Q&A: Jeff Bell on the new Beacon Academy

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Beacon Academy is a new Montessori-based high school, slated to open in Evanston on Aug. 25. The school is the first of its kind in the area, and it will be admitting high school freshmen and sophomores for its inaugural school year. Currently, 31 students are enrolled for the freshman and sophomore classes, and the school will add a grade each subsequent year, said Kate Anderson, director of admissions and marketing.

Jeff Bell, head of school for Beacon, gave a quick rundown on how this teaching method, perhaps best known for early childhood and elementary learning, will affect high school-aged Evanstonians.

Q. Beacon Academy will be a Montessori-based high school. Can you explain what this means?

A. There are some other Montessori high schools in the Midwest — in Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Paul. The reason we list “Montessori-based” is because there is no Montessori high school accreditation that we can earn to be an official Montessori school.

Q. What is the impact/importance of a school such as this in Evanston, in Illinois and in the Midwest? Why is Evanston a good place for this?

A. Evanston is an ideal location because of the richness of the community. We will be partnering with a number of local institutions, including Northwestern University, Piven Theatre, The Musical Offering, Evanston Arts Center and McGaw YMCA, to name a few. We have an open campus because we want our students to have access to the richness and texture of the Evanston community and participate in the many businesses and nonprofits that call this town home.

Q. What examples of the Montessori-based learn by doing would apply to high school level curriculum?

A. Working with experts outside of the faculty on specific projects and taking advantage of our flexible schedule to work on projects of their own design. We commit approximately 20 percent of our schedule to open work time so that students can take responsibility for their homework and special projects, similar to Google’s 80/20 model [which centers on 80 percent of one’s time spent on core projects and 20 percent spent on innovation activities].

Q. How did your April 27 fundraiser for school operations and supplies go?

A. We raised over $60,000, and our goal was $25,000. (People can still contribute via the school’s online wish list of supplies and via tuition assistance donations at beaconacademy.org.)

Beacon will host a community open house in early August and a formal admissions open house on Nov. 15. Visitors are welcome at any time at the new campus, located at 622 Davis St.