DALLAS — As the students at Thursday’s morning session as Dallas Community School (DCS) returned from recess, “educational guide” Cheri Reinky pointed out something amiss.
“Did you guys forget somebody today?” Reinky asked the students.
That somebody immediately picked up her stuffed soccer ball and brought it over to the first students pouring through the door. Phoebe, the Australian labradoodle and DCS “school dog,” gave puppy eyes to the children.
“Sorry Phoebe,” a number of students said in unison.
All was forgiven by Phoebe, who has her Canine Good Citizen certification, as she found a number of playmates to toss her soccer ball and pat her on the head.
Having a school dog is just the first difference you will find at DCS, which opened to students in September.
While a public charter school, DCS caters to homeschool families and therefore the program isn’t set up like a traditional school at all. It has been described as “home schooling for busy working parents,” by Wendy Sparks, a board member and parent of students “attending” the school.
At Dallas Community School there are no full days in a classroom, and no teacher fully responsible for instruction. Instead, students attend “class” mostly at home under the supervision of their “educational coach” — typically a family member — and “educational guide,” a licensed teacher assigned to oversee progress on individual learning plans.
Parents have the option of sending their child to multi-grade level morning class sessions where, under the supervision of teachers, they work on individual school assignments, as well as group study. Also, in the afternoons students can participate in enrichments, elective-like classes ranging from art and music to advanced writing to French.
“It’s a very different model,” said Dennis Schultz, the school’s director. “There are three schools like it in the state, so we have been able to talk to them and to learn some things that they’ve learned in the four to six years they have been in existence.”
Schultz, who is the former superintendent-principal of Eddyville Charter School, and his staff — four educational guides and an administrative analyst — took the board’s concept and made it reality this summer. DCS secured a site at 788 SW Birch St. in Dallas and began scheduling class sessions, enrichments and several field trips for the year. Most classes and enrichments take place at the school’s site, which with easily movable desks, overstuffed chairs and couches, looks nothing other schools.
So far, the startup has gone fairly smoothly with only the occasional hiccup, Schultz said.
“The kids, when they come in, they are pretty excited about being here,” he said.
The focus at the school is creating an educational plan tailored for individual students while still stay on par with Common Core standards all public schools are accountable for.
Education guides Julie Rains, who called DCS “a dream school for me to teach at” and Reinky couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities of the concept.
“The format of it is so wide open and it caters to the kid,” Rains said. “It doesn’t have the constraints of a regular school… We can meet the kids exactly where they are.”
Students who attend the optional morning classes are able to have a say in what they learn. They can bring on their course work to complete under the supervision of an educational guide and work in group projects. So far, Rains’ group has learned about the solar system and why leaves turn color in fall. Reinky’s students were making glow in the dark slime on Thursday.
“They come up with ideas,” Rains said of her students. “They will vote and that’s what we will study. As long as I keep it accountable to the standards, I’m good. It’s really self-directed. There’s a lot of talk of medieval knights right now, so I’m thinking we might be going into King Arthur. We will see what they decide on.”
Of course, whether they decide on it or not, students learn the basics – reading, writing, and math – at home or in class sessions. But the curriculum and guides try to make those lessons fun.
Mission accomplished with Haddie Rogers, 9.
Her favorite subject? Reading.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “It’s just really fun.”
Haddie added that she likes that she only has to be in school for half a day, so she can have more free time.
Rebecca O’Dell, 11, said her favorite part of going to DCS is that she doesn’t have as much homework.
“It’s not too much work,” she said. “You have more free time and you can work at your own level.”
Schultz said the school has 125 enrolled with a waiting list. DSC, which is sponsored by the Dallas School District, could grow by 25 students a year, but the board hasn’t decided whether to pursue that yet. Schultz said the priority first year will be implementing and then fine-tuning the board’s vision. He said, much in-line with the mission, that process will include plenty of input from parents and students.
“We’ll plan to touch base with our parents,” he said. “We will probably do that before the Christmas break, start getting feedback about the things that are working well and the things we need to think about.”