CHAMPAIGN – When Lauren Taaffe's daughter Sophia reached kindergarten age, Taaffe chose to send her to Next Generation School, a private primary and middle school in Champaign.
"We liked the atmosphere of the school and the curriculum," Taaffe said. "It included so much – Spanish as well as reading, basic arithmetic skills, learning how to learn. We really liked the comprehensive curriculum – music, art, PE, the whole package."
Taaffe also liked what she described as a friendly, caring atmosphere. With more parents like Taaffe choosing Next Generation, the school's enrollment is growing, and so is its space.
Next Generation School will start construction before the end of the year on a building just southeast of its early childhood program at 1201 W. Windsor Road, C.
The primary and middle school has been growing steadily in its first couple of years. It started with 60 students in August 2004, and doubled its enrollment to 121 students last year. This year it has 163 students, and school officials expect more than 200 for next year, said Erin Tarr, associate director for the school.
Middle school enrollment has increased from seven students its first year to 20 this year.
The school's classrooms are currently split between two buildings, and a third building provides space for after-school programs for public schoolchildren.
Tarr said the school uses every bit of space it has. Last week, a small "gallery" room in the primary school was being used by a tutor because the conference room was occupied. The room is also used for music lessons and for small groups of students working on math and Spanish, as well as to display artwork.
Developer George Shapland, who owns all the buildings that house Next Generation classrooms except for the early childhood program, will own the new building and lease it to the school.
The two-story, 38,700-square-foot building will have 14 classrooms and a full-size gym when it is finished. It will be built in two phases, with the first to include the gym and office space in the center of the building and one wing with seven classrooms. It is scheduled to be finished in August 2007.
Taaffe is excited Sophia will start first grade in the new building when it opens.
"A new building with a gym and new classrooms is a great thing," she said. "It's all about choice."
The second phase will add seven more classrooms, including an art room, a science room and a classroom for foreign language or music, plus a kitchen. When the building is completed, it will have room for 265 students.
If more space is needed in the future, the building is designed to accommodate additions on either end, which would add four classrooms each.
Even after the new building is done, the school will still use its space at 2533 Galen Drive. That space now holds a pre-kindergarten classroom and rooms for kindergarten through third/fourth grade. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms will remain there, and the rest will be in the new building.
The fifth through eighth grades are now housed in the same building as Cardinal Fitness, at 2416 Galen Drive. Those classrooms will move into the new building when it's done, and the school will no longer use the Cardinal Fitness building.
It will also move out of 2502 Galen Drive, which is now used for after-school programs.
The school started with combined first/second and third/fourth grade classrooms and a combined middle school. Tarr said the school has been adding a classroom each year, so now the first and second grade students are in their own classrooms. Next year, the school will add a separate third-grade classroom.
The school doesn't actually use number grades, but refers to its classrooms by letter. It doesn't move children from one classroom to another strictly based on age, but rather on their academic and social abilities and needs, Tarr said.
She said the school's students come from home schools, other private schools and public schools, as well as from families just moving to the community. She said the school does very little advertising, and its growth has been through word-of-mouth.
Many of its kindergarten students come from the early childhood program, which is well-known in the community, Tarr said. But residents are often surprised that Next Generation also has a primary and middle school.
"People are still discovering us," she said.
A high school is the natural next step, Tarr said, but although it has been considered, there are no firm plans for a future high school.