The Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School welcomed 30 new students, a new director and three new teachers last Thursday as it opened for its second year of operation.
The addition of a new class of eight-year-olds is the primary factor accounting for the school's increase in enrollment. Since last year's 14-year-olds will continue on as the 15-year-old age group, the addition brings the school one step closer to reaching its maximum teaching capacity: 180 students ranging in age from five to 19.

Ursula Ferro, the charter school's director, has 35 years of experience in progressive teaching. She was hired as the school's interim director in June.

The three teachers joining the charter school staff this year are Didi Forker, who will be teaching the 10 to 12-year-old age group, Susan Mosler, who will staff the eight and nine-year-old classroom, and Lauri Shaaler, a literary and history expert who will teach the 13 to 15-year-olds. In addition to the three new full-time hires, Jenny Christy, a native Islander, has been hired to be a teaching assistant in the eight and nine-year-old classroom.

Jean Lythcott, who has been a teacher at the charter school since its inception, said that orientation on Thursday corresponded with the school's general teaching philosophy.

"We all decided that the best way to be oriented to school was to jump into school," said Mrs. Lythcott.

She said students were engaged in a variety of activities on Thursday. The younger groups got to know each other better by participating in outdoor trust-building exercises; other groups plunged into various areas of thematic studies, she said. Several groups of students visited the offices of the White House Press Center and the Vineyard Gazette as part of a project in which students evaluate newspapers from a mathematical perspective.

Mrs. Lythcott said that the charter school will continue to teach students of multi-aged groupings, but that the staff has learned that the younger children learn better in smaller groups with a narrower age range.

"As the age range gets wider the multi-age commitment needs to span a smaller group because the younger ones need to experience that home-away-from-home environment to become connected to their own teacher," she said.

The age groupings are also based on maturity level and learning capacity, she said.

"We will have a slightly narrower age span during certain hours of the day because the age range is larger," said Mrs. Lythcott. "We're now eight to 15 and it's hard to think of a class you could design that would be good for both eight and 15-year-olds."

Mrs. Lythcott said that the charter school staff hopes to maintain an open attitude towards new ways of learning.

"We are continually learning about how to become a better school. We have the usual goals in the main subject areas and a goal of enabling everybody to become better in communication skills. Our general goal is to become better in every aspect -- to enable kids to become self-directed in their learning, to continue to promote their growth as individual learners as well as interdependent members of the community. We have created a stronger scaffold for the school activities, so we can better assess issues of curriculum instruction and assessment of kids' work."

Sidney Morris, another teacher at the charter school, said he's looking forward to seeing the full implementation of the school's community service program. The grant that the state won for the program was extended this year, which has enabled the school to hire a consultant to begin working on the program's development.

"Community service is one of the main components of our educational design for our kids," said Mr. Morris. "It introduces them to service and the idea that they are part of the community, an interdependent community where people have to work together to get things done. It introduces them to the idea that someone isn't always there to pay you to get things done."