By Cameron Rasmusson
The Schoolhouse in the Woods isn’t in the woods anymore. But it hasn’t lost its identity.
For four years, the little Cocolalla school collected a small but enthusiastic roster of parents who appreciated its energetic educational philosophy. This year saw the school migrate out of the woods and north of the Long Bridge. Now housed in a roomy building at 1555 Ontario Street, not far from Forrest M. Bird Charter School, Schoolhouse in the Woods has become Sandpoint Academy of the Arts. The name is different, but teacher Lorri Goodman says the school’s raison d’être is still the same: putting the joy back in learning.
“The students seem to respond more to their learning here because they’re given the time to be kids,” Goodman said.
That’s certainly the case Wednesday morning, when the 14 students break from studies for a rambunctious free-for-all of tumbling and dancing. It isn’t long, however, before Goodman, her teacher aides and parent volunteer Mandi Conway have them settled down for an hour alchemizing science, color blending and logical reasoning into a single lesson. The kids absorb the lesson with rapt attention and enthusiasm.
“[This model] is a great alternative for parents who feel their kids don’t fit into the regular school district,” said Conway.
As a private school, Sandpoint Academy of the Arts officials have the freedom to shape the curriculum as they see fit. For parents frustrated with the Common Core standards of public schools, that’s a draw in itself. But Goodman says that’s only a small part of the big picture. She has the freedom to draw from public schools, charter schools, the Waldorf model and more to create a melange of effective techniques. And when one approach doesn’t seem to be working, she has the professional dexterity to try something else.
That approach allows Sandpoint Academy of the Arts to embrace extracurriculars, including regular lessons in music and art. The school also emphasizes good values in its mindfulness lessons.
“Learning to be good people is a part of who we are as well,” Goodman said.
The students practice those good values on the playground, of which they see plenty. Regular playtime is a major part of the academy’s model, Goodman said. It allows the kids to internalize their lessons or even put them into practice, an approach Goodman said is backed by several academic studies.
“Unstructured time allows them to practice what they’ve learned in their mindfulness lessons,” Goodman said.
It also means that, on the whole, academy students love their school. When asked what their favorite part of the academy was, their answers ranged from playtime to their teachers and friends to, well, everything.
“That’s what impressed me the most [about the school]: the excitement my kids had for learning,” Conway said.
Due to the small enrollment, students of varied ages end up interacting and helping one another. While older or more advanced kids are able to tackle learning at their skill level, they also help their younger peers on similar subjects. The youngsters, meanwhile, have role models in the older students, which motivates them to work harder.
“It’s almost like a family in a lot of ways,” Conway said.
The move out of the woods and into the town may change the school in some ways. Goodman said they now have the space to increase enrollment to around 45 students. But parents who have come to love their kids’ second family can rest assured that atmosphere will stay the same.
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