Originally Published: August 5, 2018 5:55 p.m.
The 50 teenagers who on Monday will enter Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy’s newest addition in Prescott — a seventh and eighth grade middle school — will be greeted by a gurgling rock fountain, soothing music and four energetic educators eager to embrace each one’s individuality.
The highest energy person is likely to be the new Principal Tracy Williams, a career charter school math teacher-turned administrator with five children, including son Casey, who two years ago graduated from Northpoint’s high school launched as an alternative option for Prescott High School in 2006. The school opened as a charter four years later.
Along with the new middle school, Northpoint’s high school students will be greeted to a new principal, Melissa Wagoner, an English teacher who has been with Northpoint since its start as part of the Prescott Unified School District.
The addition of a middle school at Northpoint has been about a year in the making, with the availability of space offered to them when Ironline Partners in Phoenix bought the former Dexter Elementary School from PUSD last year and leased it back to Northpoint.
Like the high school, Northpoint Middle School will operate under an experiential model where students learn through the exploration of ideas and hands-on experiences, including weekly field trips. The two schools will operate independently, but do share similar educational philosophies oriented around promoting the success of students rooted in their talents and strengths, she said.
On Friday afternoon, two of the three middle school teachers, Fran Haynes, who will be teaching eighth grade English and history, and Emma Waldie, a new arrival from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who is teaching seventh grade English, science and social studies, were busy setting up their classrooms. Each was clearly excited, and ready, for this new venture in Northpoint’s history. There will also be a school aide.
“This will be a wonderful environment to impart education,” Williams said.
All of the middle schoolers will spend some time as a group learning sign language, performing yoga and other specialty subjects intended to stretch their minds and tap into their creativity, Williams said. Leadership is a big part of the teaching model, and students will be encouraged to initiate projects, be it a book club or a group art project.
The school has its own garden and greenhouse, and Williams said she hopes to eventually have animals who will be on campus during the school day.
All of the students will take a life skills course known as “crew,” one oriented around the school’s philosophy that in life these young adults are part of a crew, not a passenger traveling through life, Williams said. Their actions impact those of everyone else, she said.
The school is also geared toward working with students to bolster any core skills they may require, either through one-on-one interventions or through the small group classrooms, Williams said. In time, she, too, hopes to create some peer learning opportunities between the middle school and high school students.
The building with six large classrooms, a center space and large reading room complete with leather couches, wall tapestries and carpeted spaces is intended to allow students to be comfortable as they learn. For those who perform better when they are moving around, the three core teachers have equipment and desks to accommodate those needs. An exterior balcony offers students a space where they can go and visit, read or just soak in the surrounding mountain scenery.
“It’s a wonderful space,” Williams said. “We’re so excited … there are so many elements for success.”