Siblings find safety, inspiration & second family at charter school

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Dylan Stanton refers to educator Glenn Goodwin as “The God of Teachers.” Once bullied, Dylan has thrived at Renaissance Charter School at Tradition.

Dylan Stanton was routinely bullied at his former school. A boy in his third-grade class hit him, pushed him off benches, stole his money. Once, he rammed Dylan face-first into a fence.

At the same school, another student once held a sharp metal file to the throat of his older sister Kaitlyn.

Not surprisingly, they did not thrive there.

But now, Dylan, 11, and Kaitlyn, 13, are safe and learning on an accelerated path, thanks to Renaissance Charter School at Tradition. It’s a K-8 charter school in Port. St. Lucie, Florida, which they’ve attended for two years.

“My friend kept telling me about this school, the tutoring and after-school programs and all the extra help,” said Jennifer Stanton, their mother. “I contemplated for a while, but the bullying at the other school helped me make up my mind.”

“We’ve been very happy here. They’re just easier to work with. They’re open to ideas and parent involvement.”

Accessing a new school did more than help the Stantons overcome bullying.

A few years ago, Dylan was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At his former school, he struggled in math and was reading below his grade level.

Renaissance placed him in an online after-school reading program called Reading Plus, which develops a student’s silent reading stamina and fluency, while building vocabulary and comprehension, increasing their confidence and expanding their interests.

Thanks largely to his reading gains, Dylan’s grades have soared – along with his self-confidence. He loves science fiction and imagines a space-traveling future.

“I want to be the first person to step on Mars – to colonize Mars,” he said, adding he wants to pilot the rocket that takes him there.

Kaitlyn Stanton used to hate going to school, until she attended Renaissance Charter at Tradition, where her reading scores soared.

Kaitlyn, an eighth-grader, exhibited some of the same learning difficulties as Dylan, but not as severe. Her mother said the turbulent environment at her old school made her anxious. She, too, struggled most with reading, but Reading Plus has benefited her, as well.

But now “she’s now well above where she needs to be,” said reading teacher Andrea Ortega.

That has “made everything much easier” academically, Jennifer Stanton said.

“She used to hate school and hated to read,” she said. “I think this has given her the confidence to push herself in school.”

Kaitlyn is a dancer who specializes in ballet, jazz, acrobatic and lyrical dancing (but “hates” tap).  While she hasn’t settled on a possible future career, she knows she wants a job that will someday enable her to buy a Range Rover.

This fall, she’ll attend St. Lucie West Centennial High School. It’s a district school where she was accepted into the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education Program, which offers challenging college-level classes for high school students.

Kaitlyn spoke of her future between classes, while students wearing red, white or blue polo-style Renaissance shirts passed by in orderly, single-file lines.

The charter school is located in a rapidly developing area of Port St. Lucie, on Florida’s east coast between West Palm Beach and Vero Beach.

The 64,466-square-foot, two-story facility opened in 2013. A tuition-free public charter school, it’s governed by Renaissance Charter Schools, part of the Charter Schools USA network. The district recently renewed it for 15 years. In 2016-17, the state rated it a B academically.

Principal Stacy Schmit said the school strives to make the personal connections with students and parents that are key to student success. She credited Stanton for having high expectations for her children and working in tandem with their teachers.

“She very much empowers the kids to be drivers of their own education,” Schmit said. “She’s a great mom and she pushes them.”

Renaissance also has a Cambridge program. It’s available to third- through fifth-graders and aims to develop critical-thinking skills and encourage collaboration. Last year, Stanton urged Dylan to apply, and he was accepted.

“There are more projects and it’s an accelerated class,” said Glenn Goodwin, Dylan’s fifth-grade teacher. “Dylan’s definitely in the upper range of where he needs to be. He’s gone up in (every subject) over last year, but he’s had the most gains in reading and science.”

Dylan calls Goodwin “The God of Teachers.” Stanton credits him for engaging Dylan’s interests.

At 5-foot-7, Goodwin, 42, is powerfully built, with a large tattoo on his left arm and an upbeat personality to match his youthful energy. He’s well-known for enhancing classroom studies with real-life stories from his globetrotting life. For years, he lived and traveled in Thailand, Ecuador and South Korea, among other countries, where he taught English with his wife.

During a recent lesson on animal behavior, he described what happened when he and his wife got off his motorcycle in Thailand to feed monkeys.

While Renaissance has helped Dylan and Kaitlyn flourish academically, it’s also helped with needs beyond the classroom.

Jennifer Stanton’s mother and uncle both recently died, and she was diagnosed with a heart condition. In December, as the family was heading to Renaissance for “Breakfast with Santa,” their car was totaled in a multi-vehicle crash.

A single mother who works as a nurse, Stanton couldn’t afford Dylan’s hyperactivity medication for a month as she searched for a new car. The other challenges made it difficult for her to juggle her kids’ schedules.

Kaitlyn has dance classes a few days a week and played on the school’s volleyball team. Dylan participates in wrestling, baseball, football and tae kwon do.

Stanton turned to her best friend, Karla Nelson, who’s also the school nurse. When Stanton’s mom was hospitalized for extended periods, Nelson and her husband, who have three kids of their own, stepped up to care for Dylan and Kaitlyn.

“It truly takes a village to help raise children,” Stanton said. “This school is like family.”

About Florida’s charter schools

Florida is home to more than 650 public charter schools, enrolling more than 280,000 students. Sixty-two percent are black or Hispanic; more than half qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. As of September 2017, the state classified 171 charter schools as academically high-performing.

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