Des Moines' first charter school in more than a decade welcomed its inaugural classes this week.
On Thursday, Horizon Science Academy families walked students — many dressed in the school's uniform of a dark green polo and khaki-colored pants or skirts — into Franklin Junior High School, 4801 Franklin Ave. Like any other first day of school, staff greeted the new arrivals outside and in the hall as families snapped photos.
From there students were escorted by staff or their parents to Horizon's second-floor location for breakfast, with a choice of Honey Nut Cheerios or Golden Grahams and a banana catered by Hy-Vee.
Zymere Brown and his mother, Charisse Brown, were one of dozens of families who spent the first few minutes of the new school year together.
“It's a sad day. I'm excited that he's starting. He's excited. He's been excited all morning,” Brown said as she walked with her son through the hall. “Now he's got a little nerves now that I'm leaving.”
Brown, a Des Moines Public Schools' graduate, is glad there are education options for families besides public school in the area.
“I'm just happy though we have these types of schools now,” she said. "Rather than the public schools, there's another option for us.”
Bringing the tuition-free charter school to Des Moines was a long process spearheaded by Roger Brooks and Sunnie Richer, who have backgrounds in business.
The school is now overseen by a local board and Concept Schools, an Illinois-based, nonprofit charter school management company. Concept manages more than 30 schools across the country.
Many of Concept's schools target students of color from low-income neighborhoods. As of Friday, Horizon's student body is 34% Black, 32% white, 20% Hispanic, 11% multirace and 2% Asian.
Before students arrived Thursday morning, the school's 20 teachers and staff could be heard talking softly, singing and one person even strummed a guitar. After a group picture in the sunny main office, the staff scattered to greet the 40 kindergarten students expected that day.
Horizon's small staff knows it will have to be flexible as the school year gets underway, said Principal Laura Cannon. This could mean teaching a different grade than expected or holding a completely new job.
“I was very thoughtful during the hiring process to be able to have some people with some flexibility,” Cannon said.
This has been especially pertinent because student enrollment fell short of the 190-student cap. As of Friday, enrollment sat at 96 students, with kindergarten students making up the majority.
Cannon is hopeful the K-3 school's enrollment could still grow but, for now, is focusing on getting the year off to a good start. This includes having teachers make home visits and focusing on the school’s hands-on approach to learning and science.
“If somebody wants to make a shift in the middle of the school year, we are open and excited for new students,” she said.
While all this happens in the background, students like Zymere are just excited to play with new friends and figuring out where the school keeps its computers.