Juniors Noah Chicoine and James Morandi spoke about how the charter school had helped them achieve academically.
ADAMS, Mass. — At BArT, the growth on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School is understandably excited about the building expansion that will give the 10-year-old Grades 6-12 school a dedicated gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium.
But the new infrastructure is just a means to an end.
The growth that matters is seen in student body. And that is the expansion the school celebrated on Friday morning at its fifth annual Fall Breakfast.
"We've had many years of very high growth levels," Principal April West told a crowd of supporters gathered in the soon-to-be retired "cafegymatorium."
"But bred into our school is a sense of urgency. Just like we encourage our students to climb one mountain and look for another, that's what we do as a school."
That is why West and BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen on Friday were able to trumpet standardized test scores that show the alternative school outscored its three main sending districts and the state average in the English, math and science phases of the 2014 MCAS "in aggregate, for low-income students and for special education students."
After a brief presentation on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems numbers, Bowen was happy to turn over the microphone to a couple of juniors who explained how the school is helping them reach their potential.
North Adams residents Noah Chicoine and James Morandi explained how teachers help each of them when they arrived at the school as sixth-graders — each struggling academically for very different reasons.
"I was looking for a challenge," Chicoine said. "I was bored in my classes. Here, I jumped up into seventh-grade math. When I got to eighth-grade, I was doing ninth-grade math."
"I came for a different challenge," Morandi said. "I was reading at a second-grade level. BArT teachers and staff … helped me get from where I was in sixth grade to where I am now.
"Now, I'm taking AP English and AP statistics."
Morandi said that he was diagnosed with dyslexia during that sixth-grade year and credited BArT with helping him overcome the condition and excel.
"We came here in two different places and now we're in the same spot," Chicoine said. "Really, BArT is the perfect place for sending us on that path."
More and more families are starting to agree.
BArT's student body has grown in nine out of its first 10 years of operation. BArT has about 330 students this year, and it usually has a wait list for sixth grade.
The school boasts 57 ninth-graders this fall. The previous high was 45, and the difference is a significant growth in retention from the middle school to the high school, Bowen said.
Kids are staying because they say the school can offer more programs than ever — both curricular and extracurricular. The school's athletic teams this fall joined a regional league of independent schools called the River Valley Athletic League, and it is offering boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball and coed Ultimate Frisbee to go with its established cross country running programs.
While the new gym won't be hosting basketball games (it only offers a half-court gym), it will give the school an improved physical education program and it will feature a stage that alone is the same square footage as the catch-all cafegymatorium, Bowen said.
The school plans to move into the expansion before the end of the calendar year; in March, it will offer a full production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Extracurricular and enrichment programs include Friday night's student-led performance at Gallery 51, a Lego Robotics program and Science Olympiad.
"One thing that I'm particularly impressed at is the staff's ability to support students developing projects on their own," West said. "That gives students a sense of agency in their own lives."
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