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Innovative school may have to shut down

 

January 7, 2015

Naomi Ogden, 8, performs "Good King Wensalas" on violin during a holiday concert at Bright Avenues School on Dec. 17.

The next Albert Einstein could very well attend Bright Avenues School, but we may never know.

The new independent K-8 school in south Everett is in danger of shutting down due to low enrollment. The school has just four students and a fraction of a $65,000 private grant left.

“It’s cheesy, but we went with the idea that ‘If we build it, they will come,’” Founder Wendy Ogden said. “We have a gem here, but we’re running on fumes.”

Bright Avenues, which is within the Mukilteo School District limits, is for students who learn best through individualized and enriched education. Each student follows specialized curriculum that is tailored to his or her individual needs.

“We’re trying to get the word out about the school,” Ogden said. “There’s a new option close to home for families who need something different for their children.”

When Bright Avenues opened in 2013, it offered only after-school enrichment classes. This September, it expanded to provide all-day classes for grades K-8.

The curriculum includes the core subjects of reading, writing, social studies, math and science, but also integrates music, art, dance and drama. Each class has a ratio of 8 to 1.

The BAS model follows today’s practices of occupational, speech and physical therapies to enhance each student’s education. It also covers social-emotional learning and executive function (organization and attention) skills.

“Experts in education are saying we need to change education to fit what our kids are needing to learn today,” said Ogden, who is head of the school. “Gone are the days of needing to pack every single fact into their head.

“Our kids need to learn to be creative, to think outside of the box and be able to interact well with others.”

Ogden said the school’s culture is one of compassion, understanding, civility and service.

“This is a place where kids of many different abilities and challenges can come together and learn,” she said. “We can work with their parents and with the specialists they may have.”

Bright Avenues is not a special education school, she said, but it does work to meet the needs of every student.

Students need not be diagnosed, nor struggle, with any particular educational, emotional or physical difficulty. Most students enrolled in the school transferred out of general or highly-capable classes.

However, students who have a learning difficulty, such as sensory processing disorder, ADHD, anxiety, a spectrum of Autism, or those who are “twice exceptional” – meaning they are both gifted and have a disability – are most welcome.

Student Natalee Gardner, 11, benefits from Bright Avenue’s specialized curriculum because she is developmentally delayed in all areas.

Natalee’s parents moved from Bainbridge Island so she could go to the school.

“We searched for several years for a school that would give our daughter the individualized education that she deserves,” said Natalee’s mom, Melinda Wade.

“She is absolutely thriving at Bright Avenues. Natalee is excited to go to school, and every day she begs to go back to school. That didn't happen before.”

Though doctors tell them their daughter is capable of learning and moving forward, Wade said no other school system acted as if that were true. The staff at Bright Avenues believes Natalee can.

“At other schools in the past, we were asked to provide a name stamp so that Natalee could sign her schoolwork,” she said. “At Bright Avenues, they are actually laying the ground work so that Natalee will be able to write her own name one day.”

Ogden’s own son, Andrew, also attends Bright Avenues. He was Ogden’s inspiration to found an independent school that would fill education gaps.

Andrew, 13, is a “twice exceptional” student – he has a highly capable mind, but he also struggles with apraxia, dyspraxia and anxiety. After trying home schooling and highly-capable classes at two school districts, Ogden realized Andrew needed individualized education to thrive.

“There are a lot of constraints in the typical system that make it hard for teachers to meet the needs of kids outside of the box,” she said. “These students fall though the cracks.

“We work to meet their needs in a holistic way, not ignoring artistic learning or physical learning.”

Local leaders in independent schooling from the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools stand by the curriculum and mission of Bright Avenues.

“The vision is superb,” guru Ellen Taussig said. “There is such a need in our society for a school like that. There simply aren’t enough places and people who understand the challenges of some students at certain points in their lives.”

Taussig is the co-founder of The Northwest School in Seattle and executive director of a school in Ethiopia that is modeled after The Northwest School. She was head of the school for 20 years.

She said founding an innovative school is no easy task. She should know: She’s done it twice now. She said the first two years are the hardest.

“There are tremendous risks involved, and it takes unflagging passion,” Taussig said. “Wendy knows what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. She has everything going for her.

“I support her fully as she continues to establish the school.”

She said Bright Avenues has what it takes to become a thriving institution like The Northwest School – it just needs to fix its cash flow issue.

Taussig said many don’t realize an independent school like Bright Avenues doesn’t just benefit the students enrolled there, but society as a whole.

“They don’t understand there could be an Einstein among them,” Taussig said, “but if he doesn’t get the right nurturing and stimulation, then we may not get those gifts.”

The non-profit Bright Avenues School needs to raise $50,000 to finish this school year and increase enrollment. If it doesn’t, it may be forced to close as soon as this month.

Want to help? Donate to the school via GoFundMe or the Bright Avenues School account at BECU.

Bright Avenues is at 13023 3rd Ave. SE in Everett.

For more information, including how to set up a tour or enroll, call 425-337-2960, email info@brightavenues.org or visit http://www.brightavenues.org.

 

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