approach offers to students. Those benefits include instruction tailored to the unique way each child learns and hands-on learning experiences, such as feeding chickens and cooking their eggs, caring for plant seedlings, tasting greens from the garden and decorating a classroom to evoke a tropical rain forest. The founders want children to experience plenty of outdoor time. The school’s focus on nature is seen in the ways that teachers integrate observations of the natural world with lessons about other subjects. Once-a-week classes in Spanish, art, physical education and nature are designed to reinforce other subject matter delivered throughout the previous week.The guiding principles of Pioneer Springs are found in “The Basic School: A Community for Learning,” published nearly 20 years ago by notable education reformer Ernest Boyer. “We ensure that each child feels accepted and understood, and we mold our method of teaching to the child,” said Laura Mock, who earlier this month replaced co-founder Cheryl Demers as the school’s director. “We help them find their passion and also be critical thinkers.”First-grade teacher Mary Mix said, “We try to be as creative as we can.” She pointed out that the school day for the kindergartners and first-graders is shorter than in public school, and the kindergartners have nap time every day.Both Mix and Mock view their relationship with each child’s parents as critical. “Making the connection with the child as well as the parent results in a beautiful triangle, all working together,” Mock said.In Mecklenburg County, applications for charter school status surged markedly after the N.C. General Assembly in 2011 removed the 100-school limit for the state. Even so, starting one isn’t easy. For example, “Finding facilities that meet codes and regulations is harder than you can imagine,” said Jennings, who is president of Lake Norman Realty and chairwoman of the school’s board of trustees and its financial director. “We are very fortunate to have found our home in the beautiful, historic Croft Schoolhouse, with room to grow.”Pioneer Springs is very likely to grow, given its holistic approach to instruction. Community School of Davidson, a K-12 school with a similar philosophy, has a 3,500 child waiting list. Corvian’s list is at 450. Pioneer Springs just launched a scholarship program. For information, visit www.pioneersprings.org or call 704-236-9610. The school is located at 9200 Bob Beatty Road, Charlotte.
Monday, Jul. 08, 2013
Private school near Charlotte-Huntersville limits seeks charter status
Suzanne Fulton is a freelance writer. Have a story for Suzanne? Email her at email@example.com.
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