La PORTE — Renaissance Academy is celebrating its 20-year milestone this month. The Montessori charter school will be holding a “birthday party” on Friday, Oct. 11 at the Grand Beach Village Hall in New Buffalo, Michigan at 6 p.m.

The big 20-year celebration will feature food from the taste of Michiana, auction and cash bar. 

The academy has made a lot of progress since 1999. The school started as a private school with a mere 30 students, and managed to more than double that number within the first year.

Renaissance came into its own when the school departed from private to a Montessori charter back in 2007. The school now teaches about 275 students from Pre-K to eighth grade. 

Kieran McHugh, Head of School for Renaissance Academy recalled, “When we became a charter, the wait lists were instantly filled.”

Keeping a manageable amount of students has been important to the faculty since the school’s inception.

“We have tried to grow slowly," McHugh said. "We really want to keep that small school feeling. We want the teachers to be able to know every kid and the kids to know each other. We feel that approaching 300 [students] is the right size for that.”

Classes at Renaissance operate differently than classes at typical schools. Each student is given a work plan with a list of things that they need to do for each day of the week. As they work through the plan individually, they learn time management skills and self-identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. 

“The [Montessori style] eliminates the idea that everyone is supposed to be at the same place at the same time. We really believe in following each child to his or her own greatest progression,” explained McHugh. “We’re a very academically focused Montessori school. It’s about the social, emotional and academic components of development coming together.”

Renaissance prides itself on being very experiential-based in their approach to teaching. Before the start of the school year, the staff determines nearby activities that they wish their students could experience and plan field trips accordingly. They also make a point to take the students to one of the major museums in Chicago every year.

Students also get opportunities to camp at the dunes, take dance lessons and have formal meals. 

Although the school only accommodates students up to eighth grade, Renaissance’s high academic standards provide what McHugh characterizes as excellent preparatory education for college and beyond. 

“I think Montessori gives way more preparation for today’s world. It’s not about doing what everyone else is doing at the same time according to the directions of your boss. It’s about being an independent worker and being self-directing,” said McHugh.

Most graduates of Renaissance Academy attend La Lumiere School, but many also attend Marquette, Michigan City and New Prairie High Schools. 

“We’ve heard back from high schools that our students are the strongest coming in. I think it’s because they are independent and self-directed. They know how to talk to grown-ups, so they ask questions and find out what is expected of them and better follow the work. They tend to be very high achieving,” she said. 

The school hopes to be able to continue with its standard of excellence and continue to grow and adapt to the needs of the modern world. 

McHugh looked back at what the school has become over the last 20 years and said, “What’s been satisfying is the feeling that we’ve grown a community. It feels like friendships have formed and will continue. Our students tend to stay in touch even after they go off to different high schools, and that’s really neat.”

Tickets for Renaissance Academy’s 20-year celebration can be found on the school’s website, or by calling (219) 878-8711.

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