INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Something marvelous is happening in Indian Rocks Beach.
Marvelous is the right word for it, because it is something truly to marvel at.
There is a new school in the beach-side city, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood on 23rd Avenue.
For those who know the area going back some years, they will know about the Cottingham School. The building that held that school has experienced a re-birth and once again a school is there.
But this school is a little different -- some would say a little better. It is a little school now, in its very beginnings, but it has a bright future and it is using a very modern (not in the artsy-craftsy sense, but in the practice, makes total sense ambit).
Many of those conversant with educational style are perhaps familiar with the techniques in education called the "Reggio Emilia approach."
It is an effective method of teaching that maked the word "education" truly meaningful. Education comes from a Latin word that basically means to draw out.
Directing this educational program, now consisting of pre-kindergarten children aged 2, 3 and 4, is Paula DaSilva, who is schooled in the "Reggio Emilia" system which does indeed draw the child out.
"It is the opposite of 'force feeding'," DaSilva says.
This dynamic woman exudes enthusiasm and love for what she is doing.
Members of the Church of the Isles (popularly known as "COTI") decided a couple of years ago to rehab the old Cottingham School and establish a school. This is the mission statement -- "To provide a superior educational experience in a Christian environment open to the community."
If you key in on the words "superior," "educational" and "community" in that statement and measure them against where the project is now, you can seen that the mission statement is being fulfilled.
There is no question that the Reggio Emilia system is effective and that an educational standard has been established.
Maybe even more importantly, those who organized the planning for the school, Tom Whipple perhaps foremost among them, reached out into the community to get others -- not affiliated with the church -- involved.
Money was raised -- a big chunk came from a private individual who insists on being anonymous -- and the building was re-habbed. It has a brand new patina to it now. The school began this year with the youngsters and a "grand opening" is planned January 2.
DaPaula grew up in Greenwhich, Connecticut, lived in Brazil for a period of time where she went to college and got her undergraduate degree and then received a master's degree in education from Harvard.
There are now 14 children in two classrooms. The school has room for 75 students and there is an area into which it can expand for an eventual 150 students. The plan is to have six grades in a few years.
There are all sorts of innovations in the school. Parents can visit and observe their children in class on a closed-circuit TV so they don't disrupt a classroom. A recyclying center uses materials from businesses and folks' attics that can be converted into learning tools for the kids.
For children coming early and having to stay late there is an early care and after care room. During school time, the children are kept involved -- each has her or his job to do such as watering plants, dusting, sweeping, etc.
Whipple is closely associated with the school. He is a trouble shooter and as one person said, "a man for all seasons."
He stresses that the school enrollment is open to people of all faiths.
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