Kids and their parents are getting a first rate education through Escalon’s Charter School and its Gateway Academy. The home school program also offers regular ‘enrichment’ programs on the campus of Dent Elementary, a program that is optional for the students but one which many attend.
This past Thursday, students spent time learning about the different types of rocks and minerals and their properties, doing some investigative work and learning that talc is the softest substance on earth; diamonds are the hardest.
“Gateway Academy is a local home school option for families to choose as their support as they home school their children when in the past they had to travel for any support,” said Gateway teacher Jennifer Driscoll. “I am completely available to my families and have developed close relationships with each. The personal connection, I believe, is key as to why people have embraced Gateway Academy.”
Driscoll’s thoughts were echoed by a couple of parents dropping their children off for the enrichment program.
Amy Rhoten’s daughter Gwenyth, 10, is in the fifth grade.
“She loves it and it’s a great group of kids,” mom Amy said. “I love that I got to pick the curriculum, I love Mrs. Driscoll and I love that they get to start each day with the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Beyond that, the home school and school based enrichment program offers students the opportunity to progress at their own pace and insures parent involvement along the way.
“Students benefit most from the 100 percent commitment that their families have given to their educations,” agreed Driscoll. “Family support for all children is vital to their educational and emotional success in the world of education and life, and that’s exactly what the students at Gateway receive.”
Mom Sharol Loureiro has a daughter, Alexus, in fourth grade. The nine-year-old is thriving, transferring to the local Charter Academy and Gateway from Connecting Waters.
“We’re an Escalon family and we wanted to support Gateway and Mrs. Driscoll,” said Sharol. “The weekly enrichment is a great option for the kids. There’s full inclusion with the family.”
Both mothers agreed that you can see the progress the students make, testing well and enjoying school.
“Families were given several options when purchasing their district approved curriculum. Parents are the facilitators of the instruction with as much support from me as they choose or need,” Driscoll explained. “The curriculum also has teacher’s editions that come with the student texts for parents to use in their planning.”
Driscoll said Charter/Gateway students are held to the same standards as every other public school student and she monitors the progress of younger students on a monthly basis to measure growth while monitoring the older students on an as needed basis, at minimum once a trimester.
Escalon Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Joel Johannsen serves as principal of Charter Academy, the district’s home school program, of which Gateway is a part.
“We have been very pleased with the response we have received this year,” Johannsen said of Gateway, which enrolls students in kindergarten through fifth grades. “When we started this process we felt that if we had 20 to 23 students in year one, we would consider it a success. We’re currently at 26. We plan on expanding next year to include grades 6-8 and most likely the following year to include grades 9-12.
“All in all we have been very pleased with how it has been received and the parents have been very enthusiastic and positive about their experiences thus far.”
Driscoll and Johannsen both said the students enrolled are doing well and making sure Escalon had a home school option seemed natural, as students seeking home schooling were having to go elsewhere.
“We started toying with the concept of beginning a homeschool component of the Escalon Charter Academy because we were losing a lot of our students to other homeschool programs,” explained Johannsen. “We realized that this was a niche that we could fill and do at least as well, and most likely better, than our competitors. As the program began to take shape we felt strongly that having a homeschool program that also offered a classroom component had the potential of being very successful. This structure would provide a more diverse program and allow students to have educational experiences that wouldn’t be possible if we were a strictly home based program.”
The school district does get state aid for those students in the Charter Academy and the addition of Gateway has enhanced the educational experience as well.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the one thing that I love the best because I love it all, but it has to come down to the students themselves,” Driscoll said of serving as teacher for the program. “Every one of these children has been a gift to me and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with them.”
Johannsen said the focus remains on academics, getting students ready for life after school.
“We monitor reading fluency and growth on a regular basis, students are required to submit regular writing samples and other examples of completed work and grades are issued in all content areas. Students also are required to take a series of summative tests aligned with grade level standards or participate in the STAR test,” said Johannsen. “While parents have a choice of curriculum, we make sure that instruction is standards based and consistent with grade level expectations. Our Gateway teacher works very closely with the parents to make sure they have appropriate lessons and that they are using sound instructional practices. I think that last piece is critical ... as it is through the positive relationships Jennifer builds with the parents and students that form the backbone of the instructional program.”
And while students in the homeschool program aren’t physically on local campuses for 100 percent of their school day, Johannsen said there is a good balance.
“We feel the creation of a homeschool program adds to the range of choices available to the students of EUSD. After all, we were losing these students to other programs and the feedback we received from parents that helped get Gateway off the ground supported this,” he noted. “These parents really wanted their children to attend Escalon schools, but a homeschool program wasn’t available to them and now it is.
“Next year we are confident it will continue to grow as we have already received inquiries from parents who weren’t sure because Gateway was an ‘untested program’ and now that they see what is happening and the great things that are happening they plan to make the switch next year.”