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Low-tech classical teaching at new charter school draws national attention

Merit Academy.jpg
Posted at 10:33 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 00:41:56-04

WOODLAND PARK, Colorado — A new charter school in Woodland Park is attracting national media attention this week. The Merit Academy offers a classical education and interest in the new school grew during the pandemic.

Charter board member Katie Illingworth said around 190 students are enrolled for the school's inaugural year with another 65 on a waiting list.

Their unique approach to education caught the attention of the conservative web magazine the Federalist as well as the producers of Fox and Friends who called attention to the school's "no-politics" approach to education.

Illingworth explained that the school uses a Core Knowledge curriculum focused on Classical education.

"Classical education is focused on the source text, so the actual book, as opposed to a restatement inside of a larger textbook," she said.

Students will study classical works in art, history, science, literature, and math from their original sources and learn about the historical context of the author.

Another unique characteristic that seems to be especially popular with parents is the limited use of screens and electronic devices. Illingworth said the teachers will only bringing them out for testing and language labs.

"We just really loved that it was the Core learning and getting away from the screens was the biggest thing," parent Kristen Dennard said of her choice to enroll her daughter in the school.

Tim Howe has four children enrolled with Merit Academy ranging in age from Kindergarten to 6th Grade. In addition to the minimal use of screens, he said they're a close family and he appreciated that the K-8 format allows all of the kids to attend school together.

"There've been so many studies that show when you actually read a book and you're working on paper and you're handwriting and doing things, you learn you retain so much better," Howe said.

Illingworth said the school first began to get organized before the pandemic hit in March of 2020, but interest accelerated over the past year.

Despite a national teacher shortage, the board had no trouble hiring. Illingworth said they really didn't need to advertise much for jobs.

"There was a lot of, we heard this teacher is looking for something new and this teacher ... and many of them actually have that classical Core knowledge background."

Board members plan to expand the school to a K-12 as each year progresses. Classes are currently being held at Faith Lutheran Church. The school had planned to begin the year in an empty retail space in the Gold Hills Plaza shopping center, but supply chain disruptions have delayed remodeling work at the new facility.

The board applied for a charter from the Woodland Park Re-2 school district but were denied in December of 2020. Illingworth said their attorneys were able to help them secure a contract charter through a Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES.)