“I felt like I died and went to school heaven.”

May 16, 2011

If you are a parent of school aged children, you know that sending your kids to a school that helps them learn and thrive is one of your top priorities. Ronni Arno Blaisdell, who moved to Morristown, New Jersey from Pennsylvania in 2009, could not believe her good fortune upon discovering Unity Charter School. (Paritally) organic vegetarian lunches? Individualized instruction? World languages, a science lab and performing arts? At a public school?! Yes.

Today, we hear from Ronni – a parent’s perspective – on how her two daughters are, indeed, learning and thriving at Unity Charter School:

Unity Charter School middle school students

By Ronni Arno Blaisdell

Our family moved to Morristown in the fall of 2009, when my kids were in second and fourth grades. Coming from Bucks County, PA, Morristown was a big change for us. There were pros (we could walk to town and don’t have to drive everywhere!) and cons (when we do have to drive, the traffic is unbelievable!)

But the best part about our move, without a doubt, was enrolling at Unity Charter School.

I heard about Unity shortly after settling into the area. An acquaintance, whom knew I was vegetarian, told me about a charter school that served partially organic vegetarian lunches. My jaw dropped. She then told me that they also encouraged sustainability, and my jaw dropped further. I couldn’t believe such a school existed. I had to learn more.

I raced to my computer and googled “Unity Charter School.” Sure enough, there it was: The mission of Unity Charter School is “to teach the importance of protecting and improving the environment by educating our students on the principles of sustainability, ecology, and diversity in a way that celebrates and honors this planet and all its inhabitants.”

Unity Charter classroom agreement

When I looked further, I found that Unity isn’t only about protecting the environment and healthy lunches. Unity’s small class size and close-knit community allows teachers the opportunity to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Students are evaluated using various assessments, and instructors then develop individual lessons plans that suit each student’s needs. In my world, this meant that my kids wouldn’t necessarily be treated just like everyone else. They would be treated like individuals. They would be given the opportunity to soar with their strengths and improve on their weaknesses.

I felt like I died and went to school heaven.

Needless to say, we visited the school immediately and applied for the following year. We were all ecstatic for September to begin. As the school year approached, I secretly hoped that Unity would live up to my inflated expectations.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Not only did Unity live up to my expectations, it exceeded them. My children walked into a brand-new 20,000 square-foot facility, complete with a World Language room, a Science lab, a Performing Arts room, and a full commercial grade kitchen. Outside was a garden, ready for the students to start nurturing and cultivating.

Squash planted in the summer before Unity Charter School opened in its new space

The multi-age classrooms were big and bright, and the students welcomed my daughters with open arms. I think they had more true friends in the first day there than they’d had in all their previous school years. The teachers are second-to-none. Not only are they top-notch educators, but they actively involve the parents, keep us updated on progress and issues, and encourage us to become involved with our children’s education.

Academically, my children are thriving. My oldest daughter has always been an independent worker who is very academically motivated. Her teacher provides her with special assignments, and she and her classmates collaborate on creative projects such as writing plays, choreographing dance routines for the school talent show, or putting together a presentation on recycling. My youngest daughter sometimes needs to be reminded to check her work carefully, and her teacher works with her on improving those skills in addition to teaching the regular curriculum.

Lunch was everything I dreamed it would be! Not only was I comfortable that my kids were getting a nutritious lunch every day, but I didn’t have to make it every day. My cooking skills leave a little to be desired, so I was thrilled when my younger daughter told me that “Chef Judy is the best cook ever.” She even ate all her vegetables! Any food that isn’t eaten gets composted, so it goes back to the soil, which ultimately helps the garden grow. The food grown in the garden is often used as part of the lunch program, and the entire process teaches children an extremely important lesson about where their food comes from.

Unity Charter School

My kids participate in Student Council, so they have a voice in school. In fact, all the teachers at Unity concur that students are part of the process of learning. The children are treated as partners, and that partnership empowers the students to be more invested in their educations. What’s more, the sense of inclusion at Unity means that the students don’t tease each other for their strengths or weaknesses. They students understand that they all work at different levels, and they are taught to help each other in the learning process.

Unity Charter School is one of the best decisions my family has made. I’m grateful that my children have the opportunity to attend Unity. And I’m grateful that I get to be part of such a caring community, where people take responsibility not only for themselves, but also for the world around them. •

This series continues next Monday.

Part 1 – Unity Charter School: With Room To Grow
Part 2 – Unity Charter School: A Teacher’s Perspective

Images: Unity Charter School