Growing and learning: Discovery Day Academy to open primary school

Kennedy Chaffee, 6, is excited to go back to school.

The first-grader now can look forward to going to Discovery Day Academy through the fifth grade.

The Bonita Springs-based private early learning school plans to add a new campus, expected to open August 2015, and offer preschool through fifth grades. The Academy’s second-phase plans are to add sixth through eighth grades in the next few years.

“We were excited to find out that they were going to continue up to fifth grade,” said Kennedy’s mother, Alexis Chaffee, of North Naples. Kennedy has been at the Academy since she was 3. “They do such a wonderful job over there. It’s unbelievable.”

Discovery Day Academy was founded in 2006 as an independent school and has since grown to include three campuses, two in Lee County and one in Hendry County.

The Bonita Springs school was recently named a semifinalist in the Lego Foundations Re-Imagine Learning Challenge for its Eduthink21 and Discovery Day Academy project.

The new nondenominational private primary school will be on North Commons Drive on the south side of Coconut Road, adjacent to the current pre-kindergarden through first-grade school, 3480 Pelican Colony Blvd., in Bonita Springs. Discovery Day Academy in Bonita Springs, which serves 90 infants to 5-year-olds, is in its fourth year.

The new campus will feature a two-story, 22,000-square-foot, 21st-century building with a contemporary mission style design. Breaking ground was slated for late August.

“Our school’s new campus will observe 21st-century architecture as it relates to innovative learning strategies,” said Elizabeth Garcia, founder and head of school for Discovery Day Academy. “We will provide a private school setting with limited enrollment inclusive of 292 students from preschool through fifth grade, similar to those found in urban settings, such as New York City. As a previous primary and middle school teacher, growth through eighth grade is a natural transition in my vision for the school.”

The school will include the latest technology (Smart Building), which will provide unique security features and support learning, according to a prepared statement.

The interior of the school is slated to be bright and colorful, with classrooms that serve as private learning studios, collaborative areas for project work and learning vignettes, taking the needs of all learners into account.

Through talented, highly-qualified staff and low teacher-student ratios, Garcia said the school will focus on providing education for the individual child.

Garcia said the new school would provide a need in the community and an alternative option, while relieving some of the pressure of overcrowded public schools.

“We would be the first private primary school in the Estero/Bonita communities,” said Garcia, a former primary and secondary school teacher.

The school is partnering with Michigan-based Steelcase for furniture designed for children and interactive whiteboards, according to a prepared statement.

One of the classrooms will open onto a project terrace through a garage door system, allowing the indoor and outdoor spaces to connect. The terrace will provide an area for large engineering blocks and other learning materials.

Grade-group classrooms will have the ability to open onto each other and the hallways through garage door systems, allowing for collaborative work and flexible learning spaces, according to a prepared statement.

On the second floor, a research commons and adjacent ‘makerspace,’ will encourage innovation. It is an extended version of their classroom makerspaces in the existing campus.

Children will engage with a mixture of do-it-yourself materials and technology through free design and project related tasks. Materials in the space include crafts, recyclable and woodworking materials, sewing, computers, 3D printers, small motors, LED lights and more.

Garcia believes that creativity will be the most sought after skill in the future workforce.

“We are creating a foundation by allowing children to make freely, according to their interests, implementing student-centered learning opportunities,” Garcia said.

Teachers will also use the makerspace to encourage the application of knowledge through model making.”

The playground will be representative of the globe, evoking a multicultural feel, immersing children in cultural experiences. Students will have opportunities for outdoor science experiences.

The new school will include an edible schoolyard, vertical garden and a culinary kitchen with a retractable glass wall will allow visibility from the media center. Professional chef Tripp Perkins — trained at The Culinary Institute of America in New York — will prepare nutritious meals and engage with students to support the school’s soil-to-plate culinary philosophy.

“Meals will also integrate cultural foods, as an expanded palate is important in our globalized society,” Garcia said. “In the future, our children will engage in business with cultures from around the world; it is important to be comfortable with many customs.”

A home-school connection also will be provided through the culinary program. The school aims to provide a work-life balance to parents by creating a program where families can pick up their children and a healthy meal, having regular access to a private chef, as parents will be able to order and take meals home.

Discovery Day Academy in Bonita, which opened in 2011, puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Garcia said the overall environment of the school will be designed to support innovative pedagogy, such as project and problem-based learning and the 4Cs — communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Tuition ranges from $10,200 to $11,000 per year.

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