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New Charter School Takes Root Alongside Wood Canyon

The schools share a campus—for now. Community Roots Academy is looking for a permanent location in which to grow its program, which focuses on project-based learning.

A new charter school began its one-year residency this week, setting up shop at .

Parents of about 110 students from around the —although many of them local—are driving to Aliso Viejo to be part of the first classes at Community Roots Academy, one of two new charters schools opening this school year in CUSD. Charter schools are public schools that for the most part, operate independently of the local school district.

“You have to look at the individual needs of the kids. For Catie, she needed something different than the traditional setting,” mom Jalaine Hagemeister said of her second-grade daughter. She said she chose Community Roots because of its smaller classrooms, its emphasis on project-based learning and the warm, nurturing staff.

“Here, there is the creative outlet for her. She’s a free spirit,” Hagemeister said.

Interdisciplinary, project-based learning is the defining element that separates Community Roots from other educational offerings, said Executive Director Jeremy Cavallaro. The projects will systematically have the students consider what they want to learn, devise a methodology and project parameters, do the project, then reflect and assess it for effectiveness.

“It makes a connection between what you do in real life and school,” he said.

The students’ first project is uncharacteristically schoolwide: to get to know each other and come together as a group, Cavallaro said.

Starting with just kindergartners, first- and second-graders, Cavallaro expects to outgrow Wood Canyon in a year, but he’s grateful for the space. Ultimately, he plans for the school to serve kindergartners through eighth-graders.

“We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the district,” Cavallaro said. “Our interest is a straight rental rather than Prop. 39 facilities.”

Under Prop. 39, school districts must provide space for charter schools if they ask. Cavallaro said he’s considering several new developments in the district’s geographic boundaries that could accommodate a new school.

Oxford Preparatory Academy is the other new charter school in Capo Unified. It is with in Mission Viejo.

Cavallaro and co-founder Eve Fein ran a Jewish school in Rancho Santa Margarita, called Morasha Jewish Day School, which closed in June 2009. Community Roots, however, has its, well, roots in a different school, the similarly named Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn, NY, which Cavallaro also had a hand in launching.

“It’s an amazing, amazing place. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “Morasha was a great place … but we’re grounded in something different.”

For the first day of school Wednesday, the school gave parents a book by Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Parent Deven Hollrigel of San Clemente had already read it.

“This [school] is in line with my philosophy of education,” she said. “I didn’t really know how to define it until I read the books about project-based learning.”

Hollrigel has tried the district’s , another charter school and homeschooling. She has a second-grader at Community Roots and homeschools a fifth- and eighth-grader.

“I want my kids to have an education that prepares them for the real world. My children are not going to be drones, just little wheels in the system,” she said.

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