Mercer Island private schools feel impact of economic change

Mercer Island certainly has its share of options outside of the public school system. Yet as much growth that the private independent schools have had in recent years, they have felt the changes in different ways due to the recession.

The ETC Preparatory Academy, founded in 1982, has been a private school since 1992. It started out as tutors and consultants, and now has open enrollment for any student who needs one-on-one instruction.

Right now, ETC has about 20 full-time students and 80 who are taking select classes, about 5 percent off previous year’s numbers.

“The dynamic has changed,” said director Susan Small. “We have more full time and fewer of the one-class kids.”

ETC operates year-round, following the Mercer Island School District’s calendar during its school year, for students in grades 6-12.

Small said ETC is designed for students who have scheduling issues. Small said they will even accommodate a student’s sibling’s schedule to make it easier on the family.

“We take an alternative approach to education,” Small said. “We individualize the program to fit the student’s needs.”

Students can attend ETC full-time or just take a class here and there for credit retrieval, which may be needed due to illness or just not passing a course; this gives them the chance for a do-over.

Tuition works just like college — you pay by the class. Students work at their own pace; the only requirement is that students finish the curriculum and have been in their seats 100 hours a year to earn one year’s credit.

The teachers at ETC have longevity, Small said.

“A number have teaching certificates in other states, and some came who grew sick of public schools,” Small said of their teachers. “Then we get new teachers fresh out of college.

The Children’s Institute for Learning (CHILD) serves kids from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. Director of development, Meg Enderby, emphasized that it is a non-public, nonprofit agency serving students with special needs from 19 districts. Their students are referred to them by the various districts.

The Institute currently has about 50 full-time students and about 200 in a developmental theory clinic after school, or nights and weekends. The clinic provides occupational therapy, speech and language assistance, and mental health services. The Institute also has another 300 through referral services.

“We are not down; we are doubling our services next year,” Enderby said. “We will never go over 55 students full time.”

Enderby said they serve kids at either ends of the extreme, from those who are shut down or unreachable, to those with behavioral issues such as attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder or those who have witnessed a traumatic event.

Enderby said the youngest student they have is 7 years old, and the oldest is 17.

In the case of students who are referred to the Institute by a school district, the district pays for the tuition. There is subsidized tuition for students placed by their parents, which is achieved through fundraising.

The Privett Academy, on Mercer Island since 1995, is a nonprofit private school serving grades 6-12. Owner Carol Meyer said the school does some tutoring, but it currently has 175 full-time students, up a little since the last academic school year.

Privett also follows the MISD calendar. She said it is a college-prep school with students who range from those who are struggling to those with a 3.9 GPA.

“Math is where the greatest need is,” Meyer said. “It wouldn’t matter where you are in today’s society — where kids need help is in math.”

She said their small class sizes make it much more efficient for those kids who are struggling. Privett is small, she said, but it works closely with the middle and high school on the Island to identify those students who need more attention.

“My teachers are phenomenal,” Meyer said. “They’ve been with me for years.”

Mercer Island also has a traditional Catholic parish elementary and middle school, St. Monica School, which just celebrated its 50th year on the Island. St. Monica currently has 235 students, down from 250 a couple of years ago. This is St. Monica’s second year of holding pre-kindergarten classes.

The school has been in the same facility with many additions, expansions and remodels. The curriculum is faith-based, but principal Pam Dellino said they have specialists in math and reading. Tuition is $5,400 a year for the child of a parishioner; it is $8,900 per child for non-parishioners.

The American Academy, in its 10th year on the Island, offers courses for credit like ETC, but is a much smaller, “boutique” school, said principal Brent Davis. Davis said their instruction is one-on-one, with an emphasis on test preparation. He said they have only two full-time students, but that is not unusual.

“We think we’re the best in the area,” he said, referring to getting students ready for the often dreaded PSAT or ACT exams.

The American Academy is approved to teach through extension and will work with students at whatever location is convenient for them, whether it is at the facility, at the student’s home or while the student is traveling.

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