SOUL charter school lands in Solana Beach

The San Dieguito Union High School District’s first charter school, the School of Universal Learning (SOUL), has finally found its home. SOUL will open for its first day of school on Aug. 29 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito Harper Branch in Solana Beach.

Securing a facility had been founders Michael Grimes and Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman’s biggest challenge and now that one has been locked down, it is finally feeling real.

“It grounded everything and made it official,” said Grimes.

“When the first student walks in the door it will be a culmination of all of our life’s work,” said Bruyneel-Fogelman, a Carmel Valley resident. “I’ll be emotional. I’ve worked for that moment for a long time.”

Grimes and Bruyneel-Fogelman said they believe strongly in supporting students in a positive environment and teaching to all parts of a student’s being, including social skills and personal development, and creating a connection to their passions and purpose so they are able to thrive holistically.

Education at SOUL will include experience-based and project-based learning with required electives such as entrepreneurship and essential life skills. All of the Common Core State Standards will be mastered and students will be assessed with MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests and Smarter Balanced Assessment tests like all public schools.

A typical day will also include their unique “Integra” program in which students participate in a morning meditation, a midday focus on self-development and an end-of-the-day reflection session.

Together, Bruyneel-Fogelman and Grimes have been working on their vision for SOUL for the last six years. As the opening of SOUL represents a dream come true, it will be hard to keep the two educators out of the classroom. Both hope to take part in teaching life skills or entrepreneurship classes and the plan is for one of them to be in the classroom connecting with students while one is in the office.

It has been a long, six-month search to find a place for the school to call home. The San Diego County Board of Education approved the charter school in January for a two-year term and SOUL just signed the lease in Solana Beach on July 17.

They had been targeting Encinitas for SOUL’s campus and ruled out several commercial locations due to lengthy permitting and zoning processes and lots of red tape. They also considered several churches, nearly every church in the district up to Carlsbad.

Grimes and Bruyneel-Fogelman said that after visiting the Boys & Girls Clubs and meeting with Andrew Brosche, the chief operating officer, they found a perfect match.

“He said, ‘We love kids here’ and we knew, finally, this is a go,” Grimes said. “They’re so excited for us to be there and we really couldn’t be happier.”

“It’s such a beautiful partnership because we’re so aligned in our mission to serve youth,” Bruyneel-Fogelman said.

At the Boys & Girls Clubs Harper Branch in Solana Beach, SOUL will be utilizing rooms that previously sat unused all day and also will be able to take advantage of the club’s “wonderful” outdoor spaces, such as the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle’s garden.

The rooms have a maximum capacity for 125 students so the only downfall is that the club won’t work as a long-term location, meaning SOUL is still on the journey toward a permanent home. Once SOUL gets 80 students from the San Dieguito Union High School District, the district is required by Prop 39 to provide classroom space. SOUL will have to petition for the rooms by Nov. 1.

“Our long-time goal is to build our own facility, and hopefully that happens sooner rather than later,” Bruyneel-Fogelman said.

Enrollment has been guided by word of mouth and SOUL currently has 50 students — SOUL is limited by its petition to the 7th and 9th grades in the first year. The second year SOUL will offer 7-10th grade, 11th grade in the third year and 12th grade in the fourth. By full build-out, they would like to have 100 students per grade.

“We feel like it’s a school that will sell itself,” Grimes said. “Once more people hear about it, I know our enrollment will fill up.”

Over the last several weeks they have been holding planning sessions with their “incredible” staff as educators are coming together from all over to be a part of SOUL. They have scored a math teacher who spent several years teaching in Colombia, an English teacher was the “Teacher of the Year” for the state of Arizona and a science teacher taught who has taught in Singapore and Chile and developed curriculum for young adult entrepreneurs in Uganda. The art teacher, Justin Moodie, grew up in the San Dieguito district and attended Earl Warren and Torrey Pines. He began his career teaching at Canyon Crest Academy and Carmel Valley Middle School and is coming to SOUL from the Bay Area where he just earned his administrative services credential from the Principal Leadership Institute at UC Berkeley.

SOUL will also be holding a “SOULbration Benefit” on Saturday, Aug. 5 at the Boys & Girls Clubs Harper Branch in Solana Beach from 6-10 p.m. (address:533 Lomas Santa Fe Solana Beach, 92075). The event will feature live music, food and drinks, a silent auction and a raffle to celebrate the school’s accomplishments and coming school year. Visit bit.ly/2eGj3jP

At the benefit, SOUL will also launch its crowdfunding effort “Project 1:Be the SOULution,” which will help raise funds for the school to implement all of its innovative programs.

“We’re not just a school, we’re a movement to create a new model of education,” Bruyneel-Fogelman said, noting every dollar counts. “Everyone has $1 to help support the transformation of education. There are so many discussions about education reform and all of the problems. We want to be the solution.”

To learn more about SOUL, visit soulcharterschool.org

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