http://www.digitaljournal.com/life/lifestyle/op-ed-wanting-better-education-parents-establish-nothern-light-school/article/385299

Op-Ed: Wanting better education, parents establish Nothern Light School Special

Posted Jun 6, 2014 by Jonathan Farrell
With only $50 in their pockets, and 12 students on the school's inaugural first day, back in 1989, four women founded Northern Light School.
Northern Light School in Oakland  CA
Northern Light School in Oakland, CA
Courtesy of Michelle Lewis, Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
With a calling to provide a 'Whole Child Education' the four women conceived the "dream" of Northern Light School being able to provide a private school setting for children who would not have the opportunity for a private school education. Their continued dedication and commitment has made Northern Light School a reality that has continued to thrive for twenty-five years.
A banner proudly announces Northern Light School s 25 anniversary.
A banner proudly announces Northern Light School's 25 anniversary.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and permission of Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
"Our school is committed to providing a high quality education for children from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds," said co-principal and founder Michelle Lewis. "The faculty and staff create an atmosphere where every child can grow academically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, to become healthy, productive members of their families and communities."
With over 34 years of experience in both parochial and private school settings, Lewis, back in 1989, recognized the need. She was eager to make the ideal a reality and despite obstacles she persevered.
Busy creating  one student adds some detail to her rendition of Gustav Klimpt s painting   The Kiss....
Busy creating, one student adds some detail to her rendition of Gustav Klimpt's painting, 'The Kiss.'
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and by permission of Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
Of the original four founders, Lewis has remained. She is the driving force and her focus for the school is on academic excellence as well as non-violence. The school fosters acceptance of differences, respect for the environment, and the moral advancement of humanity. Lewis believes strongly that children can develop an understanding of those principles. And with that training and perspective, the students have a responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others.
More detail is provided to this student s interpretation of the famous painting.
More detail is provided to this student's interpretation of the famous painting.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
Lewis an alumnae of St. Mary's College in Moraga, recognized the tremendous gap in the quality of education, especially between parochial and public school. She began her teaching career teaching first grade at Saint Cyril's School in Oakland. She went on to further her education and credentials with the Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf Education approach. After years of experience in teaching, she envisioned a school where a high quality education was available to any child regardless of economic circumstances and social/ethnic background.
Another interpretation of the famous painting.
Another interpretation of the famous painting.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper, and by permission of Northern Light School
This dedication and sincerity made an impact on Leah Bullen, an investments advisor for a corporate firm. Invited by a friend to attend a fundraiser on behalf of the school, Bullen told this reporter, "I went to the dinner thinking it would be a standard fundraising event." "A boring evening with rubber chicken," she said. "But what I heard and observed was very inspiring. I learned that Michelle truly founded the school as an effort to help families in need. And, especially those who had the real intention of educating their children even if they had no means of financially fulfilling this hope."
Another rendition of the painting  this student is eager to show his work to the class.
Another rendition of the painting, this student is eager to show his work to the class.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
Bullen continued, "Michelle started this private school and strives to have it fully funded by private donations every year." "The idea, Bullen said, is that children and their families must be fully committed to the idea of education, and if they are sincere and demonstrate that, then funding would be provided."
Bullen noted that Northern Light serves families in the Oakland area. "Most children who attend are from minority backgrounds." "All children she said, are encouraged and given attention so that they receive a quality education." "When students graduate from Nothern Light, they are prepared to go to some of the best high schools in the area," said Bullen.
The 4th  5th and 6th grade students in the Thursday art class program  coordinated by Leah Bullen. T...
The 4th, 5th and 6th grade students in the Thursday art class program, coordinated by Leah Bullen. Thursday June 5 was the last day of the school year. Bullen has provided the class with an art history perspective featuring famous artists each week; as well as interpretive art projects that encourage the students' creativity and artistic growth.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper, and permission of Northern Light School
"The bottom line is that with graduates from Northern Light School, there is a 97 percent graduation rate from college," said Bullen. "Michelle knows the exact breakout of this statistically," said Bullen. "But it is phenomenal in what Michelle understands and knows concerning the impact and importance of a quality education." "I realized, said Bullen that this is a school that is really beating the norm."
