Riverhead Charter School opens new high school, as first graduating class begins junior year

Last week marked many firsts for Riverhead Charter School. The first week of the school year. The first week back without the burden of pandemic restrictions. The first week of school for many new kindergarten students.

But the biggest firsts were happening on Sound Avenue – miles from the school’s main campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton – where its high school students began their classes at the newly renovated Old School in Northville, and the first Riverhead Charter School’s graduating class started the first week of grade 11.

“It’s really exciting,” said Daniella Marroquin Contreras, a junior. “especially to have been [a student] here since I was five.

Marroquin Contreras is on track to be one of the first students to complete their entire K-12 education at Riverhead Charter School, originally founded in 2001 as a K-6 school, in 2024 The school has pupils from 16 Suffolk school districts. The county and has obtained extensions for registration and instruction over the years with charter renewals. The most recent charter approved in March allowed the school to add grades 11 and 12 and increase enrollment by about 400 students. Twelfth grade will be added to high school next year.

Riverhead Charter High School has just opened for the first week of school in September 2022. Photo: Alek Lewis

Marroquin Contreras remembered the time when his lessons were given in a trailer. Now she attends classes in newly renovated classrooms located in a historic building that is “beautiful” and “super spacious.”

“We all feel very comfortable,” said Marroquin Contreras, who described his class as a family. “It’s cool to see how even though we’re growing, it stays. And everyone’s super attentive, like everyone here matters, which is really great. Nobody is kind of hiding or disliking blend in with the crowd. Everyone belongs here. And that’s really exciting.”

The new high school building has eight classrooms, some of which can be split in half to allow for separate space during lessons. They are named after different colleges across the country. The high school has a total enrollment of 80 students in grades 9, 10, and 11, with the new grade 11 class having 14 students. There are 15 staff on site, including teachers, administrators, and other staff.

Secondary students now have something of their own, rather than having to share space with younger students – or in the case of the past two years, partially online at home. They can stretch their legs and move from room to room, rather than sitting in a classroom all day while teachers move to them.

“I love ceilings. I love the little drawings. I love the walls,” said Junior Jah’mere Jackson, whose favorite part of the new space is the architecture of the two-story schoolhouse that opened in 1916. “And also the color. When you walk through the first column you see it’s white, but then you walk through each room and everything is different. It’s like, red and blue, or red or green. Each room has its own specific design.

Principal Patrick McKinney said having a separate high school space is “super exciting” and has been an ongoing project for some time. Previously, Grade 9 and 10 students shared space with elementary students in the main charter school building in Calverton.

“Our students, teachers and families have been very flexible as we have grown in this area. And it’s really nice to see this final product,” he said. “Our students, the first day of school, the look on their faces was fantastic.”

McKinney gave RiverheadLOCAL a tour of the building during the school day on Thursday. The building was able to open for the first week of the new school year, although there are still some renovations to complete.

Chevonne Archampong, who teaches world history in grades 9 and 10, said the new building and its amenities have made a “huge difference” for students and teachers this year.

“The vibe of this building, everything being new, everything being modern and progressive, I think that just leads to excitement and engagement, you know? For teachers and students,” she said. declared.

“The new classrooms: incredible. Smartboards are amazing. It just makes it easier to learn,” she added. “Even if they have a question, you know, we can just go to Google and look it up, and we might just be kind of like this sporadic learning that’s driven by student interest.”

Archampong said the students particularly enjoy the common area, a room on the second floor that they can use to relax during their free time or lunch. She said the room had a “collegiate-type feel that [students are] already knows.

McKinney said most of the current juniors expected to be Riverhead Charter School’s first class, like Marroquin Contreras, have been with the charter school since kindergarten. This is a big deal for former students, who previously had to go to an entirely different school once they completed the classes the charter school was licensed to teach.

“They are excited to build this with us. And they’re part of the journey,” McKinney said. “Anytime we have a routine or a procedure or a celebration, whatever it is, they’re in the first group to do it. And so we respect and appreciate that. So we get them involved. »

The charter school is preparing to launch several new traditions, including an 11th grade dance and a homecoming party, McKinney said. This will be the first year that high school students at the charter school will have the opportunity to compete against other schools in junior varsity sports, especially football and cross-country running.

“I grew up in public school and always knew I was going to play sports,” said Terrell Dozier, who is among other athletic director roles. “Here, you know, we never had it. So it was like kids who wanted, if we didn’t offer it, they could go somewhere else. So we started offering sports. We want to give our children everything that any other school has.

Several new courses are also being taught, especially now that teachers are required to teach at a whole new grade level. Along with the required Regents courses, the charter school began offering a number of elective courses, including a course on podcasting and a course on hip-hop and its history, McKinney said.

Student clubs are also “integrated” into a student’s schedule at the end of their day and will help students explore what they hope to pursue after high school.

“So for the first time, they’re going to have 10 different club options that they can take on a daily basis and really specialize in what’s important to them,” McKinney said. “Because part of that college prep process is giving them exposure to college, so they know what to expect. To give them the rigors of academics so they’ll be ready for it when they come across it. And to start that element of interest – too many students just come to college and say “I think I want to do this”, but they don’t really know what they want to do. We want to give them those exposures.

The school will also set up a program where students can get internships and community service hours with different local organizations for “hands-on experiences,” McKinney said.

The school also offers juniors the opportunity to take two courses per semester through Suffolk County Community College’s Early University Program. Currently, eight of the 14 juniors are enrolled and are transported to college in the mornings, while the rest are taking electives in Northville.

Jackson is an early college program student.

“It was excellent. I can take seven credits of college courses, and even the school sponsors us and it’s free,” he said.

Particular emphasis is placed on preparing students for college, administrators and students said.

“At least for me, as a student, college has been one of my top priorities, like at the top of my brain for the past two years,” Jackson said.

“It’s very exciting for me,” he said.

As the juniors prepare to take entrance exams like the SAT and apply for colleges, they meet Dozier, who is also the dean of students and guidance counselor. “It’s all kind of mixed up in their day,” McKinney said.

“My junior class is small, so they can come and see me. They don’t have to fight a lot of people to get me to have these conversations about what exactly they want to do,” Dozier said. “So it’s gratifying. It is gratifying for me. And I’m just excited to, you know, see where they go next year.

Being back to school in person in a new building has been great, especially since the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic have been “difficult,” Dozier said.

“Being here on Sound Avenue is a fresh start,” Dozier said.

RiverheadLOCAL Photos by Alek Lewis

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