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Southwest Las Vegas charter school bustles in first week

During a lesson Aug. 9 — the second day of school — music teacher Michelle Tousignant asked a group of elementary school students to make observations about their keyboards.

“But we’re not touching,” she said. “We’re using our eyeballs.”

The music room at Legacy Traditional School in southwest Las Vegas has rows of keyboards, each with a set of headphones. Students use the headphones to hear their own playing — and their teacher can hear it — but it’s not audible in the classroom.

From third through sixth grades, students can choose from two tracks for special classes: momentum fitness or Mozart performing arts. Students in the Mozart track have music four days a week and physical education once a week, and vice versa for the momentum track.

It’s one of the offerings at Legacy’s new southwest Las Vegas campus, which opened Aug. 8. About 1,600 students are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grades at the tuition-free public charter school.

And there’s a long waiting list, with about 2,400 children. The school adds about 100 children to the waiting list each week, principal Victoria Welling said.

The Legacy network had an eye on southwest Las Vegas due to growth in the area, including new homes being built, said Alanna Vitucci, spokeswoman for Legacy Traditional Schools.

Legacy, with a total of more than 20,000 students, has 18 campuses in Nevada and Arizona. In Clark County, other Legacy campuses are in Henderson and North Las Vegas.

The 95,000-square-foot, two-story southwest school on West Wigwam Avenue includes 59 classrooms, a kitchen, an indoor artificial turf field, an indoor basketball court, outdoor fields and playgrounds.

Burke Construction Group built the school, and construction took about a year. Legacy campuses typically cost $14 million to $18 million to construct, but school officials said they didn’t have a figure available specific to the new southwest campus.

The Legislature gave the OK for charter schools 22 years ago. Legacy is authorized by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.

State-sponsored charter schools in Clark County often have higher star ratings than their traditional school district counterparts, and the number of children on waiting lists is surging, according to a January analysis by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But the analysis also showed charter schools tend to serve significantly lower percentages of students who have disabilities, English-language learners and those living in poverty.

One student’s experience

Sixth-grader Emalee Bolling, 11, went to Legacy Traditional Schools’ North Las Vegas campus last school year. This year, she transferred to the southwest campus because her mother is the new school’s assistant principal.

“I like how they’re getting us ready for junior high,” she said. “They’re treating us like we’re older kids.”

Emalee’s favorite subject is reading. And she enjoys the RISE (Recognizing Individual Student Excellence) program — the school’s equivalent of gifted and talented education.

“We do stuff on a harder level,” she said.

Emalee is already thinking about a career: opening a nut-free bakery. She said she’s allergic to tree nuts and wants to open a bakery where children can go and not have to worry about their allergy.

‘A very traditional style’

As she led a tour of the school Aug. 9 for the Review-Journal, Legacy’s Nevada deputy superintendent, Eve Breier-Ramos, opened the door to an empty elementary school classroom on the first floor while students were at lunch.

“You’ll see a very traditional style,” she said. “The desks and chairs are in rows.”

At Legacy, rows of desks face the front of the classroom — even in kindergarten classes, Breier-Ramos said. That’s different from the popular setup in many elementary schools where desks are grouped in clusters to allow for students to collaborate.

Legacy educators feel students are better taught by a teacher, rather than by their peers, Vitucci said.

Huge white pillars are outside the school’s front entryway — a similar style to school buildings from decades past. There’s a standard look at Legacy schools and a high standard of cleanliness without a lot of clutter in the hallways, Breier-Ramos said.

Legacy offerings

Legacy offers accelerated instruction in math and other core subjects, where students learn material one year above their grade level.

Students also gain experience with public speaking by memorizing and reciting poems, Breier-Ramos said. And they learn Spanish, and have the option of participating in sports and a spring musical.

Students wear school uniforms, with their choice of red, white or blue attire. They must tuck in their shirt.

For families who need it, Legacy offers an extended before and after-school program, which parents must pay for. School staff members run Legacy Kids Care, which includes homework help, a snack, playtime and other activities.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

More information

For more information about Legacy Traditional Schools, visit legacytraditional.org.

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