Merit Academy Charter School Gears Up for Third Year
Despite Opposition by Certain Critics, the Academy’s Enrollment Increases
This fall, the Woodland Park Merit Academy is entering its third year, and its founders are pleased with the results they have achieved since gaining an official charter school designation.
According to school officials, the enrollment numbers keep increasing substantially each year. This increase even comes in the wake of some critics, who have opposed the lease and use of certain RE-2 facilities for the Merit Academy. This change in use of current RE-2 facilities has been heavily supported by the Woodland Park School Board. But at times, the issue has commanded main stage debate at local board meetings.
The Merit Academy started its first year inside a rented building with only elementary and middle school grade levels offered. According to two of the school’s founders, Jason Ledlie and Gwynne Pekron, the school has grown in numbers and it has added a grade level each year.
“When we opened year one, we opened as a K-8 school,” said Ledlie, founder and Vice President of the Board of Directors at Merit Academy. “The plan was that over four years we would build out to a K-12 school. Year two of operation this year we were K-9 and we will be K-10 next year. We are working that trajectory over the next three years to be K-12.”
For the ’24-’25 school year they will also be adding pre-kindergarten to their lineup. They plan to be pre-K-11 that year and then pre-K-12 the following school year.
This year, the school grew from two classes per grade from kindergarten through third grade and next year they will have two classes per grade from kindergarten to eighth grade. “We started off year one and we had 187 full time students and 70 home school part time students in our programs,” said Pekron, founder and Head Master at Merit Academy. “This year we had 270 full time and around 60 home schooled. And then next year we are projecting to have somewhere between 370 and 380 full time and then around 40 homeschoolers. We will eventually cap out. Our goal is to cap out at about 45 to 50 students per grade.”
Merit Adds Classes and Extra-Curricular Activities
For the ’22-’23 school year, Merit added math and English college courses for their full time and home schooled students. Next year, the charter school plans on adding more English and history college level courses.
During the ’23-’24 school year, they will also be adding Career Tech Education (CTE) to their curriculum. Students will then have the chance to study construction and other trades. They will also be adding classes related to the livestock and agriculture industry.
One major new addition this year was to add Civil Air Patrol (CAP) to their curriculum as an option.
Ledlie said that CAP is very popular in the Front Range due to the high presence of Air Force bases in the state. There are several CAP chapters in the Front Range, but heading west the group in Woodland Park is the last one until Utah.
This year, the school had 42 cadets with students travelling to Woodland Park from as far as Lake George and Fairplay. The local CAP chapter is school-integrated where students ages 12 to 18 participate in CAP as a part of their classes every Friday.
Recently, the cadets helped clean and polish the Dickson memorial statue at the city’s Memorial Park as a community service project. Some of the cadets also helped work security during the Air Force Academy’s graduation.
On every Friday, students at Merit have exploratory courses that include different activities that students can choose from. “Students select from several options for the two-hour long blocks on Fridays that are very hands-on and oriented towards not just interest or careers, but they can give the students an idea or taste of something,” Pekron explained. “So, we are always looking to expand those opportunities. We have jazz band, ukulele guitar, karate, CAP, theater, construction, and animal range sciences.”
Pekron said that the exploratory classes also grow with interest. Last year the band program was so popular that they added it to their Monday thru Thursday curriculum as an option.
The school also offers after-school activities like two choirs and a pep band that started this year. They also have an air rifle shooting club that trains students how to target shoot at the Olympic level.
Students at Merit Academy also have the choice to participate in sports at the Woodland Park High School like football, swimming, track and soccer. The school also wants to add a rugby team that could be coming next spring.
According to the school’s Head Master Pekron, they are always looking to grow and add more classes. She said that so far she thinks the school’s initial mission of keeping students in the district and attracting people to the Woodland Park area has been successful.
“We were looking over our enrollment for this year and 60 percent are in-district students who have gone to both schools in the district and Merit,” Pekron says. “And the other 40 percent are coming from outside the district whether they are local, and they were commuting and are now coming back home, or they were home schooled, or they actually live outside of the district and are choosing to go to Merit.”
Parts of this article were first published on https://themaverickobserver.com/