Idaho Falls charter school backed by Melaleuca's VanderSloot touts patriotic, business-focused learning

Post Register (Idaho Falls)August 20, 2013 

Businessman Frank VanderSloot bought this old school and is paying for remodeling work. A charter school that emphasizes patriotism and entrepreneurial values will open this fall.

MONTE LAORANGE / POST REGISTER

Students at the soon-to-open American Heritage Charter School will be trained to become the next generation of America’s leaders.

At least that’s what school officials hope.

“Our students will leave (the school) being prepared as patriotic leaders,” Principal Chad Harris says. “They will have the ability to manage money and have the knowledge, skills and a fundamental understanding of our government, our country and our Constitution.”

Classes begin Sept. 3 at the former New Sweden Elementary School. Abandoned since 1979, the old school underwent a major remodel this summer. It was updated while restoring many historical aspects of the building. The remodeling was funded by Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, a direct marketing company in Idaho Falls that sells health and personal-care products. He bought the building in February 2012 and is leasing it to the school’s board of directors. VanderSloot is not involved in the school’s administration.

Twelve teachers and a paraprofessional were hired to teach 236 kindergarten to eighth-grade students. In 2014, administrators hope to expand to a K-12 school with an eventual enrollment cap of 364 students. The expansion would include the addition of three mobile classrooms.

The most distinctive aspect of American Heritage is its “old-fashioned” patriotic and entrepreneurial curriculum, according to administrators. The school’s charter is an adapted replica of North Valley Charter School in Gooding. Both schools were founded by Deby Infanger.

“The power of this school is it creates a community ... and it builds the whole person,” Infanger says.

American patriotism and history are woven into each class’ curriculum, including traditionally non-core courses like orchestra.

An emphasis on teaching American ballads such as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is important in teaching the feelings of patriotism, Infanger says. So valued is music education that fourth-graders are required to learn to play a classical stringed instrument. Students can either buy or rent an instrument. If they cannot afford the instrument, the school will work with parents to get an instrument for their child. Students can choose to continue orchestra in later grades.

Major emphasis also is placed on business and financial acumen. Many of the school’s teachers have small-business experience.

As early as kindergarten, students will learn basic budgeting and financial skills, which progress to business classes in high school. Senior projects will require 12th-graders to develop viable business plans.

“We want kids to leave with the skills to where if they can’t find a job, they’ll be able to make their own,” Harris says.

Technical knowledge is a key component of teaching these real-world skills, technology teacher Logan Waetje says.

Starting in sixth grade, American Heritage students will receive technology training in a wide array of disciplines, including word processing, database management, web development, graphic design, video and animation — even video-game design. The school will acquire a large cache of professional software to meet that goal.

“We are going to give them a taste of everything,” Waetje says. “My philosophy ... is let the kids be creative, take ownership of and find their niche (in technology), then give them the tools so one day they can start their own business.”

Parent Kristen Mickelsen of Idaho Falls enrolled three of her children at American Heritage.

“We were intrigued by the new way they are teaching and impressed they teach values and character traits as part of their core curriculum,” Mickelsen says. “But they also have smaller classes sizes ... so I think my kids will get more one-on-one attention and be able to progress at their own rate.”

nsunderland@postregister.com, (208) 542-6763

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