Lifeline rendering

The is a rendering of the new Lifeline Youth Ministries facility, which is expected to be completed by summer of 2023. The facility at 2375 Prairie St. will house the Premier Arts Academy.

ELKHART — A new charter school opening in Elkhart next fall is focused on integrating arts into its curriculum as a creative educational approach.

The Premier Arts Academy will open for the 2023-24 school year at the newly constructed Hub, owned and operated by Lifeline Youth Ministries, 2375 Prairie St.

The K-8 school is a free, chartered public school offering integrated arts and core academic learning. The school is authorized by and accountable to the Ball State University Office of Charter Schools.

Ashley Molyneaux, who will serve as the head of school for the academy, said the school will provide a new option for education using challenge-based learning and arts and integration to develop academic excellence and intellectual curiosity in students.

“The biggest gap that I see in our region in education is innovation,” she said. “It’s the bravery to do something different and not fall prey to this whole test score mentality where everyone’s focused on test preparation and the scores aren’t much better.”

At Premier Arts Academy, Molyneaux said, the students’ interests will be at the core of its approach. Students will not be boxed by traditional classroom spaces but instead will be interacting with arts and culture in the real world, she said.

“We want things kids care about to be at the heart of what they’re learning because then all the learning comes a lot easier when they are engaged and care about what they are learning,” Molyneaux said.

Premier Arts Academy will be the second charter school in Elkhart next to the Excel Center, which offers high school education for adults.

Charter schools are publicly funded free schools that generally do not require entrance exams, interviews or auditions that often come with private school admission.

Charters have more flexibility than public schools. Public schools dictate curriculum and standards in all schools whereas charters operate autonomously through individual agreements, or charters, with state or local governments that dictate rules and performance standards.

To that end, charters can tailor their curriculum, academic focus, discipline policy and other matters generally decided at the school district or state board level.

Like public schools, charters must have open enrollment policies, may not charge tuition and cannot discriminate based on disability, race, gender, national origin, religion or ancestry.

Enrollment at Premier Arts Academy will be open to all Indiana residents, however, there will be a limited number of spots as the school ushers in a “responsible and sustainable growth plan,” officials said.

Guaranteed space will be given to students enrolled and admitted the prior year whose families complete the Returning Student Confirmation Form by the lottery deadline and priority in the lottery will be given to siblings of students already enrolled and children of employees or board members.

If fully completed applications exceed the number of spaces, available applications will be drawn by a random selection lottery process, which will be held within a week of the close of open enrollment.

A resident of The Lerner Theatre, Premier Arts has brought community theater and educational programming to the region for more than a dozen years and boasts thousands of participants, audience members and volunteers each season, officials said.

“The fact that this is happening under the Premier Arts umbrella is important because PA is a credible name as far as arts are concerned in Elkhart and Indiana in general,” Molyneaux said. “Also, we have a couple of thousand people who participate in our programming every year and have families who say they want this for their kids. So, this is essentially being responsive for what the community is asking – something different.”

As the leader of the charter school, Molyneaux brings more than a decade of education experience to the post. She earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude at DePauw University in Chicago as well as two Master of Education degrees – one in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University Chicago and another in administrative leadership from National Louis University

She’s worked as a high school teacher and administrator in Chicago-area schools for eight years.

Her experience in education led her to take a closer look at what was happening in her hometown school district. With her sister, Hayley Boling, Molyneaux co-founded the Elkhart Education Foundation and served as the nonprofit’s executive director from 2015 until 2021.

“I moved back to Elkhart to make education better in my hometown when I came to start the Education Foundation, and then I saw a new way to create innovation in education and that’s something I want for my own kids and the community,” she said.

The school will begin by serving students in grades K-6 in 2023, K-7 in 2024 and then K-8 in 2025. It will serve about 25 children per grade with each class staffed by a certified teacher and a paraprofessional.

The school will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Premier Arts Academy does not have bus transportation to and from school, but through its partnership with Lifeline, it will offer affordable before-care beginning at 6 a.m. and after-care ending at 6 p.m. for the convenience of working parents.

The academy began accepting enrollment forms Tuesday and will continue through Feb. 14. All forms received after the deadline will be placed on a waiting list.

The school was scheduled to host its first preview event to inform the community about the school on Tuesday and plans to host more in January and February.

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