July 13, 2017


By: Vicki Parsons - IT

2017-07-12 / Top News

Babcock Ranch’s ‘dream school’ welcomes students this August



The new Babcock Neighborhood School will open next month with 156 students. MICHELE BAUBLIS’ THREE SONS, AS WELL AS THE other 153 students enrolled in the inaugural class at Babcock Neighborhood School, will learn about solar energy, experience Florida’s natural ecosystems and discover the early history of Southwest Florida without hopping a field-bound bus. They’ll simply walk to the town of Babcock Ranch’s 443-acre solar field, explore its town square or even hit the nature trails nestled within native flora and fauna.

“We’re just ecstatic the boys will be attending,” said Mrs. Baublis who lives 10 minutes from the new charter school. “It was a bittersweet decision because we loved Bayshore Elementary but the concept of hands-on learning is fabulous. In public school, it seems like the boys are always studying to pass a test. I see this as an opportunity to pull back on so much testing and have fun learning.”

The Baublis boys include third-grade twins Lincoln and Macabe and fourth-grader Jackson. The eldest son Joey, a seventh grader, plans to join his siblings next school year.

Located in Founders Square, the school expects to welcome 156 kindergarten through sixth-grade students in August. It was created around the concept of learning by doing and blending multiple subjects into class and individual projects.

Dr. Christy Noe, president and CEO of Tallahassee-based Collaborative Educational Network, wrote the BNS’s charter application which was approved in a whirlwind 10 months. As a consultant for town developer Kitson & Partners, she also developed a curriculum that will be kid-driven through student surveys, devised policy and formed a governing board represented by professors from Florida Gulf Coast University, a retired engineer and local businesspeople. Dr. Noe also is writing the high school charter with that school scheduled to open during the 2019-2020 school year.

The BNS GreenSTEAM approach expands upon STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to include art and environmental education. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH “Only 21 percent of proposed charter schools get approved,” she said. “The application and new building were approved in 10 months. That’s something that never happens. Usually charter schools begin in portables. We were able to accomplish this through all the support of the Babcock Ranch people and the teams they put together.”

Dr. Noe praises principal Shannon Treece, the school’s initial nine teachers and parents for believing in 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.

“The curriculum and foundation for the school are associated with the core values of Babcock Ranch,” Dr. Noe said. “Babcock offers opportunities to learn from its surroundings. Too often, subjects are taught in isolation.”

For example, a visit to the $300 million FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center might incorporate the science behind sun power and understanding how weather impacts lights in the school. Math, essays and art can also be factored into the learning experience. The school is also exploring community partnerships that will teach students how to fly drones or keep honeybees. Cape Coral Technical College has committed to bringing its laparoscope to the school in September. Students will learn how the machine is used to perform minimally invasive surgery and make sutures.

“This is my dream school,” said Ms. Treece who left the Lee County Public School District to join the BNS team. “It’s every principal’s dream to open a new school. 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 engagements while learning.”

With its prairie style-meets-modern architecture, the two-story building features large 800-square-foot classrooms (the public school standard is 600 square feet) designed for students to move around. School breakfast and lunch will be supplied by Table & Tap, Babcock Ranch’s farm-to-table restaurant. Students who qualify for free or reduced meals will be subsidized by the Babcock Ranch Foundation.

“We had the school district out and they were in awe,” said Dr. Noe, an educator and one of the state’s pioneering charter school principals in the 1990s.

“This is a different approach,” said Ms. Treece, who’s worked in the education field for 17 years and was chosen from 160 applicants. “Traditional education is taught in silos. Instead of a unit in math or science, students will work on a project that blends subjects. They might study robotics and be asked to think about how it will change the world 20 years from now. They’ll have to research, read and write and use critical thinking skills and collaborate and communicate as a group.”

The new two-story school features large 800-square-foot classrooms, 33 percent bigger than public school classrooms. Ms. Treece hand-selected each teacher — professionals “who believe in this model and were already using project-based learning without any formal training,” she said. “Hiring teachers was extraordinary. It was so clear cut which were the best, it made it easy. They’re a strong group of teachers who are passionate about this type of learning. 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.

A $520,000, two-year federal start-up grant will provide two weeks of professional development training for BNS teachers.

“The school is investing in its teachers for the next two years,” said Dr. Noe.

School breakfast and lunch will be supplied by Table & Tap, Babcock Ranch’s farm-to-table restaurant. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH Mrs. Baublis said she learned about the school through her sister-in-law, who works for one of Babcock Ranch’s six builders.

“I was interested but a little apprehensive at first,” she said. “We’ve been a public school family for so long but all my concerns were put aside when we meet with Shannon.”

Previous obligations kept the Baublis family from attending orientation. Instead they met personally with Ms. Treece for an hour to ask questions, including Kitson & Partners’ commitment to the school’s longevity, the curriculum, lunches and uniforms. “I love her. We never felt rushed and she answered every question,” Mrs. Baublis said. “I really like the idea of the kids learning about pollination by watching bees or planting a garden, seeing a seedling grow then the plant processed by the restaurant. Instead of the rush, rush, rush to learn, they’ll go to the garden and learn. It’s really neat.”

The $300 million FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center will be a classroom to teach the science behind sun power. She said two family friends have also applied to enroll their children at Babcock Neighborhood School, which will assign final seats during a lottery in July.

“The whole family is excited,” she added. “This is a wonderful opportunity my boys are going to have.”

Ms. Treece has been introducing the teachers via bios and photos posted on Babcock Neighborhood School’s Facebook page.

BNS will operate from the Founder’s Square location until 2019 then move to its permanent site near the high school. Dr. Noe said the school is already proving the exception.

“We said we were going to do it and we’ve done it,” she said. “A lot of schools usually delay opening because they don’t have the building or the students.”

For Babcock Neighborhood School students, state testing and the school’s ranking are one factor of the education equation.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the excitement and students engaging in meaningful learning,” said Ms. Treece, whose daughter is also a member of the inaugural student body. “We’re looking into all sorts of new and exciting ways to teach students. The teachers are just as excited as I am.

“The student voice will be very important at Babcock Neighborhood School,” she added. “We will listen to them and what they need to learn. Every child has a strength and this type of model allows students to soar while addressing areas for growth.”