A Colorado Springs charter school will begin its 2021-2022 academic year with a new middle school and pilot program designed to help students battle the kind of emotional upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enrollment for a new school for grades 6-8 on the Colorado Early Colleges campus in Colorado Springs is pending. According to Headmistress Jennifer Daugherty, it will be the first charter school system in southern Colorado.
“We have three middle schools in our organization in northern Colorado, but this will be our first middle school here,” Daugherty said.
Construction of the refurbished 28,000 square foot campus at 4425 N. Chestnut St. began in early March and is currently on track for the school’s scheduled opening on Aug. 12, according to Neenan Company officials who led the expansion project.
“We’re approaching,” said Mason Myles, assistant superintendent of the construction company. “COVID set us back a bit with material and personnel problems, but now we look good.”
The open, public charter school plans to start the new academic year with about 96 students, with the goal of having about 200 children by the 2023-2024 school year. Daugherty said the relatively small teacher-to-student ratio should help ease teacher workloads and encourage greater student participation.
“We really want to keep a small school community so we can focus on an individual approach with our students,” she said.
A significant portion of the school assignments will be hands-on and require in-person participation, but Daugherty said the school will have an online component that will allow students to monitor their projects and keep up with the curriculum in the event that they take the class must miss.
“I know it isn’t for all students or families, but online learning has enabled some of our students to be successful,” she said. “We continue to try to innovate about how we can best serve all of our students and will definitely use our online platform to offer more opportunities to the students.”
The new middle school space will include 10 classrooms, a large meeting / assembly area, a science, technology, engineering and math space, and a maker space which will play a prominent role in the school’s new Well-Being and Empowerment program .
Many teenagers in the El Paso County area are struggling with mental health problems, compounded by feelings of helplessness and fear brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Daugherty said. The Well-Being and Empowerment initiative is designed to provide students with a range of basic skills – such as woodworking, cooking, and home improvement – that will better equip them to tackle some of the insecurities of young adulthood.
“We have to do something to help students find hope for the future and, with certain skills, become empowered to build their confidence,” Daughterty said. “Maybe you are not interested in becoming a carpenter or working in construction. However, you may need to hang a picture or make small repairs around your home. We want to impart these skills to our students. “
Daugherty said that while the pandemic has challenged teachers, students and families in unprecedented ways, it also provides an opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that may prove helpful in a future crisis.
“One of the things we learned with COVID is new ways to help young people learn how to encounter a barrier, how to bypass it and move forward,” she said.
Student Dean Kimberly Musselman said the staff looks forward to bringing younger students to early colleges.
“We’re excited,” said Musselman. “It will be fun to have middle school students here on campus. We love the energy that this age group brings with it. “