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A learning experience

Parent-funded private school arises in predecessor’s wake

River Day School, a new, private K-6 school opening this fall, will feature experiential and hands-on learning, students grouped by ability regardless of age, small classes and a full-day kindergarten.

“We don’t just want to be good enough,” said Rachel Young, a founder and board member as well as a parent of two students. “This school is going to be fantastic.”

The nonprofit, parent-funded school was developed by parents frustrated with the sudden closure of Discovery School, a private school that operated for 27 years. The founders wanted to preserve the kids’ social community and a thriving learning environment.

“At first, we thought about homeschooling” – just renting a house and teaching a few of the kids – “but it became clear pretty quickly that we were going to do a school,” Young said.

A location – the former Arc Community Center, 116 W. Indiana Ave. – was secured for the new school. Parents recruited three former Discovery School teachers.

Funding quickly came together, including money for renovation, desks and chairs, and teaching supplies. The funding is entirely private; no banks are involved.

“We are going to run this one with absolutely zero debt,” said Colleen Curran, the school’s executive director, whose friends’ children will attend the school.

Curran owns a medical transcription company, and will lend her business knowledge to help run the school. “We are going to make it financially sound,” she said. “It will fund itself.”

The River Day School founders are taking what happened to Discovery School “as a cautionary tale of not what to do – not to expand too quickly,” Curran said.

The Discovery School was paying for more than 50 percent of its students’ tuition and had based its budget on a growing enrollment. The sour economy caused a dip in enrollment. As of January, about 105 students were enrolled in the school, a decrease of 35 students since 2008, according to the Discovery School’s annual report.

River Day School has 15 students enrolled so far. It needs 25 to 30 to start. Enrollment is open now, and students are being admitted selectively. Tuition is $6,000 per academic year.

The founders have to wait until September for state approval. But they are confident because “our curriculum exceeds the state standards, the teachers are certified and the building is already approved for a day care,” Young said.

“We will have multi-age classrooms, we group kids by where they are learning for any given subject,” Young said. “We have a small enough school that teachers will be able to give individualized attention. If you are teaching to a hypothetical average, the kids who are not there (with the learning) are going to be lost, and those that are ahead are going to be bored.”

It would be a rare month “where every student did not go out on a field trip,” Young said.

The curriculum includes language arts, math, science, social studies, health, Spanish, art, music, information technology and physical education.

“I think more people are looking for an (education) alternative out there,” said Elle Liebsker, another founder. “Some of the kids don’t fit in other schools. This is an option.”

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