ALSTEAD, N.H. – Mole Hill Theatre renovations have curtailed some winter programming there, as Dennis Molesky retrofits the tool and die shop and theater building to host a new charter high school called LEAF School.
LEAF School opens in September 2017 at Mole Hill Theatre with space for 28 ninth graders. Students may apply now through March 1, 2017.
The LEAF name embodies the school’s mission: Learning from Local Leaders, Experiential Education, Arts Integration and Academic Achievement, Freedom and Flexibility. The STEM acronym, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, with Art added, turns into STEAM. The www.leafschoolnh.org website has information on admissions, opportunities, curriculum, and how to connect with LEAF School.
Dakota Benedetto says the charter school idea at Mole Hill is solid.
“(It) primarily sprang from work in public schools, for many years continuing to see the same kind of kids fall through the cracks: generally bright and creative ones that don’t fit into the traditional public school mold,” she said.
In the fall of 2014, Benedetto invited others to work with her on applying to the State of New Hampshire to open a charter school. She has board members Katy Haas, Barb Davis, Lonn Livengood, Sally Eaton, David Benedetto (her brother), Erik Walker, Beth Leineau, Catherine St. Pierre, and Maria Luther-Houghton.
“Awesome board; I can’t say enough wonderful things about them,” Benedetto said.
Dennis Molesky, key to the venture, advises the board.
Around Christmas 2014 Bennedetto attended an event at Mole Hill Theatre. By then the LEAF School idea was down on paper with a goal of application to the State of New Hampshire for charter school status. With LEAF School on her mind and inspired by the space, part large tool and die shop and part event venue, she asked Dennis Molesky about how Mole Hill Theatre was used on weekdays.
Would a school fit in? The idea intrigued Molesky.
“I like to see the space utilized,” he said. “My parents always believed in public education and this charter school appealed to me. Dad’s older brother’s paid tuition to Keene High for him to get technical education.”
Mike Ballou of Gilsum will continue working at his United Tool and Stamping at Mole Hill. In Spring 2017, Mole Hill Theatre reopens. The school rents space on weekdays during the school year.
Benedetto, with the LEAF School Board of Trustees, secured State of New Hampshire approval and funds for the charter school. New Hampshire funds charter schools at about $6,500 per pupil. A traditional public school is given a little less from the state, but adds in local tax money for about $12,000 to $14,000 per pupil.
Benedetto and the board obtained a one-time federal grant of $525,000 to cover some of the setup costs over three years. The federal grant helps with buying secure computer systems, furniture, and text books. The grant will not cover vehicles, salaries, or any permanent improvements to Mole Hill Theatre.
If more than 28 New Hampshire students apply, luck of the draw determines who gets in. Tuition is free for New Hampshire residents. Students from outside of New Hampshire will be accepted on a tuition basis if the 28 slots aren’t filled by local students.
For students in SAU 60, the Fall Mountain Regional High School area, the district by law must provide transportation.
“A big part of curriculum is bringing in community members to share their skills or about their jobs on a one-time or an on-going basis,” Benedetto said. “So many wonderful, interesting people around. Sometimes kids limit themselves, (their) livelihood, but not just that. They think options in life are limited to what they see around them. They don’t realize that there is this wonderful world of opportunity and variety.”
Benedetto would like community members to introduce students to the wide variety of possibilities. Interested residents are welcome to contact LEAF School. Teaching positions will be posted in January on the school website and in local papers.