"And although I did not have a big check to hand them, I asked Michelle if there was an art program at the school." "When Michelle told me there was no art program, I volunteered to start a program with some of my friends," said Bullen. "And, now we have been coming every Thursday afternoon for the past three years to do art projects with the entire school." "Being creative is good to practice at and it provides the children with an outlet that enhances their academic studies," she said.
Impressed by the school's dedication and commitment, realtor Cornelia de Schepper is one of Northern Light's benefactors. She is eager to get the word out about Northern Light, after learning about the school from Bullen. She explained, "before I went into the real estate business, in my early days, I was a teacher. Education and curriculum formation was a specialty I was trained in and treasured very much," said de Schepper.
And  here the painting is expressed in abstract yet bold paint brush strokes.
And, here the painting is expressed in abstract yet bold paint brush strokes.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
Originally from the East Coast, de Schepper had the opportunity to teach overseas. Through her travels and teaching, de Schepper developed an understanding of exchange programs and the positive impact a diverse cultural experience in the classroom has upon a child. "I think what Northern Light is doing is amazing," she said.
She was invited by Bullen to attend one of the last classes of the semester on June 5. "In my art program on Thursdays to 4th, 5th and 6th graders, I try to present a bit of art history to each assignment or project," Bullen said. "So for class each week the students study a famous artist; someone like Van Gogh. And the assignment is for each student to make their own rendition of a painting by that artist, like 'The Starry Night.' The assignment for the last class this Thursday was symbolist work by painter Gustav Klimt.
"I initially thought afterwards that maybe his painting entitled 'The Kiss' might be too sophisticated," said Bullen. And, since it being the ending day of the school year, "kids are anxious to dash out and begin summer vacation. But I was surprised, she said none of the students giggled or prejudged it; some of the renditions and interpretations the students made were beautiful."
The goal of the art program is to give students an opportunity to not only express their creative si...
The goal of the art program is to give students an opportunity to not only express their creative side, but to also "practice at creativity" as teacher Leah Bullen said. She helps them to have an artistic outlet as a part of the academic curriculum at Northern Light School.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
de Schepper agreed as she told this reporter later, "It was an inspiring afternoon, and the location of the campus in the Oakland Hills near the Oakland Zoo is an ideal setting."
Perhaps one aspect to the success of Northern Light School is the ability of its staff, faculty and founder to use business smarts in the pursuit of vocational goals.
“In many ways, I have the best of both worlds – an opportunity to merge education and business such that my community is positively impacted in a significant way," said Kaamil Bey Isles. She is serves as teacher and co-principal along with Lewis. A native of Alameda, Isles is an alum of Spellman College and Duke University. Along with her work as the financial and budget coordinator of Northern Light, Isles teaches algebra and mathematics.
Founder and co-principle Michelle Lewis and her faculty and staff at Northern Light School.
Founder and co-principle Michelle Lewis and her faculty and staff at Northern Light School.
Courtesy of Cornelia de Schepper and with permission of Northern Light School, Oakland, CA
With experience as a math consultant to teachers regarding up-to-date teaching methodologies and curriculum standards, Isles leveraged her accounting background to launch an educational services company providing individual and group tutoring and enrichment. She brings that experience to the classroom. Isles commitment to math has had positive results, especially as she seeks to provide practical applications of math to the students, (such as basic accounting skills, etc.). This is important to the students because so much of math education has been lacking in the public school system for decades.
Bullen's contribution of time and artistic skills has greatly benefited the students' creative side. As part of Lewis' vision of "whole child" the arts and the sciences are meant to compliment one another.
Northern Lights would like to expand its curriculum particularly in the areas of art, music and science programs. For more information about Northern Light School in Oakland, visit the web site or call 510- 957-0570