When you have a middle school on the banks of the Mohawk River, it’s not hard to come up with hands-on curriculum.
“It lends itself to just about everything,” said Katie Fleming, head of curriculum at the newly formed Saratoga Academy for Leadership and Maritime Programs, a private middle school that will open in less than two weeks on the river in the bucolic Schenectady County hamlet of Alplaus.
The science teacher could have students take samples of the water and examine them for microorganisms. The gym teacher could send kids out rowing. The history teacher could craft entire lesson plans around the Erie Canal and the success it brought to riverside communities throughout the Mohawk Valley.
“We’re super excited to have it at our disposal,” said Fleming. “It lends itself to all content areas, not to mention just the scenery of it. We were talking to the English teacher, and she was saying, just to be able to sit down and read a book by the water would be a real treat.”
About 25 students are currently enrolled for the 2013-14 school year at Saratoga Academy. The brand new middle school finalized a lease just this month to occupy most of the Capital Region Maritime Center at 901 Maritime Drive. The nonprofit center sat empty for two years after a Capital Region BOCES vocational training program for at-risk youth moved out in 2011.
Attempts to lease the space faltered over the years, but the newest tenant appears poised to stick around.
a THREE-year lease
Saratoga Academy signed a three-year lease with an option to renew. Plans for the middle school were announced in December 2012. The founder and headmaster of a private Clifton Park elementary school said he decided to open the new school because of “tremendous demand” for expanding his elementary school to the middle-school level.
“Our model is small-group and individualized instruction,” said Michael Christensen, headmaster of the Saratoga Academy for the Arts and Sciences on Route 9 in Clifton Park. “We promote higher-level thinking skills and problem solving and leadership. When you look at the Common Core, our curriculum is closely tied to it and always has been. So we’re actually pretty far ahead of the curve, and our parents wanted these values for their kids past the elementary-school level.”
The Alplaus school will be a grade 5-8 model, and is made up of students from neighboring communities, like Schenectady, Niskayuna, Ballston Spa, Clifton Park. Tuition is $6,000, compared to the elementary school’s $5,000-a-year price tag. The Maritime Center building itself can accommodate up to 50 students, so applications still are being accepted.
“I expect enrollment to increase once the school year starts,” said Christensen. “We weren’t able to actually go in and take up residence until this month because of the terms of the lease. So it was hard to sell people on a school they couldn’t see.”
Rotunda, Boat bays
The squat building has some striking features, including a two-story rotunda. Two identical wings branch off on either side of the rotunda, each holding two 800-square-foot classrooms and a 1,600-square-foot boat bay. One of the boat bays will be used by the nonprofit center.
The other will be used as a gymnasium and activities center, said Christensen.
And now that staff has been in the building, they’ve put in new floors, applied fresh coats of paint and cleaned the place out.
“The place really was in disrepair,” he said. “And it was on us to come in and clean it up. So we put some capital into the building and it looks great now. We knew it was going to shine right up. We already set up our lab tables and our math and science rooms. We’ll have all of our desks and Smart Boards delivered next week. It’s going to look like a school again.”
School starts Sept. 6. Although nothing is set in stone yet, Christensen and Fleming said they are looking forward to potential partnerships with educational organizations like the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission and Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.
“We’re looking to create a rowing club and maybe do some boat building,” said Fleming. “We’ve talked to the state and looked at how they have their floating classroom and are looking at working with them to be ambassadors for the waterway. Nothing is set yet, but we certainly are talking to a lot of people.”
To learn more about the Saratoga Academy for Leadership and Maritime Programs, visit www.saratoga-academy.com or call 649-9524.