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Five acres of change
by MICHAEL DASHIELL
In the beginning, it was a 10-student school and a vision.
The idea, Bill Jevne says, is that the school would not only let children grow and be a part of their own education through expression, but that a community would form around them, including educators and parents, to foster that creativity and ingenuity.
“You can’t educate a child without the family,” Juanita Ramsey-Jevne says. “That was an essential part of it.”
Come the first of the New Year, an essential part of Five Acre School will change.
Bill Jevne and Juanita Ramsey-Jevne, who created the school in 1995 and built it from 10 preschoolers and kindergartners to an 80-plus-student education center teaching children through sixth grade, give way to new owners Brian Walsh and Autumn Piontek-Walsh.
Piontek-Walsh will take over as director of the school in January as Jevne looks to retirement — or semi-retirement, as he hints at.
“I can be like the grandpa,” Jevne says with a grin. “I’m really ready for retirement. I’m so confident in the future of this school (that) I’m not having a hard time with it.”
After meeting with parents of students at the school recently, Jevne says, “It felt right.”
So why the change now?
“It’s called age,” Ramsey-Jevne says, laughing. “This is something that we’ve been trying to work toward for years.”
The goal, she says, was to train people in the program and let them replace the founders eventually.
“We wanted it to be an evolutionary change,” Jevne says, but some who had years in training eventually moved on.
Parents of three boys at the school, Walsh and Piontek-Walsh moved to Sequim a dozen years ago when Walsh’s parents retired to the area.
Walsh and Piontek-Walsh have a background in education. Though Piontek-Walsh taught in schools in Chicago, she says, “I loved teaching and kids, but not the bureaucracy.”
Piontek-Walsh went on to work at First Step Family Support Center and taught parenting classes. She went back to school for a master’s degree in psychology and had a private therapy practice for youths and families.
Walsh worked in Peninsula College’s WorkFirst program and has served as director of Corrections Education for Peninsula College at Clallam Bay and Olympic corrections centers since 2008.
It was a Five Acre School play at Peninsula College several years ago that first attracted Piontek-Walsh.
“Just seeing what kids and adults could do, I was sold,” she says. “I wanted my kids to be part of that situation.”
Says Walsh, “It’s hard to find a school where kids want to go, even when they’re sick. (They) feel like it’s their place.”
Perhaps that’s why the transition is going so smoothly so far, the two couples note. When Walsh asked the Explorer Class (grades 3-6) what they though about the change, he says the students started talking about how they could take part in the change and help make the school better.
“There’s a lot of ownership at this school,” Ramsey-Jevne adds.
Another aspect Walsh said was attractive about the school is how much instructors involve the natural surroundings to the curriculum.
Looking ahead, looking back
“It’s really humbling to see this idea,” Ramsey-Jevne says.
She recalls when her husband proposed the burgeoning idea of what would become Five Acre School.
“Bill came out of nowhere and said, ‘I want to start a school.’ I said, ‘Wow, we never talked about that!’”
Enrollment at Five Acre School has swelled to as many as 85 and sees about 80 students now in multi-age classes: Primary (pre-kindergarten through kindergarten), Discovery (kindergarten through second grade) and Explorer classes.
But there may be room to grow, Walsh says, with middle school- and high school-age classes in the future.
“The philosophy won’t change at all,” he says, “(but) we may add a grade somehow. We tend have a wait list for kindergarten.”
Adds Piontek-Walsh, “Maybe a summer program. And after-school programs.”
“That’s the evolutionary change,” Jevne says.
Meanwhile, Jevne and Ramsey-Jevne will step back and stay on as de facto advisors as Piontek-Walsh and Walsh take over.
“It’s launched; it’s what every parent wants,” Ramsey Jevne says.
“That energy is moving on. Amazing and beautiful.”
See www.fiveacreschool.org for more information.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.