The residents of Lake Nona are proud of their reputation of being forward-thinking, innovative, and viewing the world “outside of the box.” Therefore, it’s no surprise that many parents of pre-K through fifth-grade students will be making the 30-minute drive to our neighboring town of St. Cloud this fall so that their children can experience the Reggio-inspired curriculum of Creative Inspiration Journey School (CIJS).
Currently under construction and scheduled to open this fall, CIJS of St. Cloud is conveniently located on the corner of 192 and Old Hickory Tree Road, just moments after turning off Narcoossee Road. This tuition-free public charter school features an an early education program that is inspired by Reggio Emilia, a city in Northern Italy, and is one of the top 10 curriculums in the world. This unique educational approach makes this institution in St. Cloud one of the most innovative schools in Central Florida and includes project-based learning, thrives on creativity and imagination, and encourages self-discovery and critical thinking while establishing an environment where children love to learn! Founded by Patricia Marquis, Ed.S, and Sherri Schneider, BBA, sisters who were eager to instill a love of life-long learning through this unique curriculum, CIJS began in Winter Springs as a private school.
The education philosophy “focuses on more than 100 endless ways children think, understand, dream, explore, discover, play, invent, speak, sing, and listen.” When I asked Marquis how they are able to offer such an amazing opportunity to our community free of tuition, she explained,
“It’s a charter school, and it is funded completely through the state. We decided to close the private school [in Winter Springs] and come to the charter school world because we think it’s important that everybody has this opportunity – we are offering a typical private, tuition-based education completely free through the charter realm.”
Marquis and Schneider sold the building in Winter Springs and began the move into the charter school world (Marquis even designed the school building plans with M+H Architects!) so as to share their passion for offering a gifted program of instruction to all students in the area. But, what is it about this Reggio style that was so influential to these sisters that it inspired them to open up a school? Marquis enlightened me:
“Reggio in itself is the hundred languages of children, with the idea of integrating projects and it encourages students to get involved in their own learning. The mutual respect between adults and children, the children getting to drive their own instruction, that’s really the heart of what Reggio is … community involvement – that’s a huge piece. What really sets Reggio apart from other schools is their environment as well. So, when you walk into a Reggio school, one that is really using the Reggio inspired philosophy well, you’re not going to see single desks, you’re not going to see a lot of plastic materials – there’s a lot of nature-based materials that are pulled in [like] wicker baskets instead of plastic baskets, you’re going to see regular furniture that you would see in a house, you’re going to see lamps and rugs – the idea is that we want the kids to be relaxed … and to be able to do their best thinking because, when you are relaxed, obviously you’re able to absorb more information.”
“The other thing that is huge is that we do a lot of group projects, so students utilize deeper-level thinking and criticalthinking skills while engaging in collaborative work and
conversations. The teacher is learning alongside the students, so, it’s okay not to know everything. It’s okay to say, ‘You know what, I don’t know that answer, let’s find out.’ And that’s doing two things: It’s engaging and learning together, and it’s teaching the kids how to find an answer, to find a solution to their problem when they don’t know.”
What, exactly, does project-based learning mean? “Project-based means you’re taking projects and integrating the standards throughout the project. So, instead of just having a workbook or a worksheet and filling it out, we train our teachers to take those standards and integrate them through projects,” Marquis elaborated.
“We do it through interdisciplinary learning
… we’re training teachers how to take each individual standard and intertwine them throughout all of the different subject areas. Therefore, it has meaning, it makes sense, the kids can apply what they learn to the real world, and they’re understanding and remembering it versus regurgitating and forgetting.”
What makes CIJS the most innovativenin Central Florida? Marquis answered, “I would say the Reggio philosophy is so unique because they believe there are 100 different ways to learn. And, so, it’s a very hands-on atmosphere … and there is mutual respect between adults and children. That doesn’t mean that children get to ‘rule the roost,’ but it does mean that they get to take part in their learning. So, as we see that they are interested in a particular topic, we use that as a unit within the classroom.” That educational philosophy coupled with Marquis’ experience in the public schools creates the perfect combination because she understands the importance of balancing data-driven learning and having milestones and goals while integrating with the project-based learning and the Reggio approach.
I was so intrigued by this inspiring curriculum that I continued to ask Marquis more questions, such as, “What is a typical day in the life of one of your students?” and she answered with the most wonderful examples of student-led discovery and exploration. In order to read the rest of the interview and learn about how CIJS teachers work with the more reserved students, how their fifth-graders are prepared for education outside of CIJS, the process for Orange County residents to apply, and so much more, check out our online version of this interview by going to www.nonahoodnews.com/CIJS.
CIJS opens this August, is now enrolling, and is tuition-free. Affordable beforeand after-school programs are also available. CIJS will have a free information seminar on Saturday, April 27, at
noon at the Veteran’s Memorial Library
in St. Cloud in the Fisk Room
(810 13th St., 34769).
To apply for enrollment, go to
You can also email
charterschool@CIJSstcloud.org or call 407-949-0056 for more information.
Whether you plan to enroll or not, if you want to show your support, CIJS is looking for the following donations: