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Cedar Program marks its first year

What started as a desire for an arts-based experiential school has become an education magnet for many Whidbey Island children.

Coupeville school district’s Cedar Program celebrated its first birthday Tuesday night with singing, dancing, and of course, a cake.

When the school started in October 2002 it had 13 students registered. Now the enrollment is up to 57.

The school was started in October 2002 when educators Deb Lund and David Pfeiffer approached new Coupeville Schools Superintendent Bill Myhr with the idea to create an arts-based alternative K-12 school.

Lund is a teacher, librarian and children’s author. Pfeiffer has 20 years of experience in education, including eight years as an elementary school principal in Edmonds.

The school, located at the Au Sable Institute on Parker Road, appeals to both homeschooled students and those who prefer a smaller, more independent learning community.

“You won’t find classes at Cedar where students progress through a text book,” Lund said. “We use a variety of resources and hands-on materials.”

Lund said while parents in the program feel comfortable with home exercises such as drilling math facts, they wanted classes for their children which would require higher level thinking and problem solving skills.

Approving the Cedar Program, Myhr said, “was one of my better moves.”

Myhr attended the celebration Tuesday night, and watched with proud parents as the students performed Scandinavian dances, sang Broadway tunes, and squeaked out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on quarter-sized violins.

“We spent a lot of time just learning how to hold our instruments,” instructor Roxallane Medley told the audience, as the young students fidgeted behind her.

The alternative school has drawn students of all ages from school districts across the island, increasing the attendance figures in the Coupeville district.

The number of hours the 57 students attend the program equals 50 full-time equivalents, for which the district receives $4,500 each in state funding.

That number has put the program in the black in just one year of operation, and contributed 15 percent to the district’s general fund.

“We’re extremely pleased with it,” Myhr said. “It’s done exactly what we hoped it would do.”

It has reconnected the homeschool population with the district, and become self-supporting.

The program also provides a way for homeschooled students to connect with other students, and form a community, Myhr said.

Pfeiffer likened the first year to the Wright brothers’ early attempts at flight — bumpy at times, with lots of ups and downs, but worth it in the long run.

“As a whole, it has gone incredibly well,” he said.

He credits part of that success to the patience and support of the parents, and the teachers they have attracted. The teaching staff is not required to be certificated, and they draw from a pool of artists, parents and community volunteers.

Pfeiffer said they are looking forward to growing in the next year, both in the number of students and the number of classes offered. He would like to see the students involved in applied learning projects, such as horticulture and science classes.

“New elements add vitality and freshness,” he said.

Two challenges in the coming year are encouraging more students to take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, and expanding class offerings and the number of students attending without outgrowing their space.

While the Cedar Program is scored separately from the students in the Coupeville School District, they must adhere to the federal guidelines of “adequate yearly progress.” If a parent chooses to have her child opt out of the WASL, that is recorded as a zero on the school’s score, thus lowering the average.

Pfeiffer said they have been working with parents to educate and encourage people to be open to the prospect of their children taking the test. It seems to be working.

“There is a growing group of parents who want to participate,” he said.

They are also discussing with the school district how to allow Cedar students to take the test at the school, rather than sitting in with students in the Coupeville schools, thus adding to their stress level.

Pfeiffer predicted the school could grow to 80 or 100 students if they leased all the buildings at the Au Sable Institute. They currently occupy four buildings at the renovated pheasant farm.

“It’s a dance we do between facility needs and capacity,” he said.

Superintendent Myhr was happy to see the program succeed, but he certainly wasn’t taking all the credit.

“Deb and David deserve a lot of credit for making their vision a reality,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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