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Advanced Academics Center set to open

Alissa Widman Neese • Aug 16, 2013 at 4:53 PM

A guided tour gave about 20 individuals their first glimpse of classrooms at the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies, located in a revamped wing of the Jackson Junior High School building at Jackson and West Madison streets. Most guests of the tour were parents and their children, who will become members of the center’s inaugural class later this month.   

As Susan Weimer and her daughter Emily, 11, weaved through classrooms in the old “cafeteria wing,” they smiled in excitement.    Emily, a future center student identified as   gifted in reading, said she can’t wait to use the classroom laptops and other technology she saw Wednesday. She also anticipates meeting new teachers and classmates.   

Susan, meanwhile, said she’s looking forward to the educational challenges and opportunities Emily will encounter. “I really think it will be good for her to interact with college professors and participate in the different activities they described,” Susan said. “Honestly, I was a little apprehensive at first, because the whole concept is so new, but I’m so at ease now that I’m finally seeing and hearing everything come together.”   

When it opens Aug. 26, the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies will be the only full-time gifted school in the area for students in fourth through sixth grades. The program is state-funded and will likely expand to include third and seventh grades in 2014.      About 70 students have already enrolled and more are still testing for entry, Sandusky Schools superintendent Eugene Sanders said.  “Education is changing and this is our innovative response to this change,” Sanders said.   

The Dorn Foundation, a local nonprofit, recently awarded Sandusky Schools a $1 million grant, with half the funds to support the center’s unique academic initiatives. It will establish the “Dorn Fellowship Series,” a collaboration with college staff across the region, providing on-site learning activities weekly for students at the center. The program begins in January.     

Tara Toft, a Venice Heights Elementary School teacher for 15 years, will be the center’s principal. Four fulltime gifted teachers from Sandusky Schools will join her, as well as five teachers shared with the district’s other elementary schools   during the day for art, music, computer and physical education classes.    “I already know some of the teachers from Venice, so that makes me feel good,” Kaishaun Hunter, 10, told his mother during Wednesday’s tour.     

The former Jackson Junior High School building received several updates to accommodate the new gifted school, including new ceilings and lighting and a fresh coat of paint, said Julie McDonald, chief academic officer at Sandusky Schools.    The main hallway will become a college-style “common area” with comfortable furniture and bright white walls, soon to be covered in completed student assignments. The upgrades cost about $40,000.    The building housed the district’s eighth-graders until 2009, according to the district’s website.    It then housed preschool classes until this past year, when the classes were moved to elementary buildings.

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