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Star Lab

Newtown Families Welcome Star Lab

| Jodi Schwarzenbach |

A new and innovative school for children entering kindergarten this fall is opening in Newtown.  With a seasoned educator at the helm promising to fill her students’ days with the essential mix of learning and play and focusing on the academic success and happiness of the whole child, parents are excited to experience this new learning environment.  We had the pleasure of speaking with Star Lab’s Star Lab – Star Lab founding Principal, Alison Rini on what the journey has been like to open a school from idea to inception.

What was the impetus to apply for a grant that would allow you to open a new school? Please discuss the process of receiving the news you had been selected for a Drexel award and what the timeline has been like since then.  

I’ve worked in education for over 20 years, as a teacher and administrator of all different ages and in public, charter, and private schools. I was working at a public Title I school in North Port during the pandemic, and observing the impact of different states closing schools for different periods of time really illuminated the fundamental challenges of a one-size-fits-all model for education. We had desperate families moving to Florida from states where their child had been sitting in their living room for 18 months, with very little learning going on. It was impossible to sort children into academic classes by age because they had had such varying amounts of preparation, and I knew there had to be a better way.

Star Lab

I applied for a fellowship to pilot a new model – mastery learning, where students move through a progression of skills at their own pace. It was a complex application process with numerous steps, and when I received the phone call that I was selected I felt so lucky. Education is my passion and to have this chance to apply everything I have learned to offer kids both learning and joy is such an honor. I am deeply grateful for the support from this visionary program.

Can you share how your experiences as an esteemed educator at many types of schools will shape the trajectory of Star Lab?

I am taking something from lots of different experiences at many different schools. When I started teaching at PS 6 in New York City, my students and I really cared about each other, and so I am always going to start with relationships. When I worked at Country Day School in the Virgin Islands, we did immersive projects and class plays, and I saw how these opportunities to apply learning in different contexts supported student growth and deeper understanding. When I worked at Forty Carrots, I learned the fundamental importance of social skills and how to teach these concepts through lessons and play. Working at Island Village Montessori was an incredible gift, and I am drawing upon Montessori lessons and materials to offer students individualized learning without leaning on computer programs and screens. Working at Pine View, I was electrified by the brilliance of the children, and I am committed to developing a model where students can learn without limits. At Cranberry I extended my learning about the benefits of movement and motor labs, and I am now fusing together all of these elements to create something new that I think will truly serve children as well as their teachers.  

What grades will Star Lab serve and what areas of instruction/social enrichment will you pursue?  What will a typical day in the life of a Star Lab student entail?

Star Lab will start with just 20 students in kindergarten, and we will add a grade each year to encompass the whole elementary span of K-5th grade. Every day starts with Motor Lab movement and mindfulness to prepare students’ bodies and minds to be successful.

Monday – Thursday, we focus on academic lessons, with students working on individualized lessons from reading, writing, math, science, and social studies for 45 minutes each hour, with the last 15 minutes of every hour reserved for outdoor free play.

On Fridays we will do large group activities – drama, sports, projects, and field trips – to build background knowledge and vocabulary and extend the students’ learning beyond the walls of the building.

We are weaving together intentional direct instruction with indirect opportunities for application and insight, with a productive rhythm of focus and movement.

What will differentiate Star Lab from other schools in the area?

Star Lab’s program is a fusion of Montessori materials with Finnish principles of movement and freedom. There are few things that set us apart:

  • We believe that children learn with their hands, and we are committed to developing deep conceptual understanding by starting their learning with hands-on materials that illustrate academic concepts.
  • We are not a traditional Montessori school, however, in that we break up the day with hourly Brain Breaks to play outside. These brain breaks allow children to relax and be free after working hard, and it helps prepare their minds and bodies for the next session of learning.
  • We cultivate lifelong skills that support mental and emotional health by starting every day with 25 minutes of vigorous exercise as well as 5 minutes of mindfulness. Both exercise and mindfulness are protective against anxiety and depression, which are becoming far too common in our society.
  • We want to honor and support each family’s own goals for their children – we have an open-door policy for parents, and we actively solicit your suggestions for what your own child needs.

We believe that every child can learn at high levels, and we commit to parents that their children will be on or above grade level and enjoy the process of learning!

What is Star Quest?

Star Quest is a monthly program we offer in the evenings where parents can come and see their child’s level of learning. Children visit different literacy stations (aligned to end of year standards for PreK, K, or 1st grade) and parents can watch to see what the child already knows how to do. If a child has mastered the content at a station they receive stickers, and if they need support, we provide suggestions for the parent to take home. We love to support parents in guiding their own children – they are the most important teachers of all!

Star Lab

Please discuss opening date, tuition, and scholarship opportunities for area families

Star Lab is opening as a full-day kindergarten on Monday, August 19th, 2024! Enrollment is open now, and we will be accepting 20 students for our inaugural year.

Star Lab is a private school, which allows us to offer a customized program. The great news for parents is that all families are eligible for a state scholarship to pay for, or greatly reduce, the cost for your child to attend. Step Up for Students is a scholarship program, and last year they awarded about $8400 to each kindergarten family in Sarasota to use at the private school of their choice.

Star Lab’s tuition is income-based and ranges from $8400 (which would be fully covered by the state scholarship) to $10,400 (which would result in an out-of-pocket payment of $2000 for the year for families who make use of the state scholarship). We believe the value of our program is much higher than that, but we are committed to meeting the rest of our financial needs through fundraising to make sure this world-class education is accessible to all.

Will Star Lab be offering any summer camps or other opportunities for parents to tour the facility before fall? 

We are working on options for summer learning for enrolled students, so stay tuned on that front. In the meantime, Star Lab is open every Saturday morning for parents and children to come tour the facility and learn about the program. Check out our website to see exact dates and times, and sign-up for a visit! We can’t wait to meet you!

For more information, please visit Star Lab – Star Lab.

Photos courtesy of Star Lab. 

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