During its first full academic year in a brand-new, 50,000-square-foot building, Riverhead Charter School will offer expanded extracurricular programs and stronger preparation for high school as its student body continues to grow.
As of Friday, RCS had a total of 427 students enrolled for the 2015-16 school year, up substantially from the 365 students who attended class there in 2014-15. The building will eventually accommodate almost 500 students, and principal Ray Anrkum said demand is already high, not least because of the school’s evolution.
“We have a wait list in every grade,” said Mr. Ankrum, who also serves as the school’s executive director. “We’re growing from within. Our ESL students are testing out of ESL. It seems like all components of what we’re trying to do are working.”
One of the most substantial changes comes for the school’s older children. Grades six through eight will have their own wing, where they will rotate classrooms and have different teachers for each core subject — just like traditional middle school. All of those students will also have a new 40-minute class devoted solely to writing.
“We are really trying to get our students ready for when they go into high school,” said Deana Fortunato, the director of curriculum and instruction. “Normally, when they go into a middle school, that transition into high school gets a little bit easier. So we decided this year to do a middle-school model to set our students up for when they leave us.”
2014-15 was the first year RCS offered eighth grade, and it is the only charter school in Suffolk County that provides K-8 education. Two new special-education coordinators are joining the staff this year to ensure better accommodations for those students.
The new building opened in January, and its hallways are complete with science labs, a kiln-equipped art classroom and a library. This year, that library is fully stocked with donated books.
A new cafeteria also functions as a gymnasium and an auditorium with a stage — none of which existed in the old buildings. In that new auditorium, theater teacher Jessie Duncan will organize an after-school theater program, which will culminate in RCS’s first-ever play.
“We used to have all our events at Riverhead [Free] Library or elsewhere, but now we can hold them all here,” said Shanon Ruffner, who teaches sixth- through eighth-grade English Language Arts.
Mr. Ankrum said the school is also trying to organize a co-educational intramural basketball team, though they are having difficulty finding a league to join. For more freeform physical activity, the school installed a playground in June that will also be available for its first full year.
RCS will also over a variety of new extracurricular programs starting this fall, many of which partner with local organizations. In a few months, the school will open a community garden with the help of Calverton’s Miller Environmental Group. They had previously done a similar project, but that one ended in 2014 and they hope for this edition to be sustainable.
Teachers will also work with Brookhaven National Lab for the “Day in the Life of the Peconic” program, in which students will gather data from a site at the Peconic River.
“[Kids] get to see that the science you learn in school can be a career — it’s real life,” said fifth-grade teacher Jenn Borst.
Photos credit: Chris Lisinski