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February 01,2017 - Lee kids take lead in applications to Babcock charter

PAMELA McCABE , PMCCABE@NEWS-PRESS.COM

Hands-on activities. Access to outdoor classrooms. The ability to fly drones, keep bees and learn how a nearby solar farm powers an entire city.

These factors — and many more — captured the attention of the Stark family in Fort Myers Shores, and had parents Beth and Steve racing to beat Tuesday’s application deadline for Babcock Neighborhood School.

And they weren’t alone.

The under-construction charter school has already amassed 149 applications — nearly double what was expected.

And while the school is being built in Charlotte County, the applications show a much greater interest from Lee County families.

Of the applications received, 54 are from Charlotte County with 89 coming from Lee. State law allows students in other counties to attend schools as long as seats are available.

“We blew our projections out of the water thinking we might get 76 kids,” said Christy Noe, the president and CEO of Tallahassee-based Collaborative Educational Network.

Her company has been helping the Babcock developers plan for and launch the school, with one of her duties focused on getting the word out to parents during town hall meetings.

“Word must have gotten out,” she joked.

The school is being built in Babcock Ranch, a blended residential and business development gaining traction just north of the Lee and Charlotte County line, near State Road 31.

The goal was to build the school into a K-through-8 site, which will have a project-based curriculum and be labeled as “greenSTEAM” — a tribute to the solar eco-city it will call home and the rise of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics programs.

The school building is being built with eight classrooms, which are capable of housing 146 students. And because interest is so high, Noe believes there is the possibility of adding three modular classrooms to the campus, which will add in seats for another 66 children.

She added that the developers behind Babcock Ranch do not want to turn kids away, so the school will retain some flexibility.

This is important because the grade levels served won’t be officially determined until closer to April.

Based on current applications, Noe said kindergarten and first graders have shown great interest in the school, with a big push for sixth grade. But because there is only one application in for eighth grade, the numbers support opening the charter as only offering class up through seventh grade.

She added that a decision hasn’t been made on whether the school will offer VPK services.

That being said, Noe believes the school will outgrow its first building in the next year or two, and she has already expressed an interest in getting to work on developing a plan for future high schoolers.

But for now, all attention is on the applications that are due by Tuesday. Then a computerized lottery will select the students for the school.

Next, the school will bring a principal on board by April. Already, 116 applications have been submitted from educators all over the country, with the principal job being advertised through Feb. 3. The principal will then help hire teachers and staff, and the expectation is for the school to open to children Aug. 10 at full capacity.

Being so full this quickly shows the school is filling a niche.

Noe said the school is attracting a lot of private and homeschool children on both sides of the county line, with many Lee parents preferring Babcock to overcrowded schools or what might be available in their school choice zone.

This includes the Starks, who aren’t thrilled with the middle school choices on the table for their eldest daughter Vivian, 9, who will be followed by 5-year-old Jewel.

“There’s really not a middle school that I want to send her to in this area. I don’t really like any of them,” explained Beth Stark.

Babcock, she added, seems like a better fit for their family, which spends a lot of time outdoors.

“We go camping and hiking and like running around outside,” Beth Stark said.

As for daughter Vivian, she’s “really excited” about the school, especially the opportunity to learn from drones and how to keep bees.

“She’s just pumped,” Beth Stark said.

Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @NP_pstaik