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The private alternativeIt's recruiting time for five non-profit island schools.
"A blond boy in a wheelchair rests his chin on the table, as other students put geometric shapes into various configurations. Connor Folse is beginning his day of observation at Hyla Middle School in Chris Johnson's 6th grade math class. After sitting in on art, humanities, science and Spanish, Folse will probably be closer to a decision about where he wants to be next fall.And before the day is out, school personnel will try to determine whether Folse will fit in.In a low-key interview, they will ask about his interests. They will ask why he wants to attend Hyla. Similar scenes are being played out at other island private schools this month. February - Private School Month by gubernatorial proclamation - is the start of the enrollment season.By mid-May, about 275 elementary and middle students will be committed to one of the island's five private schools. We would like this process to be less about the competitive testing one might find in Seattle, Paul Carroll, Hyla's director said, and more about the right choice for both child and school.The five schools share some common features. All have about 12 students per class. All say they promote the sense of community smallness fosters. Small class size - that's one of the biggest advantages of sending your child to a private school, said Sue Andresen, mother of a Hyla student. We have a closer relationship with Carrie's teachers and so does she. She has the opportunity to do extracurricular activities the public schools can't support.But all of that is an offshoot of small classes.Fund-raising holds tuition down for these nonprofits - one-third lower than comparable Seattle schools - and augments scholarship and other programs. All claim independent-minded faculty willing to accept less pay for freedom to structure curricula and belong to a community. None claims much racial diversity, although 16 percent of Island School's population are students of color. Where the schools do vary is in educational philosophy and flavor. Voyager Montessori Elementary School:Inviting, colorful Montessori materials appeal to the natural curiosity and drive for learning children have, said Nancy Michel, Voyager director. Individual exploration combines with carefully-structured curriculum to move students from the sensorial to the abstract.Founded in 1995 and affiliated with the American Montessori Society, the school features two multi-age classrooms taught by Montessori-certified teachers.The different age groups come to know each other well and teachers can establish consistent strategies to work with each student. The highly-academic curriculum emphasizes history and the sciences - math and language are taught through these. Students range from those needing extra challenge, to those needing extra help.Hyla Middle School: People want to pigeonhole schools, Director Paul Carroll, who left Bush School in Seattle to found Hyla in 1993, said. We try to fill our ranks with a real diversity of talent and of economic spectrum. Because Hyla's a small school, to have one kind of kid would be too limiting. With adults students can turn to, Hyla is, to some extent, a protected, safe haven for young people during the turbulent middle school years.Faculty form strong relationships with students, through extracurricular activities such as Exploration Week, when students might help build a house or kayak. Carden Country School: It's OK for a child to ask a teacher to pray, Chris Harvey said. It would be difficult for me to teach in an environment where I could not share my faith. Former tax accountant Harvey has run the non-denominational Christian Carden school since 1995. Carden's all-Christian faculty teach phonetics and other essentials to kindergarten through 8th grade. Harvey promotes rule-based teaching that treats children as children, rather than small adults.Carden is loosely affiliated with the Carden schools based in southern California and Harvey is mildly uneasy with his Bainbridge location.This is not really my target market, Harvey said. I wouldn't necessarily place us here. Bainbridge Island Waldorf Grade School: Founded in 1999 by Dana Ashton, Bainbridge Waldorf is the newest of the island private schools and has 80 students in multi-age classrooms from kindergarten through 6th grade. Waldorf emphasizes the arts in the early grades, while academics kick in strongly in the middle school years. Ashton said, The first time I walked into a Waldorf classroom and saw the aesthetically beautiful and soothing activities taking place, I thought, 'This is what I've been missing in teaching.'Island School: According to director Kelly Scribner, the flavor of the Island School is family and community. We extend the support that use to be supplied by extended family and church. Scribner said. The way people treat each other here is of paramount importance.Island School was founded for kindergarten through 3rd grade in 1977 by Scribner with David and Nancy Leedy, but has expanded in recent years to include 4th and 5th. Island School classes are team-taught in kindergarten and in fifth grade. Other classes have two adults, teacher and assistant.Just as Hyla gives kids a chance to know and be known, to be taught as an individual and to grow as an individual, Carroll said, the island's private schools, far from being a threat to the district, really exist to serve kids who prefer a different setting, for any of a variety of reasons. It's all about providing options and choice. "