Elkin has a new school.
Board President Kimberly Seipel-Parks opened the doors of the Yadkin Valley Community School to its very first students last Tuesday. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how these first two weeks have gone,” she said.
The school is open to students in grades K-6, but at this time has no sixth-graders enrolled. “We’ll probably go to a 24 enrollment next year,” she said, “and then after that, set up seventh and eighth grades.”
Seipel-Parks said she had been thinking for some time about opening a school offering “a different way of education,” where students can learn at their own pace in “a more hands-on, engaging way.”
The school is located on Standard Street in a former laundromat which later became an antique store with colorful perforated vinyl window graphics donated by Wall Flash Design on North Bridge Street taped on the windows to ensure privacy. Tuition is $4,900 per year.
Seipel-Parks’ two sons, Henry, who is in the fourth grade, and Eli, who is in kindergarten, are among the students at the school.
When she decided to move forward with her desire of offering a Montessori-inspired curriculum, Seipel-Parks said she used social media, the local newspaper and word of mouth to gain interest in the school. She received 30 to 40 inquiries, some from parents of younger children who wanted to learn more about it for when their children get older.
Teacher Joe Dougherty was getting ready to start his fourth year teaching elementary education in Lewisville when he heard about the new school.
After moving from New Jersey to Boonville to help work on a friend’s farm, he also had worked as a substitute teacher in the Elkin City Schools and worked two years previously teaching English in a Nicaraguan school.
The teacher position at the Yadkin Valley Community School seemed like a perfect fit. “I had been hoping to find work a little closer to Boonville,” he said, “and when an opportunity like this comes along, to start a new school and to have a chance to be very influential in the beginning, I jumped at it.”
Dougherty structures mornings at the Yadkin Valley Community School similar to the Montessori method. “It’s very hands-on, manipulative learning,” he said. “It’s trying to ground their learning in the concrete.”
In the school, which is divided into stations for different subjects and activities, Dougherty works with each student to develop individualized learning plans, giving individual attention to anyone struggling, allowing all of them to achieve mastery at their individual rates. “It’s much more independent,” he said, “very self-driving. We’re looking for the kids to be self-starters …”
Dougherty said the class is structured to instill in students a sense of responsibility, much like is needed when students graduate from high school and start college without their parents or teachers telling them to study. “They know this is their work,” he said, “and they’re the ones responsible for it …”
By the end of the first week, Dougherty said students had started adapting to the new style of learning and making progress toward their goals. “Something brand new like this, you can only expect it to be slow and gradual,” he said.
Children of different ages appear to work well together in a group setting. Dougherty said the older students look after the younger ones, and the younger ones love to be with the older ones. “That’s been surprisingly one of the best things,” he said.
When they laugh at each other during interactions, Dougherty said, “It’s not like ‘I’m laughing at you.’ It’s ‘I’m laughing with you, joyously.’”
While mornings at the school are structured, afternoons are more relaxed. Seipel-Parks said she and Doughtery, volunteers and parents either go out into the community three days a week or someone from the community comes in to do a program.
Last week, for example, Dr. Bill Blackley gave all the students harmonicas and taught them how to play them. Students also go on regular outings to the Foothills Arts Council, Elkin Public Library and local dance and yoga studios.
Dougherty schedules activities in an outdoor classroom behind the school as part of their study of the book, “My Side of the Mountain,” about a child who lives alone on a mountain. The outdoor classroom also includes a garden, weather station, a recycling and compost area and a construction area where students are taught to use tools to make things such as birdhouses.
In visiting a local dance studio on Tuesday, Seipel-Parks said students did movements they thought different animals would do as part of their study of vertebrates and invertebrates. “We’re trying to integrate all the areas of the curriculum together to make a bigger picture,” she said. “Things aren’t as segmented.”
Dougherty said he thinks a lot of people are not sure what’s going on with the new Yadkin Valley Community School. “But I’m confident,” he said. “We’ve got a good plan. We’ve got a good team, and as long as we work hard, we can’t lose. That’s the attitude I’m taking.
“I think the sky’s the limit. Hopefully, this will grow, and we can serve this area the best we can.”
For more information on the Yadkin Valley Community School, log onto yadkinvalleycommunityschool.org or call Seipel-Parks at 843-263-2059.
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.