By Katie Fallon
Though the Schenck School may differ from other elementary schools with its curriculum geared specifically toward dyslexic students, the campus has one thing in common with schools all over the metro area.
The need for more room.
Schenck, which will now house kindergarten through sixth grade, began its expansion odyssey nearly five years ago and will complete it when the new school year begins approximately two weeks later than normal on Sept. 10. The school’s regular enrollment is only 150 students, but with Schenck’s size now doubling in square footage, it will be able to accommodate 250 students in the fall.
Phase one of Schenck’s expansion was completed in May when a completely new building was added to the campus. The new 20,000 square foot facility, which was built on land already owned by the school, includes the new kindergarten, a lunch room, science lab, a library nearly three times the size of the former space and an occupational therapy facility that includes a rock climbing wall and a zip line.
The construction of the new facilities was completed during the last school year and as soon as school let out for the summer, the existing building was completly gutted and renovations began under the watchful eye of Silverman Construction Program Management.
Located on Mount Paran Road in Sandy Springs, the Schenck School helps its students overcome learning differences and aims to return student to mainstream schools as quickly as possible. Most students spend two to three years at Schenck before returning to both public and private schools.
Head of School Gena Calloway said Schenck’s expansion was motivated both by needs within the school as well as an increase in enrollment requests. Calloway said in recent years, the school has had to turn away two to three students for every open spot.
“There was a big need in the community to expand,” she said.
Similarly, Calloway said the addition of a kindergarten was designed to better address the needs of younger, dyslexic students.
“We desperately needed the infrastructure things,” Calloway said. “But we made the conscious decision to add kindergarten because early identification and early intervention for dyslexic students is very important.”
Even under a special use permit that allowed the school to increase its enrollment to 250, Schenck will still retain its 5 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio. Each classroom includes 10 students and two full-time teachers who use the Orton-Gillingham Approach, a teaching method rather than curriculum, for remediating dyslexia.
Calloway said the improvements will help the school more effectively cultivate its learning environment, with the new science and occupational therapy space being the jewels in the school’s crown.
“One of the things we’ve found with the older kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grade is they have been a little bit behind the curve in the science curriculum,” Calloway said. “The OT space is state-of-the art and something we’re very, very proud of. It will allow all of our children to see the occupational therapist, not just the one that would get one-on-one therapy after school.”
Silverman’s senior project manager Dawn Anderson said the new construction and renovations are moving ahead as scheduled, with major problems yet to crop up.
“In any project when you’re doing new construction, you have the ‘knowns’ understood,” Anderson said. “When you go into a gut renovation, there are a lot of unforeseen conditions. Thankfully, we’re through with discovering most of those.”
Anderson said the renovations of the existing facility are scheduled to be completed by Sept. 4, which gives Schenck’s faculty and staff less than a week to get the schools ready for its students.
Calloway and Anderson, though, are confident in the progress and noted the changes were even turned into math and science lessons for the students.
“It has been as flawless as it could possibly be,” Calloway said. “It turned into a learning experience for the children.”
As the students’ windows faced the construction during the last school year, Calloway said the youngsters learned everything-how much steel and concrete was needed and were even given hard-hat tours of new spaces as it became safe. In return, the students placed encouraging signs in the windows and sixth graders even made lunch for 90 construction workers during the last holiday season.
The changes at the Schenck School are also being aided by architecture firm Chapman Coyle Chapman and general contractor New South Construction.