Students and parents floated through the new New England Classical Academy (NECA) home on Church Street Wednesday night, checking out the former National Field Representatives building that has become the third home for NECA.
Begun 11 years ago by Catholic parents who were looking for something different from the educational options they had, NECA started with a handful of students studying at the library and at home. Then for nine years, the school was on Central Street in the old St. Mary's school building. When the parish decided to reopen the school as St. John Paul II, NECA had to move.
With a fundraising campaign to cover $35,000 in renovations, and NFR financing the purchase, the school will finally own the building it's in.
The new school on Church Street is backed by thick woods the faculty's children have already begun exploring. Since there's no gym, the students take physical education according to the season and what opportunities are available. In the winter, they ski at Mount Sunapee for five weeks. In the spring they may go swimming or hiking, and in the past they've done equestrian sports in fall. “We believe in getting kids outside as often as possible,” said teacher Jennifer Cota.
Executive Director Elizabeth Wilber said the school focuses on forming a whole person through a classical curriculum based on grammar, logic and rhetoric. Grammar, she said, means learning the rules and the facts; logic is “how do you put facts in a way that makes sense?” and rhetoric is “How do you communicate those ideas?”
Art and drama are important parts of the curriculum, which goes from kindergarten to 12th grade. Art teacher Heidi Fagan has been teaching at NECA for 10 years.
“We're one of the few schools around here that recognizes that arts are integral to child development,” said Fagan. “For me, best of all is the students who come back after graduating and say, 'I'm so glad I took drama, because I can talk to people at work.'”
Some students hold back because they think they can't do art or drama, said Fagan, and then they find they love doing it.
In this small school of 56 students, “Every student excels at something,” said parent Marianne Kepler.
Kepler has had four children graduate from NECA, including one who came back to teach for four years and two who did substitute/gym teaching. “It's been transforming,” said Kepler. “They all loved it. It's beautiful. There are wonderful families here.”
Parent Lisa Bianconi lives in Rockingham, but her daughter can catch the bus in Springfield. “This has been an absolute perfect fit for Sofia,” said Bianconi, who is herself a teacher. This will be Sofia's second year at NECA.
“The curriculum is comprehensive and stimulating. Its dedicated staff and the community are extremely welcoming. I was worried about the adjustment period,” said Bianconi, “But the adjustment was immediate.”
-- GLYNIS HART