By John Lynch
A year ago, her son Cooper, an active, talkative, impulsive 5-year-old, was constantly in trouble at school, losing recess time and trudging to the principal’s office.Kindergarten nearly destroyed home life for local mom Kari Mullins and her family.
Plus, teachers pulled him out of class because – the family was told – Cooper had fallen so far behind his peers.
“And he was only 5 years old,” Mullins said.
“He cried all the time and said how much he hated school. We were all feeling so much stress.”
Then Mullins met with kindergarten teacher Alison Urs at Redwood Cooperative School, a private, progressive school founded in Lexington in 2014.
“I brought Cooper and his report card,” Mullins said. “The teachers told me that Cooper was doing fine. And reminded me that he was only 5. That lifted all the stress for us. I felt like I could breathe again.”
A year later, Cooper is repeating kindergarten, only this time with a giant smile creasing his face.
Same with the rest of the family. What do they like about Redwood?
– Play time: Redwood schedules four recesses a day totaling 90 minutes of outdoor free play. (The school day is 8:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m.)
– Individualized instruction: With 38 students in K-third grade, Redwood tailors instruction to meet children where they are.
– Affordability: Because parents can choose to work in the classroom, tuition can be as low as $4,410 a year.
“Cooper has thrived at Redwood,” Mullins said. “He’s learning to read and when I come to pick him up from school he often doesn’t want to leave.”
It’s the same with all the children at Redwood – which was the goal three years ago when parents from Fayette Cooperating Preschool founded Redwood, with eight students, in the basement of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.
Each year, the school has added a grade and boosted enrollment – 21 in 2015 and 38 this year.
The school has three full-time teachers and one assistant plus instructors for science, art, music and Japanese (a daily lesson at Redwood).
Redwood will add fourth and fifth grade in the next two years and then evaluate from there.
And here’s the big news: Redwood gets its own campus next year, leasing property at 166 Crestwood Drive that formerly housed Community Montessori School.
Redwood has quickly outgrown the church basement and will start the new school year with nine classrooms, a dedicated music room, a gym (Redwood is adding a P.E. teacher next year) and room to develop outdoor classrooms.
“We’re bursting at the seams here and now we have the ability to build capacity,” said Sarah Cummins, the school’s interim director.
Redwood is founded on two principles – progressive education and parent involvement. Although some parents can pay extra in lieu of working in the classroom, most parents enjoy their classroom “work” time.
Up to 14 times a year, a parent will work in her child’s classroom, assisting all the students and the teacher.
“I love seeing what my children are working on,” said Leah Endicott, the Redwood board president who has two children enrolled.
“I also love getting to know all of my children’s classmates and seeing the teachers on a different level.”
Like many Redwood parents, Endicott appreciates that she too is learning from the teachers.
“This has totally changed how I parent my children,” Endicott said. “I see the respect the teachers have for children and pick up on the language they use with the children.
“That started at Fayette Coop with the preschool. Coop is a magical place.”
Redwood is creating its own magic. The school features hands-on, developmentally appropriate activities in multi-age classrooms where connecting children to nature is emphasized.
“With progressive education we don’t fit kids into a box,” Cummins said. “We focus on the whole child – cognitive, social, emotional and moral.”
Cummins is a certified environmental educator who also works as a program director at the progressive Virginia Chance School in Louisville. She has a third grader at Redwood.
“We understand educational benchmarks and target those goals with our curriculum,” she said. “We also understand that children have to be not only respected but valued.
“Because our curriculum is inquiry- based, students come up with the problems and then seek out the answers.”
Plus, parents participate in all aspects of the school.
“With parent involvement, there is a genuine partnership between home and school,” Cummins said. “That makes this a real family school.”