After Montessori kindergarten, Jake wasn’t ready for first grade. He had the math skills of a second grader and an incredible knowledge of geography – and not even the basics when it came to reading. Not ready for traditional first grade and well beyond the traditional kindergarten, the best choice for us: Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley.
At Cherry Valley, they combine grades. Kindergarten and first grade are together, as are second and third grade and so on. Plus, there were only about 10 students per grade in each class. This meant that Jake would have the ability to learn on a first grade level when applicable but still work with the kindergarteners when it came to learning how to read – without feeling ostracized or as if the work were too hard or to easy – and there were few enough students that the teacher would be able to help him on an individual level.
The benefits grew for Jake in first grade. He had the same teacher who was well aware of his strengths and weaknesses so there was little down time for a “get to know you period” at the start of the year. Plus, kindergarteners had half days while first graders went to school for the full day, which meant that after lunch, the class had only 10 kids in it and the teacher could devote herself to helping them grow.
Project Based Learning
At Cherry Valley, they don’t keep desks in rows and teach through worksheets and lectures. Instead, the focus is on group activities, hands on lessons that teach through demonstration. Kids learn real life application of academic principles in a way that’s engaging and interesting. For example, they learn fractions, measuring, temperatures, different states of matter, and more through cooking. They grow a garden and watch life cycles and science in action. They have multiple reader visits each year and invest in half a dozen field trips, overnight trips for older grades, regular stage performances, and more.
Unlike traditional schools in the area, Cherry Valley offers a year-round schedule. They provide the same number of school days and educational hours as the traditional schools, but instead of two-month long summer, they offer a five-week break. At Christmas, in the spring, and in the fall, they get three-week breaks. This means five-week units and optional homework is usually given for the younger grades to keep them engaged, and older kids have projects to work on during this time so that they are continually learning.
An additional benefit at Cherry Valley is that they welcome parental involvement. For the K1 classes, the first 20 minutes of every day include parents reading to their kids, one on one. This is not social time but learning time for the kids as they transition into their day. Also, two to three parents volunteer for “centers” each morning and everyone in the class takes a turn each month sending a healthy snack for the entire class to share.
In 2/3 classes, this daily involvement drops to once a week on Fridays. Parents are invited to volunteer during the week as schedules permit, but they now send an individual snack each day with their child.
There are also opportunities for parents to go on field trips, volunteer at the school through the PTA, various committees and groups, and by cooking or donating food for the weekly salad bar provided to kids and parents during lunch on Wednesday.
Every Experience Is Unique
No two charter schools are exactly alike; each has it’s own educational philosophy and style of teaching. Also, some children fare better in a more structured environment. I find that Jake is still continuing to excel in science and his reading has taken off, but I have to work with him on memorizing his math facts and work on spelling words because little attention has been paid to these areas in a way that has been meaningful for him thus far.
When choosing whether or not to opt for a charter school for your child, consider your child’s learning personality as well as the offerings of the charter schools near you, and the local options for middle school and high school to ensure that they have what they need to excel academically now as well as later.