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August 16,2018 - Babcock Neighborhood School opens with a visit from Jeb Bush
Fort Myers Weekly


Dr. Larry Antonucci, Syd Kitson and Jeb Bush talk at the grand opening of the 43,000-square-foot kindergarten through eighth grade Babcock Neighborhood School. COURTESY PHOTO

Dr. Larry Antonucci, Syd Kitson and Jeb Bush talk at the grand opening of the 43,000-square-foot kindergarten through eighth grade Babcock Neighborhood School. COURTESY PHOTO

More than doubling its enrollment in 2018, Babcock Neighborhood School outgrew its first building in downtown Founder’s Square only a year after opening. Down the street, a spanking new kindergarten–eighth grade building that contractors hustled to complete in time for the start of the school year is about four times the size at 43,000 square feet.

“We realized we needed to build another school and we needed to build it fast,” developer Syd Kitson said.

BNS celebrated with a grand opening event at the new school on Aug. 7, a few days before 338 students were set to start class. Mr. Kitson, elected officials and community leaders, teachers and students paid a visit along with Jeb Bush. Some students who didn’t realize he’d be there were surprised and excited to see the tall former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate.

“It was a little scary, to be honest,” said seventh-grader Whitlee Way.

Mr. Bush has long been entwined with Babcock Ranch, including during his second term as governor when he helped Mr. Kitson secure the 73,000- acre Babcock Ranch Preserve. For the last seven years, Mr. Bush has served on Mr. Kitson’s advisory board, where he was a leading proponent of making the charter school and its project-based curriculum, which emphasizes collaboration, an early and integral part of Babcock Ranch.

“(He) absolutely insisted on it,” Mr. Kitson said.

Mr. Bush has also been a long-time supporter of charter schools. Although like public schools they are open to anyone and must be approved by the county, they give school leadership the ability to make decisions independently, such as utilizing a project-based learning curriculum.

Along with students working collaboratively on assignments that reflect real-world problems, teachers incorporate a “greenSTEAM” education program. “Green” stands for a focus on the environment while “STEAM” is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. Even younger students typically integrate many or all of those areas in any given project.

“What I have long believed education should look like is coming to fruition at BNS,” said Principal Shannon Treece. “I believe education should be fun, engaging, rigorous and collaborative.”

The new BNS has 25 classrooms, 28 teachers and staff and space to accommodate the addition of eighth graders starting next year. A high school is also in the works.