July 24, 2017

Education comes first at Babcock Ranch

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Submitted by Hall+Media Strategies Inc. Published 5:41 a.m. ET July 22, 2017

With its prairie style-meets-modern architecture, the two-story BNS building features large 800-square-foot classrooms designed for students to move around.(Photo: Submitted)

BABCOCK RANCH — The morning of August 10 heralds an historic milestone at Babcock Ranch. It’s the day the new town’s first residents will point back to as proof that at Babcock Ranch, education really does come first.

Located on Founder’s Square at the heart of the new town, Babcock Neighborhood School (BNS) will ring in its first school year at full capacity – months before the first homeowners start moving in.

How is that possible?

“The response to the innovative curriculum we’re offering has been amazing,” said BNS Principal Shannon Treece. “This is the type of education everyone wants for their children. It’s not driven by textbooks but what’s happening in the community and what’s happening around them. Students have real-world experiences while learning.”

Enrollment at BNS is open to all students who qualify to attend Charlotte County public schools, including out-of-county students who can be admitted on a space-available basis. The 156 students attending the new public charter school this fall were admitted through a series of lottery drawings. Another 154 students are on the waiting list.

For developer Syd Kitson, it is the realization of a dream, and the fulfillment of a promise made when plans for the innovative, environmentally-friendly new town were first unveiled more than a decade ago.

“Schools are the heart and soul of every great hometown,” Kitson said. “You can’t help but be inspired by the enthusiasm and energy of the teachers and staff as they prepare to welcome their first students.”

The school’s initial nine teachers and the parents have embraced the mission and unique vision of BNS and its emphasis on using the country’s first solar-powered city as a classroom. Its GreenSTEAM approach expands upon STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to include art and environmental education. Classes will explore the local landscape, history and culture while engaging and connecting students to the town’s natural environment, sustainable building practices and conservation initiatives that promote nature, health and renewable energy.

“This is a different approach,” said Treece, who’s worked in the education field for 17 years and was chosen from 160 applicants. Treece hand-selected each teacher —professionals who are passionate about project-based learning.

“It was so clear cut which were the best, it made it easy,” Treece said. “They’re going to be unstoppable.”

The staff includes two kindergarten teachers, one for each additional grade, another dedicated to exceptional student education as well as administrative and office personnel. In mid-July, the full staff set out on a field trip of their own to explore the first-hand lessons in environmental stewardship and sustainability that they will be able to incorporate into their lesson plans. From the utility-scale solar power fields and solar energy trees just outside of the new school to rehydrated wetlands and neighborhood gardens, learning at BNS will extend far beyond the classroom.

“We’re focused on showing students how to take what they learn at school and apply it in the real world in ways that really matter,” Treece explained. “For example. in our community garden, students can take a seed, see how it goes in the ground and how it grows, and then expand that to the larger question of how do you feed a country full of people. In project-based learning there’s a lot of science and math, but it is really about teaching them to think and collaborate, research, and make decisions based on what they are learning. These are the kinds of lessons that engage them as a student and get them excited to get up in the morning and come to school.”

Even as students and teachers launch into the inaugural year of classes in a state-of-the-art education building on Founder’s Square, the Babcock team is looking toward the future. Expanded K-8 facilities and a high school are in the works with opening targeted for the fall of 2019.