The Magnolia School

(Published in 2012)

magnoliaschoolTallahassee – If you drive too fast along West Tharpe Street in Tallahassee, you might miss the abrupt turn-in to the unassuming campus of The Magnolia School. But you’re in for a treat once you do descend down the steep driveway, park, walk up to the door of the main building and step inside the former residence that hasn’t lost its cozy, homey feel.

Welcome to Magnolia, the “school for active learning,” where Educational Director Sophie Wacongne-Speer and staff do things much diff erently than other schools. There’s no traditional desk-and-chair-in-rows set up in heavily decorated classrooms. Students are encouraged to do schoolwork wherever it’s comfortable, such as at a table or maybe on the large area rug in a corner of the room.

Each year, teachers adopt several themes and incorporate them into the curriculum. One of the themes, “Light”, inspired students to create a video about the school’s bus and write a blues song, among other activities. Magnolia is divided into primary (K-2), intermediate (3-5) and middle (6-8) school groups, but offi cials don’t formally recognize grade levels.

Students don’t earn grades and aren’t given report cards. Instead, teachers keep track of student progress via regular assessments and formal conferences with parents three times a year.

The school’s unique approach to learning and education has changed little since its founding in 1985 with just seven students and two teachers. Today, Magnolia enrolls 51 students and employs a staff of 15. Eleven students are Step Up scholars.

“I don’t think you can pigeon-hole us,” said Administrative Director Katy McGlynn. “We’re kind of multi-faceted.” At Magnolia, teachers create a learning atmosphere that adheres to the school’s creed – “Keep the Peace, Be respectful, Include everyone” – and that promotes hands-on learning and lots of independent work, according to McGlynn. Equally important is a focus on social development. At Magnolia, conflict among peers is handled as a teaching moment, McGlynn said.

Teacher Sharla Benedict-Region said Magnolia’s focus on arming students with critical thinking skills and encouraging students to be confident learners are among the school’s attributes that attracted her to it three years ago. “The school puts a lot of emphasis on social education and being part of a community,” she said. “I think that’s hugely important.”

The majority of Magnolia graduates attend a local district magnet school. Other graduates have attended the International Baccalaureate program at their local public school.

Tuition at The Magnolia School is $5,850 for K-5 and $6,100 for grades 6-8. Student progress is measured annually through the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

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The typical scholarship school

Is small in size: The average total enrollment is 161 students.

Serves mostly private-paying students: Step Up students make up an average of 30 percent of total enrollment.

Serves elementary students: About 66 percent in grades K-5.

Is faith-based: Seventy-five percent of the schools are faith-based. The 193 Catholic schools represent the largest single group.