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Hopkinton’s Beech Hill School offers fifth-grade for first year

  • Beech Hill School fifth-grader Avigayil Fleurant speaks with Head of School Rick Johnson on the first day of classes at the independent institution in Hopkinton on Wednesday. Nick Stoico photos / Monitor staff

  • Fifth-grade teacher Mark Holt helps student John David of Concord with his superhero cape.



Monitor staff
Thursday, August 30, 2018

Beech Hill School in Hopkinton is expanding its offerings to included fifth-grade in its seventh year since opening, but administrators there don’t expect the school to grow beyond its current enrollment. At least not anytime soon.

The private middle school, located at the corners of Currier and Beech Hill roads, can hold up to 90 students, but Head of School Rick Johnson says they have found their “sweet spot” with a current enrollment of about 40 kids.

“This fits perfectly with what we’re trying to do,” he said. “A sense of family and community is what makes our school work.”

The small school first opened in 2012, occupying the space left by the defunct Hopkinton Independent School after it filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Beech Hill had eight students in its first year when it offered grades six and seven. It added eighth-grade in 2013 and grew to 27 kids in 2015.

Standalone middle schools are somewhat rare among private institutions, and Johnson said that feedback from parents indicated a demand for fifth-grade as an entry point into middle school.

School founder Emily Ricard says adding another grade has always been a part of the school’s long-term plans.

“We always knew we were going to expand a year, but ninth-grade doesn’t make sense,” Ricard said. “We want kids to leave here and go to high school.”

The school has been on steady financial ground since 2015 when two anonymous donors made a $1.3 million contribution. Still, the tuition is $15,500 per student for the current school year, and Johnson said more than half receive financial aid.

“We are stable and getting stronger all the time,” Johnson said. “We have no debt, as the $1.3 million gift allowed us to erase all start-up costs, and we have – through the generosity of donors, most especially our founder, Emily Ricard – been able to use the annual fund to close the gap each year between revenue and operations.”

The new fifth-grade class has eight students and is taught by Mark Holt, who on Wednesday led his students through an activity where they designed their own superhero capes. On the back, students used words and drawings to illustrate who they are and what they like.

After 15 years as a teacher, coach and dorm parent at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, Holt was tapped to develop the fifth-grade curriculum at Beech Hill.

“I love developing new programs because it’s like having an untilled field,” he said. “There are so many possibilities that exist.”

The school has five courses covering math, social studies, English, Spanish and science. While grades six through eight transition classrooms between subjects, the fifth-graders stay in their homeroom setting.

The students attending the day school come from various towns around the region, including many from Hopkinton and Concord. A few students from the Manchester area ride a shuttle in each morning.

The school began meeting with applicants for the fifth-grade teaching job in January. After six steady years, Johnson and Ricard felt the school and its staff were ready to make the addition.

“When we’re good and ready, then we do it,” he said. “We’re ready now, so let’s do it.”