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Veritas tackles Charlotte's social mobility problem

This new charter school says health is wealth

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Back in this writer's elementary school days, we had P.E. every single day. Activities included running in place, toe touches, jumping jacks and more. Here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, though, that kind of daily physical activity isn't mandated. Elementary school students receive physical education instruction only once a week.

Katy Ridnouer thinks health and wellness is vital to helping students be successful. That's why she founded Veritas Community School, a tuition-free charter school catering to east Charlotte.

"It is recommended by the CDC that kids get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, and ideally, 90 minutes a day," says Ridnouer, who has 21 years of teaching experience. "And that's what we'll do: 90 minutes a day, every day, if not more."

The school will also encourage healthy eating with its Nourish to Flourish Food Program, offer peace corners for students to retreat to when they need reminding of "who their best selves are," and utilize the Core Knowledge Sequence, a curriculum that is content-specific and builds on knowledge sequentially.

The school, located at 4301 Shamrock Drive, will open this August with an enrollment of 200 students from kindergarten to third grade, with plans to expand in coming years.

We chatted with Ridnouer on the origin for Veritas, their goals and more.

On how the seed was planted for starting a charter school.

I've taught at middle, high school and community college levels. Since 1996, I've taught at CPCC in their developmental English program. Basically, students come in, take a placement test, many of them don't place in the college level. They have to take a remedial course, and that would be what I taught. I just have thought over the years that this was such a waste of human potential. I've always thought if we started when they were younger, when they were still excited about learning to read and compute math problems, then we would have fewer students in developmental courses and they would move right into college level. So that's the really impetus of the school — to provide excellent education to the eastside of Charlotte. If you look at the grades, the NC Report Card Grades for schools on the eastside, it's abysmal. I'm a mother of three; we live in south Charlotte and my kids go to schools that were given the grade of A. I think it's unfair my children get an excellent education just because of my zip code.

On why they're investing a little more in seating options.

My youngest son is in fifth grade, and he's the wiggliest kid on the planet. He's also a gymnast, a competitive gymnast. At school he needs to stand up. He goes to a traditional school, but he's negotiated with every one of his teachers since kindergarten to be able to stand up at his desk. We want to offer that to those students who just want to move. Oftentimes, the students who need to move aren't given that opportunity and they become behavioral issues and they get misdiagnosed with ADHD or Oppositional Defiant disorder. It just goes down a negative path. So we'll have stand-up desks, yoga balls. We're putting money in our seating choices because we believe ergonomics is really important to academic performance and health.

On how the school will impact the neighborhood.

Our goal is to inspire our students and families to make life changes for their long-term health and wellbeing. Charlotte was named 50th in the nation for social mobility — the least likely to have social mobility. And that's pretty horrendous. That means if you're born in a poor family, the likelihood is you're going to remain poor throughout your life. We want to empower our students and families to have choices that give them direction. Instead of feeling limited by where they currently are, they have choices to get to where they want to be.

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