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First Week For New St. Louis Charter School Is A ‘Roller Coaster’ Of Surprises, Nerves

Students work in the library of Kairos Academies, a charter middle school with a non-traditional learning model that opening in St. Louis. Aug. 15, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Students work in the library of Kairos Academies, a charter middle school with a non-traditional learning model that has opened in St. Louis.

Gavin Schiffres pulls caffeinated hard candy wrappers out of the pocket of his dress slacks, admitting he’s only been sleeping a few hours a night. 

It’s been an exhausting first week tending to the new charter middle school he co-founded. 

Kairos Academies opened Monday in the top floor of a printing company along Jefferson Avenue on St. Louis’ south side. There have been a few hiccups to contend with: Student calendar apps weren’t working; the Wi-Fi completely crashed Thursday. 

Schiffres was happy to point out that the 120 sixth graders had not dissolved into chaos without the internet access needed to do some of their online-based lessons. Students were mostly reading, tapping away at their laptops or talking with teachers floating around the room.

“We’re only four days in, but it’s already a culture that I’m extremely proud of,” Schiffres said.

He and Jack Krewson spent three years dreaming up and founding the school after spending two years as teachers with Teach For America in north St. Louis County districts.

Charter schools are publicly funded independent schools. Kairos opened under sponsorship from the Missouri Charter Public School Commission. It is one of two new charter schools in the city. The Soulard School in south St. Louis converted from a private school to charter school this fall. KIPP and Lift For Life Academy expanded elementary offerings. Kairos was built from scratch.

Kairos offers students a personalized learning model in which students get their own laptops and academic coach. Students are in school from 9 to 5 each day and attend for five weeks straight, followed by two or three weeks off, for the entire year. The strategy is to model the college or office environment as much as possible.

“The way school looks doesn’t mirror the real world at all,” Schiffres said. 

There’s also no homework.

“Instead we say we’re going to give you a longer school day and use teachers as resources for tutoring during that day,” Schiffres added.

Students check paperwork at Kairos Academies. Students at the school have more unstructured time and autonomy than traditional school models.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Students compare papers at Kairos Academies, where they have more unstructured time and autonomy than traditional school models.

Students attend subject classes each day but also have ample time to hang out in the lounge or library to work on tasks on their own. They meet in groups of 10 or 20 with their mentor teacher, whom Kairos calls a coach, every day.

Eleven-year-old Sophia McGuire likes that her new school doesn’t have lockers or desks, commenting that it looks more like how she’s imagines college. After a week, she said she prefers the individualized learning model over the traditional primary school structure.

“I feel like it actually helps me because the teachers are there, and they’re letting you do the work; they’re not just basically telling you what to do and you do it,” McGuire said.

Nilesh Patel, the head science teacher, said that the open structure was a little intimidating at first, but he’s excited about the chance to work with students one-on-one.

“That’s just part of teaching; it’s a roller coaster, and you have to roll with the punches,” he said. 

Kairos plans to add a grade level each year until the school has a 12th grade.

Editor's note: St. Louis Public Radio is following Kairos Academies' first year of operation.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.