An Alternative Back to School Experience

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By Caryn Stumpfl The Pineapple Contributing Writer Pull up a bean bag chair, grab a pen and draw what you feel on the walls and then jam to the music you create yourself at Space of Mind, where students will find a creative, non-traditional, modern schoolhouse right in the heart of Delray, across from the oldest school building in town at Old School Square. Offering an alternative to traditional public school, Space of Mind is located inside the “Clark House” on Swinton Avenue, named for a former Atlantic High School coach and one of the oldest homes in Delray Beach, built in 1896. Their mission is to make school less stressful for students and their parents.

Registered with the county under the home school designation, Space of Mind calls itself a “social home-school program,” where students in grades 3-12 can take classes on everything from the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) to visual and culinary arts, computer coding/software development, robotics, animation, sewing and fashion design, music, yoga, gardening, and life skills to help kids manage in the 21st century social world. With space for about 25 full-time students, Space of Mind is able to design and customize a curriculum tailored to each student’s interests, attention span, work style and social instincts, according to Founder/CEO Ali Kaufman.

Governed by the Florida Home Education and Sunshine State Standard guidelines, Space of Mind uses Florida’s home school format and delivers the same requirements and testing for graduation as the state’s public schools in a fun, stress-free, hands-on learning environment. Space of Mind also offers an afterschool program with homework help, as well as private coaching, parent coaching and group classes.

Inside this completely renovated historic home, Space of Mind features several open classrooms with computer stations and tables, a music room, an art room, a math room and a sun porch. They offer such unique ideas as a treadmill desk, quiet space, magnetic walls to write on, a Buddha on the stairwell leading up to the yoga studio/group space, and gourmet meals prepared daily by the school’s chef in the on-site kitchen. Instructors are called “coaches” and they are trained to target and teach the “whole student.” In addition to regular academic subjects, students and coaches will bike to the beach, enjoy picnics outside and explore what Delray Beach has to offer, including visiting the Spady Museum, Cornell Museum and the neighboring Delray Beach Historical Society, volunteering at the Caring Kitchen, playing at Pompey Park and Veteran’s Park and even learning to surf. “We use the city of Delray as a classroom,” said Kaufman.

The Space of Mind staff and students are committed to social causes and participate in anti-bullying programs among others. Students must earn citizenship/service hours and can participate in various causes and volunteer opportunities. At their “No Place for Hate” prom this past year, 45 students from Space of Mind, six other high schools and home-schooled kids in the area enjoyed a festive evening where they could just relax and be themselves. The students, including some same sex couples, saw the Space of Mind prom as a safe alternative to their own high school proms.

The school used to follow the Florida Virtual School and now utilizes numerous online programs, such as Khan Academy, DuoLingo, Luminosity and many other online educational tools to help support learning and develop students’ academic skills. In addition, all students will study sign language this year. “It’s a visual and kinesthetic language that is great for kids who have trouble with processing language,” said Kaufman.

Also new this year, Space of Mind will be using an integrated curriculum following a particular theme with all students, Kaufman indicated. The theme for the upcoming school year is “the American History Experience,” and everything will be taught through the lens of “who we are and how did we get here,” said Kaufman. Space of Mind is planning a field trip for all students later in the year to visit several American historic sites up the Eastern Seaboard, including St. Augustine, Jamestown, Washington, D.C., and other locations to complement their American History lessons.

The field trip will be an additional cost to the annual tuition fee, which compares to other local private schools. Space of Mind tuition is also flexible for families who create customized programs (and discounted for those with financial need). Space of Mind plans to sell crafts and items made throughout the school year at the Downtown GreenMarket to offset travel costs. Kaufman came up with this innovative approach to education after 11 years of private and group coaching. Originally, Space of Mind started in Kaufman’s living room but it has grown from 3 students in 2010 to 28 students this past school year. Space of Mind came to its present location at 102 North Swinton Avenue in April 2011 and has continued to grow quietly. Since its inception, Space of Mind has graduated 15 students (11 of them are currently in college).

Space of Mind does initial assessments of each student at the beginning of the school year and then creates a “coaching roadmap” including goals for students and parents to achieve. “Because of our ability to focus on the individual child’s needs, we see huge strides in improvement from the beginning of the year through the middle and ends of the year in student reading levels and grade level equivalents,” said Kaufman, who mentioned the school has a student-to-teacher ratio of 3:1. “Our approach is successful,” according to Kaufman, “because we can target exactly what each student needs.”

Space of Mind may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for many of their students and their families, according to Kaufman, public and private schools “just didn’t work for them.” There was something lacking in traditional education for these children – some of whom may have been bullied or were the bullies, or perhaps they were either way ahead (or behind) their peers and needed individual attention. For whatever reason, home schooling seemed like a natural step. Space of Mind offers that individualized attention that home schooling provides along with the social development, community involvement and extracurricular activities available at traditional schools. “At Space of Mind, a student’s unique potential becomes limitless,” Kaufman said.

Space of Mind sends home weekly progress reports on all students, detailing what they’ve learned that week and what they need to focus on, as well as their social progress. “It’s a fun and safe place to be for students,” said Kaufman. “Even for kids having a bad day, our slogan is ‘just show up.’ It’s safe to have a bad day here. They learn the skills they will need in the workforce and the ability to tolerate others that aren’t like themselves,” she said.

Space of Mind’s first day of the new school year is Sept. 8, and they offer open enrollment to students from Palm Beach, Broward and Martin counties. Group programming will begin in October. Some financial assistance is available. For more information or to arrange a tour, call 877-407-1122, email admin@myspaceofmind.com or visit www.myspaceofmind.com.