By Seth Chitwood, Standard-Times Reporter
Published Jan. 11, 2022
NEW BEDFORD — Scholars and teachers at Alma del Mar Charter School kicked off 2022 by finally moving into the new Frederick Douglass campus on Church Street.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment,” said Taylor DeLoach, principal of the new school. “This is a really critical, positive moment for us.”
Founded in 2011, Alma del Mar announced it was opening a second campus for students K-8 in August 2019.
The Sarah D. Ottiwell Campus on Belleville Ave., is completely separate from this campus.
The Douglass Campus first opened in a temporary space at Immaculate Conception then in 2021, grew to include space at Fisher College and Christian Fellowship Center. This will be the first time that the elementary and middle schoolers will share the same building.
“Alma is already a community facing school, we really pride ourselves on knowing each other. And the space to be able to do that is really exciting,” DeLoach added.
“It’s an opportunity for us all to be together and really re-establish that sense of community.”
In Dec. 2019, Alma purchased four acres of land in the North End. This deal involved the purchase, and eventual demolition, of a home at 739 Church St. in order to create the primary egress for the campus, said Becca Kurie, director of development.
In Sep. 2020, the Alma community celebrated the official groundbreaking.
More than 100 trees and 50 shrubs were planted on site, and a ¼ acre wetland was conserved and protected as part of this project.
Construction took about 15 months, and despite the pandemic, the project was only delayed by a few weeks.
Inside Alma del Mar’s new school
On Monday, scholars were met outside with noisemakers and signs to welcome them onto the campus. DeLoach said the plan was to have a normal school day, but to move a little slower, as everyone’s still figuring out how to navigate the building.
“Our message to teachers has been to treat this like the first two weeks of school, like it’s August, and kids have been out for the summer,” DeLoach said.
“Teachers have made a lot of plans to kind of reteach what it means to be a scholar in school based on the fact that we’re in this new building.”
The 51,800 square foot school building includes three levels: the lower level has a cafeteria, gymnasium, front lobby and unique learning stairs (similar to an amphitheater).
Local artists Fitzcarmel LaMarre and Brian Tillett created a mural in the cafeteria to honor Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna Murray, and their time in downtown New Bedford.
“It’s definitely like a central piece in in the school,” DeLoach added. “All the kids get to see it every single day. So that feels really special.”
DeLoach said executive director Will Gardner came up with the idea to name the school after the leader of the abolitionist movement. There is a portrait of Douglass located at the front entrance, near the main office, too.
The second and third levels have 30 classrooms, a library and small group rooms for specialists. The current enrollment is 500 scholars, but in fall 2022, the student body will increase to 594.
“Everyone has a space that is specifically tailored for their work,” DeLoach said. “The building is going to meet a lot of the needs.”
As for COVID-19 precautions, the school consulted with a company to install a strong HVAC system and air flow. The classrooms have giant accessible windows, too.
“And then being masked remains really important; handwashing, incorporating mask breaks during the day, so scholars don’t feel like they’re masked up all the time, too,” DeLoach added.
Transitioning to one building
DeLoach said she’s optimistic for a smooth transition. Sharing photos and videos, the scholars have been updated about the progress since its inception.
“We really built up excitement around that,” DeLoach said. “But still thoughtful about the fact that even though this is a really exciting moment, there are things about it that are going to be challenging.”
Middle schoolers who were based in Fisher College had access to an early tour. Scholars who struggle with transitions and needed extra support had individual meetings with their families and created transition plans.
On Friday, DeLoach and Kurie shared a slideshow during a “closing circle” with teachers. “I’m also grateful to the teachers who have endured so much over the last three years,” DeLoach added. “They deserve this building too.”
DeLoach says she hopes scholars will be as excited when they see how much thought was put into the building’s design to accommodate all their educational needs.
“They deserve a place that is warm and safe and welcoming, and is designed for the educational outcomes that we want them to get to,” DeLoach said.
“I hope the message to our scholars, their families and to the wider New Bedford community, is that our kids deserve this building.”
Alma is accepting applications for the 2022-2023 school year and anticipates enrolling 200 new scholars in K-6 through an enrollment lottery scheduled for Feb. 23.
The application is available in multiple languages at www.almadelmar.org/apply and the deadline is Feb. 21
Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.