United Community School, a kindergarten-through-second-grade public charter school on Idlewild Road in southeast Charlotte, will open for its first school year Aug. 11.
“I feel overjoyed that everything is falling into place,” said Erika Hedgepeth, the schools’ co-founder and director. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude by the way parents, teachers and the community are coming together to support UCS.”
Hedgepeth, a 30-year-old mother of two who lives in university area, is a former teacher with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Hedgepeth began her teaching career at Elizabeth Lane Elementary in Matthews in 2006. She said she had great administrative support there but that the rigidity of schedules and curriculum agendas left little room for flexibility and creativity.
Hedgepeth said she wanted more for her students and for her daughter, Avery, who will start first grade at UCS.
“Every kid needs room to grow, whether advanced or not,” she said.
With that philosophy in mind, Hedgepeth and her husband, Timothy, opened a charter school.
Hedgepeth was introduced to The Basic School approach by UCS board member Amy Tomalis.
Tomalis teaches at the Community School of Davidson, the first school in the area that implemented The Basic School approach.
The Basic School approach was researched and published through The Carnegie Foundation by educator Ernest L. Boyer in 1995. This teaching method identifies the school as a community in which parents partner in education and teachers are leaders, working in teams to mentor students by using a multisensory, integrative approach.
Hedgepeth said that at UCS, parents will be encouraged to volunteer in the classroom and on campus. The school also has a meeting space for parents to hang out and network after dropping off their children.
Every teacher will have an assistant and work in a classroom of no more than 24 students. Hedgepeth said the low ratio of students to teachers gives the teacher and teacher’s assistant the opportunity to meet the individual needs of every student.
The teachers also will teach the same students for three grades. Hedgepeth said that, plus a year-round school schedule, will prevent the start-and-stop challenge faced in traditional public school.
Hedgepeth also said that UCS teachers will have the flexibility to create the curriculum and use interactive approaches.
“If the teacher wants to have story time outside in the courtyard, that’s something I encourage, and they don’t need my permission to leave the classroom to engage with students,” Hedgepeth said.
UCS has partnered with Reedy Creek Nature Center to bring environmental educators with live animals into the classrooms. Students also will see animal habitats and experiments to enrich the teacher’s curriculum, and there will be a quarterly visit to the Reedy Creek Park and Nature Center.
Hedgepeth said UCS plans to use the green space on campus for learning opportunities, and each classroom will have raised garden beds – designed, built and sponsored by Home Depot – for hands-on teaching.
While visual arts will be a part of the curriculum, the arts focus will be on piano and piano theory. Every student will learn to read and play piano. According to the National Institutes of Health, studying music has been proven to raise verbal and non-verbal test scores.
Jessica Martin, who will be a first-grade teacher at UCS, said, “I am inspired by the passion that our director has for teaching children by breaking down barriers that prohibit growth, so that all children can reach their full potential.”
Crystal O’Gorman is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Crystal? Email her at email@example.com.
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