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TrekNorth school adding sixth grade

BEMIDJI – TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School is preparing to welcome sixth-graders onto its campus in the fall.

The school, which now has 160 students in grades 7-12, anticipates having 30-35 sixth-graders, in two sections, for the 2013-14 school year.

TrekNorth, a public charter school, defines itself as a college-preparatory school, developing its curriculum on advanced placement programming.

“We know that in getting kids to be successful in the AP program, the earlier the better,” said Dan McKeon, executive director. “Sixth grade is where we want to be.”

Planning for the expansion began more than three years ago, but adding a sixth grade requires the school’s relocation from the Simonson Center.

That move is now imminent. TrekNorth will open next fall at 1430 Paul Bunyan Drive NW.

The new building, now under construction, covers 21,000 square feet, and the site features a 3,500-square-foot garage and three acres of green space.

“It’s going to be a really good facility for us, a really great space,” McKeon said, noting the school now has 15,000 square feet.

TrekNorth, which opened in 2003 as a 9-12 high school, added seventh and eighth grades in the 2006-07 school year.

Adding a sixth grade makes sense, McKeon said, considering the traditional Bemidji school system: elementary schools are K-5, the middle school is 6-8, and high school is 9-12.

For some TrekNorth students, that means they attend an elementary school for fifth grade, the middle school for sixth and TrekNorth for seventh, or three different schools in three years.

Because of that, McKeon said, parents have asked TrekNorth to add a sixth grade.

“It’s really an alignment of public interest and what is in the best interest of TrekNorth in regards to its students, what is going to help them be the most successful,” he said.

The school has received approval for the expansion from its authorizer, Volunteers of America, and Minnesota Department of Education.

Already, about 20 families have indicated an interest in one of the sixth-grade spots. McKeon said the school’s lottery will be in May.

Sheri Humphrey, whose seventh-grade son, Logan, attends TrekNorth this year, is excited for her now-fifth-grade daughter Kylee to begin attending TrekNorth next year as well.

“There is such an involvement with the teachers and the students,” Humphrey said. “There’s really a family unity to (TrekNorth).”

Logan and Kylee both attended Cass Lake-Bena Middle School for fifth grade, and Logan stayed through sixth grade until he transferred to TrekNorth.

“He absolutely loves it,” Humphrey said, noting that Logan has now become a “recruiter” of sorts, talking to friends and cousins about TrekNorth’s benefits.

Kylee, too, is excited to attend TrekNorth, Humphrey said.

“Every time we drive by the new location, she’s like, ‘That’s my new school,’” Humphrey said.

Recognizing that sixth-grade students will be the school’s youngest, McKeon said special considerations are being taken to ensure their comfort and success.

The two sections, to have class sizes in the 15-17 range, will have two 100-minute blocks each day, one focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the other on humanities, which will include Minnesota history and Ojibwe heritage and language and visual arts.

Sixth-graders will have a version of TrekNorth’s outdoor and service-learning programming and may participate on extra-curricular activities, such as track, Knowledge Bowl and student council.

Proven, successful older students will interact closely with the sixth-grade as they go into their classrooms to serve as teaching assistants or serve as junior trip leaders on outdoor and service-learning activities.

“We want the sixth graders to contribute to the school community and to benefit from the school community,” McKeon said.