One-room schoolhouse reborn

Private Fairfax facility re-imagines learning

By Michelle Monroe
Messenger Staff Writer

Imagine scanFAIRFAX —The first private elementary school in Franklin County, the Imagine School House, will open its doors in Fairfax this fall.

Executive director Christina DeGraff-Murphy said the school was started by a group of parents who believe there is a better way to educate their children. “We were feeling disconnected from public education,” said DeGraff-Murphy.

The parents were looking for something more personalized for their children.

They’ve hired a state-certified teacher, Jessica Tomkowicz, who has experience in teaching an integrated, project-based curricula in a multi-age classroom.

Each student will have a personalized learning plan. Detailed questionnaires already have been sent to parents of enrolled students in order to gather information about the students’ learning styles and interests.

“Every student learns differently,” said DeGraff-Murphy. “Every student should have their own individual education plan.”

DeGraff-Murphy also described Imagine as “the rebirth of the one-room schoolhouse.”

With a multi-age classroom, what students learn will be determined by their ability and not their age, she suggested. For example, a third-grade student who is able to do fifth grade math will be able to do fifth grade math instead of being confined to learning what other students of the same age are learning.

Conversely, the same is true for students who learn more slowly.

The school also will use project-based learning and is working with community partners as curricula are being developed, explained DeGraff-Murphy. For example, a local songwriter will work with children on songwriting, providing literacy and music instruction.

Founders of the school hope to create an environment in which students are excited to learn. “It should be a welcoming, exciting learning environment,” said DeGraff-Murphy.

She pointed out that schools as they are currently designed are not always the best environments for learning. It’s hard to do creative writing when sitting under fluorescent lights, DeGraff-Murphy noted.

The school will follow Vermont state education standards, but is adapting them in ways the parents believe will better serve their children. For example, they are considering doing arts instruction less frequently but for longer periods of time, to allow students to explore their creativity in greater depth.

The curricula also includes foreign language instruction.

Students are expected to play a role in their own education, beyond passively absorbing what they are told. Instead, they will be asked to help develop their learning plans and will be in charge of reporting to their parents at what are traditionally parent-teacher meetings.

“This is the kids’ learning environment, and the teacher is there to facilitate it,” said DeGraff-Murphy.

The plan is also to have close relationships between the school and families. “Schooling doesn’t begin at 8:30 and end at 2:30,” DeGraff-Murphy said.

There are five children enrolled for next year, with the ideal classroom size projected at 10. Sixteen is the maximum number of students the school can accommodate

In addition to Tomkowicz, DeGraff-Murphy said it is likely that parents will volunteer in the classroom.

Tuition has been set at $5,500 annually.

For the first two years, the classroom will be located in a 700-square-foot section of a private home on River Road. The classroom will have its own entrance.

Interested parents can get more information at the school’s website (www.imagineschoolhouse.org).

An open house will be held on Thursday, July 30, in the classroom at 138 River Rd. in Fairfax. It will begin at 5 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.