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Education: Charter school open house puts faces to an idea

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

With scissors, decorative paper and glue sticks, the children who will become the first students at Coastal Montessori Charter School mounted photos of themselves. And one by one they filled up a 4- by 8-foot bulletin board set up Saturday in an empty classroom at Waccamaw Middle School, where the school is scheduled to open in six months.

The faces and the turnout at an open house brought home to charter school organizers that two years of work has produced tangible results. “Sometimes I still can’t believe this is really happening,” said Kristin Bohan, who chaired the organizing committee before becoming the school’s first paid employee last year.

The work of the charter school has mostly been in meeting rooms, but Saturday it shifted to the classroom and involved many of the 145 students who will make up the first classes. Along with hiring a director, teachers and other staff, and acquiring the supplies and renovating the facilities, the school is also creating an identity and a sense of unity, Bohan said.

Rob Horvath, who replaced her as chairman, said the hundreds of parents and children who filled the mostly vacant wing at the middle school to see where the charter school will begin reinforced the weighty responsibility the organizers took on. “They’re trusting us to educate their children,” he said.

Most of the organizers have been involved with the private Pawleys Island Montessori School, but only about half of the students at the charter school will come from the private school ranks. As they pasted their photos onto the bulletin board, the future charter school students started to connect with their classmates.

Gregory Dela Cruz wasn’t pleased with the elaborate corners on his photo. He wanted them squared off, so he asked his father, Marino, for help. Gregory, who hopes to enter a lower elementary class at the charter school, has strong opinions, Marino said.

“He’s very excited,” Marino said. They were among the first of some 60 families that showed up at the open house.

Gregory, now a first-grader at Waccamaw Elementary, is one of the first students on the waiting list for the lower elementary classes, which will have students in first through third grades. That makes it likely he will get in, since organizers expect 10 to 20 percent of enrolled students won’t show up on opening day.

One parent at the open house whose child has been accepted said she is watching the charter school’s progress before telling her child.

Dela Cruz said he and Gregory saw a presentation about the Montessori charter school at Teach My People and liked the concept. “It is a great opportunity,” he said.

Caroline Brothers, who will enter the charter school as a first-grader, has been enrolled at the private school since she was 2 and a half, her father, Daniel, said. She does very well with it; the hands-on approach,” he said.

Organizers have heard a few concerns about the middle school as a location, but none were expressed at the open house. The charter school will occupy what used to be the sixth-grade wing before the sixth-graders moved down the street to Waccamaw Intermediate School. Coastal Montessori students will arrive after the middle school students and leave after them. Fire doors will close off the hallway from the rest of the school.

“As far as we can tell, this is going to be fine,” Brothers said.

“It’s great that they have this space,” said Jennifer Bodie, who will have a child in the lower and upper elementary classes. Her older daughter will attend the middle school as a seventh-grader. The charter school only goes up to sixth grade.

The idea of occupying portable classrooms at Waccamaw Elementary was not appealing, said her husband, Russ. “It was a big surprise to me that they had this space,” he said.

All their children have been in Montessori classes before, he said. “Each of them have their own learning style,” he said, but benefited in their own way from the methods that make children responsible for their learning.

“I’m thankful that it’s happening,” Jennifer said.

One of the classrooms that the charter school will occupy had a display of Montessori learning methods. Jyron Godfrey and Omarion Grant were working with a map of the world where the continents were cut out like puzzle pieces.

“I’m excited,” Jyron said. “Some people I know are coming here.”

He and Omarion, who are cousins, will be in the lower elementary group as third-graders.

Jyron also liked the idea of being about to eat lunch in the classroom. That’s another feature of Montessori schools – along with cleaning up.

“You have some fun stuff to do,” Jyron said.

The excitement of parents and students seems to be catching. The open house also produced two new applications for enrollment and two for siblings of children who are already enrolled.

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