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Charting new waters for Manteca
Great Valley Academy offers different approach
From left: Eldon Rosenow, the founder of Great Valley Academy; Russell Howell and Amy Gross, vice principals of the Modesto charter school who are being tapped to be the co-principals at the planned extension campus at the Manteca Christian School in Manteca; and Modesto Great Valley principal Cy Cole. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
MODESTO – A few days ago, Russell Howell looked out of his office window and saw two men picking olives from the olive tree outside.

It took awhile before the Great Valley Academy of Modesto vice principal realized the men were harvesting the olives for the students’ business project. The third and fourth graders have decided to sell the olives and make money out of it while helping get rid of the perennial mess that the six trees on campus create every year.

This business part of the Modesto charter school’s curriculum is one of many that set the campus apart from other schools, both public and private. As Principal Cy Cole explained it, this experience is part of the school’s mission to teach the students how to develop a business literally from scratch and do all the work involved, which in the case of the olives, from the pickling and bottling of the popular salad ingredient to paying the expenses they incur along the way and selling, marketing and distributing their product. To complete the learning experience, they also get to earn salaries as a result of their endeavors, all under the guidance of their teachers.

“The younger children rely more heavily on teacher support, but all kids will experience the responsibility, creativity and satisfaction of building a business,” explains part of the school’s curriculum.

How to build a business is part of the “enriched curriculum and student culture” added to the “core curriculum” of this charter school in Modesto which the “developers” describe as “an innovative new school model combining neuroscience, psychology and education” whose goal is to teach children “how to be effective learners and (to create) a culture in which children want to and do learn.”

Established three years ago, the “non-tuition public school” located at 3200 Tully Road in Modesto, was the brainchild of longtime Modesto optometrist Eldon L. Rosenow who is referred to as the founder of the school. The founding principal of the academy is Cy Cole who has 18 years of experience under his belt as administrator, teacher and director of international schools in Latin America, as well as the founding principal of another charter school, the Summit Charter Academy in Modesto.

The school currently has an enrollment of 640 students with more than 200 on the waiting list. It’s for this reason that, in the three years since it was launched and opened its doors in the old facility that once housed the Modesto Christian School, Great Valley Academy now finds itself looking for a location to expand its campus. Their search brought them to Manteca where they hope to open their second campus at The Place of Refuge’s Manteca Christian School on Button Avenue next school year. Due to dwindling enrollment, the former First Assembly of God now known as The Place of Refuge is being forced to close its school, providing the opportunity for Great Valley Academy to expand in Manteca. The academy would lease the school facilities from the church.

Before they can officially take that major step, however, Great Valley Academy will need the blessing of the Board of Trustees of the Manteca Unified School District. The first step of this process, a public hearing to collect input from the public to help the school board in making a decision on the petition for the charter school, was held two weeks ago. The board will vote on the petition at their Dec. 6 meeting.

27 classrooms added in the last three years
In the last three years since the Modesto Great Valley Academy opened its doors, it has added 27 classrooms located in portables on the five-acre property.

“There were only 13 classrooms when we moved in. Last year, we purchased 27 classrooms,” said Cole.

“We’ll need three more classrooms next year,” he added. That’s in anticipation of the seventh and eighth grades that will be added to the school’s current K-6 grades.

After Modesto Christian School vacated the property to move into a bigger location, the facility sat vacant for a year, Cole said. They rented the place for a year. Last year, they were able to purchase the property.

“We’re no different than a public school. All our teachers are certificated,” explained Cole.

To emphasize its philosophy that there is “no double standard” on campus and that “everybody is together,” teachers and students all wear the same green and khaki uniform, including founder Rosenow and principal Cole.
In addition to learning how to establish and run a business, Great Valley Academy students including those in kindergarten also receive Spanish instruction (they are taught using the process of immersion through experience), learn American Sign Language, and attend physical education with students getting involved in “developmentally appropriate activities.”

Students also go home with “less homework,” explained Rosenow, with the idea that kids should be sent to school to l earn, “and that is where we teach them.”

Unlike most schools, Great Valley Academy also believes in having the students stay with the same teacher for at least two, but generally three years. Rosenow explained that this student-teacher arrangement will allow the relationship between them to fully develop.

This arrangement, he said, “is a much more efficient instructional model because the teacher does not have to learn the intricacies of the learning skills of each student every year.”

That is not the only unique thing about the teacher-student relationships on campus. Students and teachers also eat lunch together family-style which allows deeper relationships and a healthier eating environment besides fostering a “safer and more nurturing place of learning.”

The academy also offers band classes for the students, with rehearsals and performances held in the building that was once served as auditorium for the Modesto Christian School. The auditorium has remained as it was, with plans to have it remodeled at a future time.

PE, art, music and Spanish “are all brain-development tools,” explained Rosenow who has maintained his license to practice optometry one day a week.

Research has shown that students who learn another language makes learning a third or even a fourth language “much, much easier” for a person to learn, he said.

About 60 of the students currently enrolled at the Modesto campus are from Manteca, with others coming from Lathrop and Lodi. The latest parent survey conducted every year by the school shows an overall approval rating of 95 percent.