COROLLA – The first day of the second year of one of the state’s more unusual charter schools began last week with Raleigh Hudock assigning jobs to students sitting informally on the century-old hardwood schoolhouse floor.
“Our flag bearer is Aron Forlano,” Hudock said.
“Cool,” the sixth-grader replied. “I always wanted to do that.”
The two-room Water’s Edge Village School expanded its “classroom” its first year to include nearby landmarks, the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound, a few hundred feet from its doors.
Students in kindergarten through sixth grade learned geography and history from the top of the Currituck Beach lighthouse. Marine biology from rescuing a rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle they named Hernando. Life sciences by dissecting a bottlenose dolphin that washed ashore and identifying its organs.
“Last year my favorite thing was just coming to school,” Aron said, “and then this year I want to do some more archery.”
Hudock and teaching colleague Mahindra Rock saw their enrollment increase by four this fall, to 20, with students avoiding up to two hours on buses to the nearest traditional schools.
“It was a great year,” said Meghan Agresto, the lighthouse manager and mother of two boys. “We had great kids and great parents. It was better than I expected.”
About 30 volunteers with a variety of expertise expect to add similar lessons this year using books and the beach, said Agresto, who is the school’s board president.
“It’s Corolla. Everybody knows every child,” she said. “Everybody knows me. Everybody knows the teachers.”
Michele Darden of Kill Devil Hills enrolled her sons, Bodhi and Cadence, searching for a different kind of learning experience through smaller class sizes and instruction from more than books.
“I hope it cultivates in them a love for learning,” she said.
Two years ago, North Carolina lawmakers lifted their cap of 100 charter schools. As of this week, 128 operate statewide with average enrollments of 300 students, said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association.
Water’s Edge was among the first new ones to get approved. Another 32 have applied to open next year, he said.
As with all public schools, charter schools are free and must administer the same standardized tests, but they have more flexibility in their curriculum and how they operate. Local boards of parents and others oversee them.
Water’s Edge receives about $200,000 in state and local funding, Agresto said.
Last week, following a tradition begun on the first day last year, Hudock and Agresto led the students in a single-file climb to the top of the lighthouse, where they got a 360-degree view of their classroom.