Collegiate Stories

Collegiate Charter School of Lowell Charts Growth, Article in Lowell Sun


LOWELL — When the Collegiate Charter School of Lowell opened — operating in borrowed spaces — school leaders likely couldn’t have envisioned it being where it is today, and where it will be in the near future.

The academically rigorous, college preparatory school will have its first senior class next year, when the fully enrolled school will operate with 1,200 students.

“2023 will be the first year of a graduating class; 12th graders (who have been here from the beginning) will graduate in June of 2023,” said Walter McGrail, a member of the school’s Board Of Directors. “A lot of parents have been associated with the school since the beginning — having their children come as kindergarteners and here they are today.”

It’s been a heady run for the school, which didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Seeking a new educational experience, in 2011-12 the founding Board of Trustees were impressed by SABIS and wanted to open a public charter school. SABIS offers a proprietary education model that is now used in six U.S. locations.

Before the school obtained its current location, a former mill site, they launched in 2013 at the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. The temporary location used modular buildings in the parking lot and small classroom space in the basement level of the church, teaching K-3 students the first year.

The school remained there from 2014-16. Enrollment growth began in earnest, and the school found a second location for 4th-5th graders in 2015, leasing the Hellenic Greek School.

In 2016, the school found its new home at 1857 Middlesex St. In April, Collegiate opened a new high school building featuring large classrooms equipped with 86-inch interactive screens, three state-of-the-art science labs and a professional-grade gymnasium.

“SABIS is a company that originated in Lebanon in the 1800s. It was initiated by a priest and a nun with the sole intent of educating young women — as it grew it expanded and boys got involved,” McGrail said. The SABIS school network has over 70,000 students in five continents.

Collegiate is a tuition-free, public charter school enrolling grades 9-11 this year. The next school year will enroll seniors.

“Our intent was to offer the parents and the children and the city of Lowell an opportunity for choice and our school does that. We’re very supportive of all the other schools in the area and we want people to know that,” McGrail said.

Adding seniors — who will be the Class of 2023, Collegiate’s first graduating class — will complete the loop.

“There are parents who truly feel comfortable knowing that they can send their child to this school in kindergarten and pick them up in 12th grade,” said McGrail. “They know where they are — I grow accustomed to school and staff like they do. They feel confident contacting the staff, partaking in various activities of the school — so for some parents that’s comforting.”

McGrail said some parents who grew up in different countries will say, “this is very much like the school I went to.”

Students have an hour in the middle of each day where they meet with their student life groups with different clubs they can sign up for. The school encourages student leaders. With nine departments — including athletics, academics and social responsibility — students apply for jobs within these departments and then become “student leaders.”

The school does a lot of mentoring. High school students come down to the lower school and help tutor or assist with the before- and after-school program.

“What’s really cool about our school, and through all SABIS schools, is we have a student life organization which is a student-led society in grades 6-12,” Liza Anderson, the marketing and outreach coordinator, said.

Through the main lobby, grade levels are sectioned off in different wings by 5-8, 9-12 and the first floor hallway is kindergarten through 4.

The bottom floor is for English and history classes. The cafeteria has free breakfast and lunch for students. The second floor is home to art, music, and electives. The third floor houses math and science and also a number of half-sized classrooms used for breakouts — if kids need student services, they can meet with smaller groups there.

Some of the classrooms overlook the river and fall foliage.

Right now they’re prepping for the school’s international fair on Saturday, where each class will represent a different country. They’re using the student life period to meet with that class and learn about the country they’re representing. People and parents from the public can come in, listen to music from different countries, taste different food and learn about the history of those countries. This will be the third annual fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“The whole school will be filled. We’re using both sides. Each floor of the school is a different airport terminal. So you’re going to get a passport and a boarding pass. It’ll be super fun,” Anderson said.

The school’s next phase is to install a permanent turf field with lights. It would be sized to qualify under MIAA standards for soccer or lacrosse leagues.

“We were part of the charter school league, MIAA, but we were ahead of ourselves. That was when we only had up to ninth grade students,” McGrail said.


Published in The Lowell Sun on Thursday October, 7th

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