First day for new school

Donald Samson, director of curriculum and instruction at Juniper Ridge Community School, directs his staff as they rehearse the song “Round and Round” in preparation for the opening ceremony today of the Waldorf-modeled charter school

The songs for the opening assembly have been rehearsed. The chalkboards have been hung. The classrooms have been decorated with vibrantly colored tapestries and dotted with toys and learning material.

The opening day for the newest charter school in School District 51, Juniper Ridge Community School, is here.

The modulars where classes will eventually take place won’t likely arrive at the school’s 640 24 1/2 Road site until mid-September. Until then, the school’s 165 kindergarten through sixth-grade students will attend class in the Sunday school and adult education wings up the road at Canyon View Vineyard Church.

It’s not ideal to start school off-campus, but Juniper Ridge Administrative Director Patrick Ebel said he is thankful the church was willing to take students in with only a couple months’ notice. After a bank pulled funding last-minute this summer, Ebel said Home Loan State Bank stepped in to provide a loan for the school’s modular units with a credit guarantee from the Charter School Development Corp.

After a year and a half of planning, charter writing, faculty training and other tasks, Ebel said the school’s staff, parents and board of stewards are excited to see their dream come true of offering a Waldorf method-inspired education in a public school. The school’s curriculum centers on music, the arts, story-telling and learning through play at younger ages, then delving into more rigorous material in upper grades based on the Waldorf style of teaching, which matches instruction strategies to stages of child development.

“I’ve sunk everything I have and all my time and energy into this school because I really believe this is the way learning should be,” he said.

Juniper Ridge Board Chair Nicole Miller, who will send her daughters to kindergarten and second grade at the school today, said she learned about the Waldorf method during four years as a parent and board member at Grand Junction’s Waldorf-inspired River Canyon School.

“The kids love it,” she said of Waldorf-inspired curriculum. “Everything is very simple, meets them where they are developmentally and lets them have the freedom to play and explore.”

Juniper Ridge parent Joanna Hayes said her third- and sixth-grade daughters enjoyed going to school at Tope Elementary but were ready for something different.

“(Juniper Ridge) gives the best of both worlds. It uses Waldorf methods but has the benefit of a public school with district standards,” she said.

The school’s faculty includes eight grade-level teachers, a special education teacher and four specialty teachers, one each for handwork like weaving and knitting, physical education, Spanish, and violin, which each third- through sixth-grader will learn to play. First- and second-graders will play the pentatonic flute. Ebel said the school picked violins for older students because the instrument has no frets so students develop a natural ear for music.

Fourth-grade Juniper Ridge teacher Britt Kuhns taught at a local, traditional school for four years. But once she had her own child, now 15 months old, she started to wonder if she was working her students too hard without offering them enough down time as things like recess started to diminish from the daily schedule. She looked into Waldorf and decided to join Juniper Ridge. She said she hopes the school attracts more students in years to come and, at the very least, community members learn Waldorf “is not just a salad.”

The first year ever for a school can be challenging but rewarding, Kuhns said.

“It’s exciting to be part of the debut of something,” she said.

Ebel said he doesn’t plan for the firsts to end here. He hopes to some day have a permanent building for kindergarten through eighth-grade students and possibly a separate building for high school. The school has a four-year sublease at the 24 1/2 Road site and he hopes to at least have a permanent spot for the school’s first ninth-graders to begin high school in three years.

The school can enroll up to 15 more students. To apply, call 639-0884.


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