In a former department store, Capital City Charter School opens to students

  • Capital City Charter School head Stephanie Alicea greets parents and students on the first day of classes Wednesday at the converted Bon-Ton store at the Steeplegate Mall. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Students and parents wait for the Capital City Charter School outside the converted Bon-Ton at the Steeplegate Mall on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Capital City Charter School head of school Stephanie Alicea greets parents and students before the opening of school at the Steeplegate Mall on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Capital City Charter School head Stephanie Alicea greets Jake Chapman as he enters for the opening of school Wednesday.

  • Kelly Rowson of Boscawen gives her daughter Amber a hug as she drops her off at the Capital City Charter School at the Steeplegate Mall on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 in front of the old Bon-Ton store. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Seventh-grader Amber Rowson (center) heads to class at the new Capital City Charter School on the first day at the old Bon-Ton store at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Wednesday. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Braze Cate takes off a motorcycle helmet after his mother, Maribel, drove him to school.

  • Jake Chapman (left) gets ready to enter school as his mom Michelle and sister Tabitha say goodbye on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/5/2018 3:51:45 PM

Standing in the Steeplegate Mall parking lot outside the old Bon-Ton store Wednesday, Jake Chapman said he’d never been so excited to start school.

He knew taking classes in a former department store might seem a little odd – but Chapman said he felt Concord’s new Capital City Charter School was a good fit for him.

“They’re so welcoming, and provide a lot of stuff for you that you wouldn’t get at a normal school,” the Canterbury seventh-grader said. “You learn real-world stuff.”

Wearing a Jurassic Park T-shirt and Nike sneakers, Chapman stood in a line of other middle schoolers waiting to enter Concord’s new charter school. As they reached the front door, head of school Stephanie Alicea gave each a high-five.

Jake’s mom, Michelle Chapman, said she’d never seen her son so invested in his education.

“I can’t wait to come back and pick him up and see what his day was like,” she said.

The community-service based school focuses on hands-on learning and applied approaches to education, Alicea said. It’s offered as an alternative public education and is open to any child in the state.

Students sit at big, round tables instead of desks to encourage discussion and collaboration. There aren’t traditional classrooms at Capital City – every learning space occupies a different corner of the store. The school’s learning commons, or library, is located in the store’s center and filled with beanbags, tables and wicker chairs.

Incoming student Judah Ackerman of Hopkinton said the school’s layout was a major draw.

“It’s not just a bunch of walls like a normal public school – it’s open,” Ackerman said.

Alicea, of Boscawen, who is both founder and head of the charter school, said she wants Capital City to be all about inclusion.

“Welcome, welcome everyone,” she said, holding open the door of the old Bon-Ton store so the middle schoolers could walk inside. “We’re so happy you’re here.”

Alicea said she built relationships with almost 40 families from around the state committed to starting their children at Capital City over the summer. She gave tours and held information sessions weekly so interested families could learn more. As she saw them again Wednesday morning, she smiled and greeted the teenagers by name.

Laura O’Brien of Canterbury, whose son Collin will be entering the eighth-grade, said the personal connections formed between staff and students was a major reason why her family chose the school.

“At Belmont Middle School, I would go in, and if my son wasn’t with me, they’d have to think about it and ask, ‘Which one is yours?’ ” O’Brien said. “It was overwhelming and non-personal. This is more focused on the student rather than just cookie-cutter education for everybody.”

Lauri McLaughlin of Franklin, whose daughter Sarah was home-schooled last year, said she decided to send her child to Capital City for the structure and socialization it could bring her.

“When we saw this school, it seemed perfect,” McLaughlin said. “I love the open concept. I can see lots of art and cool things happening in there.”

Scott Palmer, the school’s science and math teacher, said the school’s approach to education might be a bit different from what students have seen before. They will be using Singapore Math, an international program designed for American schools.

“I like the program because it’s not a lot of theory or just knowing facts for the sake of knowing facts,” Palmer said. “It’s really strong on application.”

Justin Wolbert, who will be teaching history and some English classes, said he was going to start with reviewing ancient history and teaching students Latin. He said the students will learn about astronomy by looking at NASA’s images of the day in space.

Alicea said there is still work to be done on the facility. The school will be installing new water fountains and possibly metal detectors at entrances to increase security. They’ll be locking the school doors during school hours, Alicea said.

Alicea was approved by the state Department of Education to open the school about a year ago.

“I’m thrilled and in awe,” she said. “Even back in February, this day seemed so long away. Now, it’s here.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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