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Posted On: 2017-11-02 12:28 PM
By Cara O'Donnell, for Edkey® Inc.
There's that old saying, "Big things come in small packages." It certainly fits Sequoia Lehi Charter School in Mesa, where the school's small physical size enables teachers and staff to make a big impact on K-6 students.
"The most important thing to us is that we don't want to be a big school," said Matt Metcalf, the school's principal. "Two years ago I was in a school that had 1,100 students. I didn't know a lot of the kids. Today, I can tell you that I know every single student in our school. I know everybody's face."
Sequoia Lehi is one of 18 Arizona charter schools owned by Edkey® Inc. Each school is independently managed to deliver on its mission. At Sequoia Lehi, that mission is about providing students as much one-on-one attention as possible. There are 106 students attending Sequoia Lehi this academic year.
"Because we're so small, we can really see where each child is and find out their specific needs," said Karen Miskin, Sequoia Lehi's reading specialist. "We start where they are instead of just lumping them into a group. We can find the specific skills they lack and address them in small groups. Each child learns differently."
Mrs. Miskin, who joined Sequoia Lehi five years ago when the school opened, works with students daily.
"I love that I can spend an enormous amount of my time during the day working directly with kids," she said. "I see at least eight groups of kids a day. I wouldn't have that opportunity at a [large] public school."
That personal attention also allows students to excel beyond their grade level. Currently at Sequoia Lehi, students are learning how to write computer code. There are sixth-grade students who are studying seventh-grade math curriculum. "I love it here, I love the small school feel," said kindergarten teacher Debbie Divins. "I've never worked at a huge school. There's not a lot of red tape. If we need something, [Mr. Metcalf] is always there."
In addition to providing an environment where individual students can achieve, Sequoia Lehi's school culture also helps students gain self-confidence. Because of the small environment, students get to know one another, regardless of grade.
"If you have kindergarteners who are actually interacting with sixth graders, they're confident," assistant Nicki Sanders said. "They're more social with everyone. It's so small, it's a family, even when we're in our teachers' meetings."
The culture also has positive results on the playground, where administrators like Metcalf find fewer instances of bullying-like behavior.
"In the middle of last year we implemented a program called Playworks, in which the kids learn how to problem-solve outside on the playground," Metcalf said. "It's created a better environment outside, and the amount of students getting sent to the office is almost none at this point."
Through the Playworks program, students learn how to solve disagreements (such as how to referee a game, or how to compromise) in scenarios that previously could have resulted in anger, frustration or hurt feelings. Students are able to work through problems on their own.
And whether it's a new student coming from a public school, a child who's experiencing a challenge at home, or a student who's excelling beyond their grade and needs to be challenged, Sequoia's staff is ready to offer the attention that student needs, which begins each day when Mr. Metcalf personally greets each student.
"Parents and students choose to come to our school because of our size and the attention we can give to kids," Metcalf said. "The parents love that I know who their kids are. I open the door for them and greet them every morning. I know all of them. I know which students will say ‘hi' to me, and which ones will groan. You don't see that on every campus. It lets us care more about every kid we do have."
Sequoia Lehi Charter School is located in Mesa off Horne Avenue north of McKellips Road. For more information on the school, visit SequoiaLehi.org.
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