YOSEMITE – A small school house tucked away in the big outdoors offers nearly unlimited possibilities, with an emphasis on environmental science, art, project-based and multiage learning, and flexibility. Yosemite Wawona Charter School serves grades K-8 and is now open for enrollment to students in Madera and Mariposa Counties. School starts August 17.
“There are many reasons families looking for an education alternative would want their children to attend Wawona Elementary,” says parent and park ranger, Chad Andrews, who is Board Secretary for the school. “We are located in the southern district of Yosemite, and part of the curriculum is centered around the amazing natural and professional resources that exist here. The school has existed for over 120 years, and is still today a one room, multiage school, with enrollment that has fluxuated from 5 to 28 students.”
Having faced its share of challenges, the school was actually closed in 2010 due to cutbacks coming from all directions, and operated on private funding in association with Mountain Home Charter in Oakhurst. Undaunted and in need of a school for their kids, parents and other advocates plowed forward and managed to re-foster the school as a charter, giving them not only a sense of security but the chance to create their own special programs and curriculum. The school draws students whose parents work in the park in many capacities, and wants to draw from beyond the gates of Yosemite, as well.
Unique as they come, while harking back in some ways to the good old days of yore, the school in Wawona at this time has an enrollment of nine students, including three sets of siblings.
That enrollment number is up from six last year, so that’s a pretty good increase. Sure, it’s a small school, but the opportunities are outstanding if you’re looking for options and want to take full advantage of the amazing offerings in Yosemite. Just about anyone of the right age can join in.
“As a California public charter school, we can admit any student who wants to attend,” Chad says. “Because of our geographical location, we expect to attract students from within Yosemite and the nearby communities of Yosemite West, Fish Camp, Bass Lake, North Fork, Oakhurst, and Coarsegold.”
Among the benefits of the charter is that Wawona offers a traditional classroom seat-based program, as well as a Flex Program for some students. The Flex Program is a hybrid program that combines home school and class time, giving families who live farther away the ability to attend without having to drive to the school every day. As the school grows, they also hope to offer a Pre-K program, as well as transportation from Oakhurst.
With the small class size comes the freedom for kids of varied ages to attend school together, something parents and educators say is delightful to behold.
“The multiage learning environment creates an amazing cohesion between older and younger students, developing maturity and engagement in each other’s learning,” Chad explains. “Instruction, provided by one full time teacher and two part time aids, also allows for individualized learning, flexibility in content, and project based curriculum, all while meeting current state standards.”
Another benefit to the charter is that Wawona can set their own calendar. They currently align with Bass Lake School District, but are exploring a year-round calendar schedule for the 2016-17 school year.
“This has proven to be an effective schedule for students and staff, in that students tend to retain more from session to session. It can also be very beneficial to many families who work year-round or can’t take time off during traditional summer break.”
Wawona Elementary school also makes time for a heavy focus on art and field trips.
“Students get a full day of art, each week, taught by local artist Loretta Lyster. Field trips are an integral part of the school as well. Day hikes or local trips around the park are common, and as the school grows, more trips will be planned around California and beyond. We can literally step out the front door, and explore the natural wonders of the Park, often with Park Service natural science professionals.”
Another asset: Yosemite National Park partner Nature Bridge hosts Project Pluton.
“4th through 6th graders from the three park schools come together once a month for environmental education adventures — hiking in Tuolumne, exploring the Sequoias, camping at Hetch Hetchy, or learning first hand about Yosemite’s history. Community members volunteer to teach special classes such as a theme based cooking program, etiquette, poetry, art, NPS Ranger Program, and fire science. These are unique experiences that make this school one of a kind.”
Chad adds that parent particiation is highly encouraged, and parents are active in the classroom, helping with fundraising, school trips, and special classes.
“Most importantly, the Board of Directors is comprised of a parent majority, giving them direct control in the operation, developement, and direction of the charter and keeping families invested in the success of the school and their children.”
For more information visit the Yosemite Charter School website or give them a call.