New Montessori charter school set to open for students

  • Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Georgetown County’s newest school — Coastal Montessori Charter School — is set to open its doors for students next week.
It has been a busy summer for Coastal Montessori staff, students and parents who have renovated a wing of Waccamaw Middle School for the new charter school.
The school — which received approval from the county School Board in July 2011 — will begin  Wednesday with 150 students in grades one through six, according to Director Lonnie Yancsurak.
The current plans are to share space with the middle school for two years until the charter school can relocate into its own facility. That’s because the district anticipates it will need the wing in two years for the expected increase in students at Waccamaw Middle, Yancsurak said.
Volunteers have spent the past few weeks helping get the school ready for opening day. From painting the walls to building furniture, Yancsurak said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of volunteer hours put in by staff members, parents and students.
“The volunteerism has been incredible. We have had so many offers to help it has been hard for us to keep up with it all,” he said.
Yancsurak said the school will have its own volunteer RN, who is the parent of a student.
When students arrive, they will not be placed in classed by individual grades. Instead, the Montessori method of teaching breaks them up into two groups — lower elementary which is grades one through three and upper elementary which is grades four through six.
The Montessori teaching method is an individualized educational approach for children used world-wide and based on the research and experiences of Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori. 
The school’s website says the goal is “to lead children to ask questions, think for themselves, explore, investigate, and become eager, self-directed learners.”
This is accomplished by “using a carefully prepared environment where teachers are guides utilizing self-correcting, hands-on learning materials and purposeful activities that allow children to learn at their own pace through discovery.”
Yancsurak said the goal is to “follow the child” and allow them to choose things in which they are interested.
“Research shows all kids move at a different pace and all are unique. Montessori takes advantage of that,” Yancsurak said.
In most Montessori schools, the classes are more populated than public schools. Yancsurak said it is not uncommon to have 35-45 students in a class, although the charter school will keep classes at about 25 students each — at least the first year.
Yancsurak said studies show students who leave Montessori schools and return to public schools usually do very well and, in many cases, skip grades.
“The students have so much freedom and learn responsibility at an early age,” he said.
One thing the students will do to teach responsibility is keep their classrooms clean. Although the same janitorial service that is being used in the rest of the building will be used in the charter school wing, Yancsurak said basically all the custodian will have to do is pick up a bag of trash.
The students will be required to clean the rooms before going home each day.
Students will wear uniforms which, most days, will be red, white or blue shirts and tan pants. The exception will be each Wednesday when students have phys ed, art and music. On those days, students can wear tie dye colors.
The new charter school is opening with the blessing of the U.S. Justice Department which issued its approval last month.
However, in a letter to the Georgetown County School District, Thomas Falkinburg, an attorney in the Civil Rights division, said the Justice Department will keep an eye on the school’s staffing and enrollment. The school must abide by racial makeup requirements the Justice Department issued in a 1997 decree.
While the school does receive money from the county school district — the amount is based on the number of students — it does have its own board of directors.
Yancsurak said in five years he hopes to see the school expanded to include kindergarten through eighth grade with high school added within the next decade.
“I want the district to be happy they approved the charter and I would like many of the same staff members to still be here because they love working here,” Yancsurak said.

By Scott Harper
sharper@gtowntimes.com

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