The classroom is noticeably absent of desks — in fact there are no chairs at all in Teach Elementary’s laboratory for innovation and exploration.
Instead, workstations fashioned after work benches are erected throughout the room.
Students listen intently as veteran teacher Guy Crabb talks about the excitement of inventing new products. “This is a place for thinking,” he said.
Students in the fourth-grade class are only a few days into their new school, which is on a new campus this year at 145 Grand Ave., near the entrance to Cal Poly.
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The Grand Avenue site is now home two to burgeoning schools: Teach Elementary, a public school with 180 students, and SLO Classical Academy, a K-12 private school with 300 students.
Teach Elementary, a San Luis Coastal school for academically accelerated fourth- to sixth-grade students, moved to the new location at the direction of the school board after years of sharing a campus with Bishop’s Peak Elementary on the city’s northwest side. That site was running out of room, and Teach faced possible closure as a result.
Parents and community members protested publicly to save it, prompting the move.
SLO Classical Academy, which has been renting space at the Grand Avenue site for eight years, has a lease to rent a large portion of the campus through 2018 at a cost of $208,116 annually.
The San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which owns the site, has not operated an elementary school on the campus since 2001 when it closed the old Pacheco Elementary amid declining enrollment and budget constraints.
The district has long leased the site for additional revenue. Moving Teach Elementary to the campus displaced several other tenants, including some charter schools, a preschool and the University of San Luis Obispo School of Law.
Although little separates Teach and SLO Classical Academy besides a small chain-link fence and purposeful class scheduling, the schools operate independently.
So far, teachers and students agree that the move has been successful despite concerns about safety posed last year when the idea was first discussed.
“I really like it because it feels like our own,” said Teach sixth-grader Maggie Zuniga, 11.
Teach principal James McMillen said careful planning led to a successful start to the school year. “We really did think through all the scenarios and try to plan accordingly,” he said.
Susie Theule, director of SLO Classical Academy, said the two schools are learning to share the campus and coordinate their schedules to make the best use of the shared spaces. Students share a long outdoor hallway, restrooms and occasionally the playground. The schools also share a multipurpose room.
“We are just stepping up safety and security,” Theule said. “There are a lot more kids on campus and a lot of new faces. We are asking for more parent help and have hired new playground help.”
Theule said she is looking for a new site for the academy’s high school students, which will allow the younger grade classes to grow in the next few years while the lease remains in place.
Crabb, who started teaching at Teach Elementary seven years ago, said the new campus has given the school an invigorated sense of pride. For the first time, the school will fly the Blue Ribbon flag it received in 2012.
Crabb was one of several people who worked throughout the summer — up to the weekend before school started on Aug. 25 — to get the new campus ready.
“I love it,” said Crabb. “I am grateful for all who supported letting this happen.”