November 26, 2012

Maine's 1st elementary charter school settles into job of educating

Each student at the Cornville school is evaluated based on a four-level scale of how well they've learned a given skill, but there are no grades.

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Cornville Regional Charter School teacher Ashlee Savage helps student Adam Archer make a holiday decoration with fir boughs recently.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Kids at the Cornville Regional Charter School got to see live owls and bats during a Chewonki Foundation Traveling Natural History program on Thursday. Instructor Sarah Mortati shows and answers questions about the barred owl she held.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Related headlines

Charter schools in central Maine by the numbers

Cornville Regional Charter School
Grades: K-6, plans to become K-8 by 2014
Enrollment: 60 students
Districts drawn from: five
Teachers: five

Maine Academy of Natural Sciences
Grades: 9-12
Enrollment: 47
Districts drawn from: 27
Teachers: Four, and three AmeriCorps volunteers

Teacher Barbara Averill, who was a special ed teacher in the Farmington school district before joining the charter school, said she likes the curriculum because it adapts better to special needs students.

"I think the charter school does a really good job accommodating individual needs," she said. "It's not a problem if they are third graders working on second-grade work. It ends up being more disruptive to put them in the special ed room."

Averill said it has been challenging getting kids with learning and behavioral disorders to get used to a new school, but the combined classroom also makes it easier for kids with learning disabilities to stay in the classroom.

A long, productive day

After the morning meeting, students have a three-and-a-half hour block of reading, writing and math. They take a break for a snack and 30 minutes of physical fitness outdoors organized by their homeroom teacher. Lately kickball is a favorite.

Lunch is around noon and is followed by a 30-minute recess, a period of free outdoor activity.

"We like to make sure everyone gets their hour of fresh air every day," Crumley said.

"I like that we get a lot of recess and we get to be outside more," said Kanoa Bishop, 9, of Athens, during a forestry lesson on identifying trees by their leaves in the backyard of the school.

After lunch, students study science and social studies for 90 minutes. This may include science lab-type projects such as a recent one when students dissected owl waste. A speaker from The Chewonki Foundation, a wildlife conservation group, also talked about bat conservation.

To finish the day, students have 45 minutes to do an activity that they pick from a variety of options, including yoga, chess, crafts, origami, taekwondo and cooking.

Many are taught by volunteers or parents. Mosher-Towle said she and her mother are going to start teaching a French culture class and that as part of it she is looking at visiting the Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston.

"It's really easy to get involved," she said. "At a public school there would be too much red tape. Here the students can go on field trips all day and come back at six o'clock. I want my kids to go on those trips that have to do with learning."

"I like having the interest groups everyday," said Bishop. He said that at his old school activities were held only once a week.

The day ends around 3:15 when students return to their homerooms, collect handouts from their teachers, pack their belongings and get on the bus.

It's a long day compared to the six-hour day Crumley said is normal at most public schools in Maine, but he said the structure of the day allows students to do their most intensive studying of the core subjects in the morning, followed by more unstructured activity in the afternoons.

The school has 60 students, a cap set by the state when the charter was granted, but it will expand to 90 next school year and 120, the maximum for the building, the year after that. It will also add two teachers to the staff each year for the next two years and add seventh and eighth grades.

"The state wants us to succeed, so we started small," said Crumley.

A former teacher and principal in the Jackman and Greenville-based school districts, Crumley, who will turn 70 in two weeks, said the charter school idea excited him even after he had been retired for six years.

"It's not one person trying to do something," said Mosher-Towle. "It's a group of people willing to do everything."

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368

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Additional Photos

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Cornville Regional Charter School Principal Bill Crumley pitched in and helped clean cafeteria tables recently.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Cornville Regional Charter School teacher Danielle Beaman helps student Barret Walker recently.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Cornville Regional Charter School students Annie Cooke and Isaiah Cole work on papers as teacher Ashley Leslie, in back, helps another student recently.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Cornville Regional Charter School student Wyntyr Herrara, center, listens with other students at a table during class in teacher Melanie Immediato's room.

Staff photo by David Leaming


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