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Huntington Beach charter school welcomes students to its inaugural year

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Parents pick up their children from the new Sycamore Creek Community Charter School in Huntington Beach on its second day of school Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

With summer vacation behind them, Wednesday brought the beginning of a new school year for students in the Ocean View School District.

For children attending Sycamore Creek Community Charter School in Huntington Beach, it was the beginning of something more. The school marked its first official day of operation.

The new tuition-free public charter school operates out of six rooms — five classrooms and one office — on the Oak View preschool and elementary school campuses off Oak Lane.

The school was approved by the Orange County Board of Education in March after a long review process in which it met resistance from community members and the Ocean View district.

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The Ocean View board in November rejected Sycamore Creek’s petition to operate within the district, saying, among other things, that the school presented an “unsound educational program” and was “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.”

The school appealed to the county. Following the county decision, Ocean View approved a facilities agreement with Sycamore Creek last month.

As of Thursday afternoon, the school was continuing to accept applications for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade on a first-come, first-served basis. Sycamore Creek Executive Director Sarah Bach said Wednesday that the school estimates the student body at 93.

Sycamore Creek’s curriculum is based on the principles of public Waldorf education, a model that focuses on students’ creativity and incorporates art into all parts of its teaching.

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Parent Ashley Espinoza of Huntington Beach said Waldorf education is what brought her to the fledgling charter school. She said her three sons had been learning with the Waldorf education model throughout their academic careers.

Espinoza, who lives in the Ocean View district, said she’s thankful for the arrival of Sycamore Creek after spending the past six years taking her boys to receive Waldorf education at Journey School in Aliso Viejo.

She first heard of Waldorf when touring a private school in Costa Mesa with a friend and “fell in love” with it when her eldest son was 2.

Her youngest sons, Holden and Kingsley, attend Sycamore Creek.

“When [Sycamore Creek] finally opened here, it was such a blessing because it’s such a beautiful school system,” Espinoza said. “It’s a beautiful way to learn for children, so that’s why when this opened, we were so excited.”

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Riss Mahaffey walks with her son, Bronson, 6, at the new Sycamore Creek Community Charter School in Huntington Beach on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Riss Mahaffey, who also lives in Ocean View, said she felt the Waldorf model would help her son develop his sense of individuality and cater to his emotional needs.

“Because of the way that [Waldorf] teaches things, different kinds of curriculum happen later than in a regular public school system,” Mahaffey said. "[Students are] so excited and eager to learn, so things come easier to them. So when something comes easier to you, it’s more fun.

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“ I think that builds confidence, so then you’re ... more willing to try new things. Once they’re out of school, they feel like, ‘Oh, I can do that’ because everything leading up to then, they’ve had the confidence and ability to do [it].”

Mahaffey’s son, Bronson, 6, said Thursday that his favorite part of school so far has been playing. He said he likes a mural on a building in front of one of the Sycamore Creek classrooms. He said he wants to make 15 friends by the end of the school year.

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Students gather to read and have a snack at the new Sycamore Creek Community Charter School in Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Danielle Valdez, a parent of two children at Sycamore Creek, said her family wanted a change and that she was excited that her older son, Noah, 10, would be reintroduced to Spanish and learn violin.

Rory Fazio, a first-grader at Sycamore Creek, said he likes his classroom and that his siblings are attending the school with him. The family lives in Irvine.

“I like playing with my friends. I like playing in the playground. I like playing inside,” said Rory’s younger sister, Lucia. “I like snack time and lunch time. I like my classroom because it’s pretty.”

Their mother, Katie, said: “It’s a little nerve-wracking because it’s a brand-new school. We’re all kind of figuring it out.

“We’re the pioneer families doing this, but I think that it will grow just like Journey School in Aliso Viejo has. I mean, they’ve been around since the year 2000. They’re pretty far into their journey, but I think we’ll be there too.”

Sycamore Creek opened the day after another new charter school, the International School for Science and Culture, debuted in Costa Mesa.

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ISSAC also won approval from the county in March after being rejected by the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

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