Movers and shakers

Austin’s alt ed community has seen lots of movin’ and shakin’ this summer. Here’s a roundup, in no particular order, of some changes you should know about as you're looking for schooling options for your kiddos.

A new school serving ages 3 to 103 is forming in Central Austin, just south of the river: Integrity Academy at Casa de Luz, Center for Integral Studies. Led by executive director Ali Ronder, formerly of AHB Community School, and founder Eduardo “Wayo” Longoria, the school is currently enrolling (and hiring!) for the 2014–2015 school year. You can help shape the school’s future or just enjoy a stimulating discussion about how humans learn by attending one of Integrity’s weekly salons.

Taking over the helm at AHB is M. Scott Tatum, who brings a wealth of experience in arts education, administration, and integration. Meet Scott and learn what makes this part-time elementary school in Hyde Park special by watching its new series of short videos.

Bronze Doors Academy has a new campus and a new name. According to director and chief motivator Ariel Dochstader Miller, Skybridge Academy will continue the same liberal arts college–like program for junior high and high school students for which Bronze Doors was known, but with some additional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) opportunities made possible by its new location at the Stunt Ranch in Southwest Austin. As always, both full-time and à la carte options are available.

Accompanying Skybridge in the move to Oak Hill is its elementary school partner, the Soleil School. Cofounder and head of school Carly Borders says the new location on the Stunt Ranch will give her young students access to a ropes course, a pool, and more than 20 acres of beautiful land to explore.

Another unique school on the move this summer is Acton Academy. Construction on its permanent home on Alexander Avenue in East Austin is nearly complete. Laura Sandefer, Acton’s cofounder and head of school, invites you to check it out at the open house on October 24; meanwhile, take a peek at this architect’s rendering. It looks plenty big to house the academy’s current elementary and middle school students as well as the high school program slated to open in 2016.

The Olive Tree Learning Center, a Reggio Emilia–inspired preschool, recently opened its second campus, at 6609 Manchaca Road, near Garrison Park. Like the original Bouldin Creek campus, the new one is currently enrolling children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years. Director Michelle Mattalino says she is “very proud of the staff at both locations” and excited to fill the beautiful campuses with happy children.

Mariposa Montessori is also opening a second campus in South Austin. It will house this American Montessori Society full-member school’s new Lower Elementary program. Head of School Whitney Falcon recently reported that there were a few spots open for fall enrollment.

Progress School is expanding this fall to serve kindergarten through 5th grade. Located in Hyde Park, Progress offers “authentic education for natural learners,” with full- and part-time options as well as an after-school program. More exciting news from director Jennifer Hobbs: “We're getting chickens!”

Likewise, the Inside Outside School has expanded to serve kindergarten through 6th grade this fall, says executive director Deborah Hale. Its current enrollment of 24 will make up three classes—primary, intermediate, and upper elementary—on the school’s seven wooded acres in Pflugerville.

9th Street Schoolhouse is growing, too. The East Side home-based school will serve ages 5 through 9 this fall, with 8 students currently enrolled. 9th Street now has two mentors: founder Caitlin Macklin and Laura Ruiz.

Finally, the Whole Life Learning Center is rolling out a new nature-based one-day program called Mother Earth Mondays, which fosters a connection with the earth through gardening, wilderness survival skills, arts and crafts, games, and other fun activities with mentors Braden Delonay, Caroline Riley Carberry, and Leesalyn Koehler. In addition, director and founder Michael Carberry says he is excited to introduce the newest mentors for the Teen Mentorship Program, Kizzie, Etienne, and Adam, whose bios will soon be posted on the WLLC website alongside those of the school’s veteran staff.

Any questions or comments for these movers and shakers? Feel free to leave them below.


The playground as classroom

Michelle Mattalino, who contributed this guest post, is the owner and executive director of The Olive Tree Learning Center, an innovative Austin preschool that emphasizes outdoor learning and follows the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.

On our playground, under the skyward reaching branches of the oak trees that span hundreds of years, I can hear the lilting laughter of children approaching. As the chatter and energy begin to increase, I know the students are about to flood out onto the playground in a wave of pure motion and purpose. Every student has a mission, it seems. Some flock to the trucks, some to the shovels, others to the playscape and swings, and often a small group will huddle in the playhouse. Each student chooses a mode of play, and then, as in a dance, switches partners, materials, and activity levels. It is perhaps the most fascinating part of my day and the main reason I have based my teachings on the child development work ongoing in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

One of the questions I receive most frequently is “What is Reggio?” The succinct answer is that Reggio is your child. Each child is different, reacting and responding uniquely to the environment and community. The Reggio Emilia model provides children with individualized platforms on which to explore and collaborate, along with guides who can hear and receive their experiences and provide reflection and more research to add to their learning; an environment that is carefully crafted with materials, sensory items, and tools to further their discovery; and a community that lifts them up with respect, understanding, and freedom.

Here at The Olive Tree, I have a deep love and admiration for the team of educators (we call guides) whom I am blessed to work with in applying the Reggio philosophy. The guides and I meet extensively to reflect and research on the words and actions of our students. We present and re-present materials, subjects, and topics that the students have found fascinating, either individually or as a group, and provide the children with the tools and structure necessary to further develop these burgeoning interests.

The guides document learning and exploration for the students and parents to see in pictures and written dialogue. This documentation becomes our pathway for further investigation into a topic, choice, or experience. We walk with them along this discovery path, hand in hand, asking questions and documenting the answers for further thought and focus.

At the end of the day, our children always say that their favorite part was playing. Yes, learning is playing, and the playground is where children assimilate all the information of the day through application and practice, whether they choose the trucks or the playhouse or something else.

With graduation around the corner, I reflect on what I would like my students to take with them from their time on our playground. My wish is for all my students to be able to hear their own voices, through a crowd or while alone; to remember that learning is about how you approach and think about a situation or problem, not necessarily how well you perform, and that mistakes are essential to the growth process and should be viewed as opportunities; to understand how to be safe and healthy; and most importantly, to know that they are capable, competent, and powerful in their own right.

Michelle Mattalino