TOWER- More than 250 parents, students, and community members turned out last Thursday night for the formal dedication of the new Vermilion Country Charter School. The event was a chance to thank those who had helped get the school up and running, as well as a time to tour the school, and meet the staff and students.
With a little over a month and a half under their belts, teachers and students were ready to show off some of their work, and talk to their families and community members about what a day at the Vermilion Country Charter School is like.
Students got the chance to show their parents their colorful desks, now mostly decorated to match each student’s personality, and to introduce their parents to their teachers and friends.
Students at VCCS focus on project-based learning, and the walls of the school were decorated with students’ first projects, which ranged from simple explorations of the environment to more detailed research on specific topics or interests.
Student projects are designed through a collaborative process between the student and teacher, and must meet certain standards. By completing projects, students work towards earning credits towards graduation and meeting state standards. Projects are done both individually and in groups.
The flexibility of project-based learning makes it an effective teaching method in the multi-aged environment. Students at VCCS are not separated by grade, but instead work in multi-age advisories, spending most of the day working under the supervision of one teacher/advisor. The school also welcomes community volunteers, who can teach in their area of expertise, or simply help out with day-to-day learning.
The school’s board of directors planned the evening, and Board Chair Jodi Summit thanked all who came, the many volunteers and donors, as well as the city of Tower, wich invested the funds needed to renovate the former manufacturing building to turn it into a school.
The school has truly become a community project. In addition to support from the city, local businesses and the chamber have been big boosters of the project. The school has 16 full-time employees, and a payroll of about $60,000 per month. School vans buy gas in Tower and Soudan, and get serviced at the local businesses. The school’s desks, built by volunteers over the summer, were constructed with locally-purchased materials. Local clubs have expressed interest in volunteering at the school and working with students.
Lake Vermilion Area Chamber Director Troy Swanson said the school has provided a nice boost to the local economy. He noted that several new families had moved into the Tower-Soudan area. Tower-Soudan has seen several positive developments this past year; in addition to the charter school, the new Scenic Rivers Medical and Dental Clinic opened in Tower, there is ongoing development work at the new Lake Vermilion State Park, and the harbor project is set to move ahead.
“Our future is looking bright,” he said. “We have one of the top elementary schools in the state, and now can offer K-12 education right here in Tower.”
“This is a very important aspect of economic development,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring new families into the area.”
The local chamber helped purchase food for the evening event.
While the school is certainly important to the local economy, the real reason to celebrate, said Summit, was the impact of the school on the children.
“We are providing an innovative and 21st century education for the children in our community, and neighboring communities,” she said. “Kids in Tower now have the option of walking to school. Other area kids have a 10-minute bus ride, instead of spending as long as 90 minutes each way to get to another ISD 2142 school.”
The school is also focusing on creating active citizens.
“Our kids are volunteering in our community. They are learning about our community,” said Summit. “They are learning to be global citizens. They are learning that school can be fun. They are making new friends.”