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River City Academy expands to 7th, 8th grades

Posted: Friday, April 24, 2009

River City Academy in Soldotna has gone through all sorts of changes in the past year.

This school, which opened in 2007, changed its name from Peninsula Optional High School to River City Academy this fall, and at the beginning of the next school year will move out of the two portables on East Park Ave. in which it's presently housed to Skyview High School.

Along with moving up the hill, RCA will also expand to include seventh and eighth grade.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education approved the grade expansion at its April 13 meeting, an initiative that was largely fueled by parents, according to RCA principal Gregg Wilbanks.

Wilbanks said that when the school first started, it was originally planned to include middle school-aged students, however the limited space available in the two units made that impossible.

With RCA about to get more space however, Wilbanks said parents began to ask to include seventh- and eight-graders as well.

Vidya Oftedal is one of those parents.

Oftedal has a daughter in her second year at RCA and a son who plans to attend as a seventh-grader next fall.

Oftedal said she and her children were drawn by the performance-based curriculum RCA follows.

She explained that her children appreciate the ability to work at their own pace.

"My daughter just had to prove what her knowledge was and then she could move on. That was the catching part for me, that she didn't have to redo what she already learned and be bored," Oftedal said.

Additionally, she said that she liked that the school didn't rely upon traditional grades, but instead requires students to meet curriculum standards to prove their proficiency before they can move on.

"It's a very honest way of learning," she said.

"(In a traditional school) everything is equated to grades, and I don't think it's right. Just because they're getting a 'D' you're telling the kids negatively what they're not doing instead of what they're good at," she said

Her son, she said, who's interested in electric cars, will also be able to take advantage of the way the school allows students to combine different subjects into the same assignment.

"He can work on writing, spelling and editing while reading all about cars so he can relate different topics of learning, and I think that's what they're looking for," he said.

Tammi Lamb also has a daughter interested in attending RCA as an eighth-grader next year.

Lamb's daughter has Asperger's Syndrome and has been home-schooled.

Lamb said that she wants her daughter to attend a public school now to ensure she gets a broader social experience.

The idea of a traditional school however, didn't appeal to Lamb, who said, "The whole middle school environment is really hard for her to deal with. She needs an environment that's a little more close with smaller student body and has a little more one-on-one."

Lamb said she was also attracted by RCA's performance-based curriculum.

Experiment vindicated

In some ways, the grade level expansion of RCA is a vindication of the experiment that RCA has become, Wilbanks said.

"We weren't sure how this was going to work out," Wilbanks said of the school's creation.

"Now that we've had a couple years we have more confidence and the program is real solid," he said.

That much being said, Wilbanks feels that the school will continue to adapt to the needs of its students.

"A major component of the school is continuous improvement. That means nothing is etched in stone," he said. "If the school community would like to change something then they can let us know and we'll try and adjust to that."

New student transition

Wilbanks also addressed concerns about having middle school-aged children with high schoolers, a concern raised by at least one school board member.

"The adolescent brain develops so fast, the difference between an eighth- and a 12th-grader is huge," he said.

Wilbanks pointed out however, that the difference might also be advantageous for learning.

The school already encourages students to share their learning experiences with peers.

It's not uncommon to find one RCA student learning from another, and Wilbanks said he thinks that could be the case for middle school students as well, saying, "What we need to focus on is that the potential benefits far outweigh the possible problems."

Aside from offering the middle school student to attack more advanced material should they prove they're ready to do so, Will banks said socially they could benefit as well.

"If they're ready to perform academically with older students I'm pretty sure their behavior and maturity level will elevate in that class as well," he said.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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