Riverhead Charter School debuts new high school facility on Sound Avenue

Erron Bridgewater of Riverhead, now in 11th grade, has been a student at the Riverhead Charter School since kindergarten.

He remembers a time when he attended school in a trailer but now his classes are held in renovated classrooms at the historic Old Northville School House on Sound Avenue, the charter school’s new high school facility.

The Riverhead Charter School was founded in 2001 as a K-6 school. Over the years, it has been granted expansions in enrollment and instruction through charter renewals. The most recent, which came in March, allowed the school to add grades 11 and 12. Twelfth grade will be added for the 2023-24 school year.

Before moving into this facility, students in ninth and tenth grades shared space with elementary school students at the charter school’s main building in Calverton.

Erron, 16, is one of 14 students in the new junior class. There are currently 80 high schoolers who enjoy the newly renovated 1916 building. There are also 15 staff members and teachers on site. 

Erron said his favorite thing about the new school is the architecture and the flow of space in the classrooms. 

“The classrooms feel more interactive in their design and how the teachers interact with us,” Erron said.

Apart from the new space, there is new technology in the building, including smartboards in the classrooms and 3D printers for students to use, along with Mac laptops.

Building principal Patrick McKinney gave the News-Review a tour of the new facility Monday morning.

“We have a mix between modern and the historical schoolhouse,” Mr. McKinney said. “It’s got a really nice feel that’s similar to what their middle school was … they’re really used to that smaller school feeling; we’re all really close. They go in the hallway, they see myself, they see the dean. So it’s really just a continuation with a little bit more space.”

The new facility has five main rooms, including two on the second floor that could be divided and become additional classrooms. There’s also a breakout room used for small group instruction and a student commons, an area where students can sit and study or hang out. Similar to the middle school, each classroom carries the name of a different university to inspire students. 

Amanda Weis, who has taught English at the charter school for five years, said having her own space has been “awesome.”

“I think that we always tried to keep them engaged with whatever we’re doing,” Ms. Weis said. “You have to be creative and interesting every single day.”

Paris Jimenez of Medford, another member of the new junior class, remembered feeling “packed” in sixth grade.

“Now, we finally have a building for the high school students, which is such an amazing feeling,” Paris said. “It’s unreal.”

Her favorite part of the whole experience is not just having the space, but enjoying all the technological upgrades that have come with the move.

“I feel the experience [of] having our own space, having better technology, feeling more advanced,” she said. “Now we have MacBooks, 3D printers. I feel like we’re moving forward.”

Apart from the new technology the school is also offering new classes, like a course on hip hop and its history as well as a course on podcasting.

“It gives us flexibility, so when we hire we can be really creative and say, ‘What are the students asking for?’ and bring on new people who can do those types of things, and then we can offer these courses for them that aligned to what their interests are,” Mr. McKinney said.

This will also be the first year charter school high school students can compete in junior varsity sports in soccer and cross country, according to Mr. McKinney.

There are also new club activities: e-sports, media club, CSI Forensics club and more. The school will also introduce a program to drive students toward internship and community service opportunities with different local organizations. 

“We’re putting a really big emphasis on community service and community outreach and trying to work in partnerships with organizations and companies, small businesses and large, just to have our students get those experiences but also just support where we are,” Mr. McKinney said.

Juniors will also be able to take two classes per semester at Suffolk County Community College for their early college program. Mr. McKinney said eight of the 14 juniors are enrolled in that program.

Terrell Dozier, the school’s dean of students, athletic director and guidance counselor, said he can see the difference giving high school students their own space has made.

“There’s nothing like having your own,” Mr. Dozier said. “I don’t care what it is, a new car, your house, there is nothing like saying, this is mine … you can just see the difference, the energy is just different all around.”