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Hundreds of parents and students packed every chair at the Esencia K-8 School in Rancho Mission Viejo on Wednesday, Aug. 15, awaiting the moment when a group of local dignitaries and school district officials would cut a ribbon and allow them to tour the school’s interior.
The ribbon cutting event marked the long awaited opening of the school, the first the Capistrano Unified School District has opened within the developing Rancho Mission Viejo community.
The school is located within Rancho Mission Viejo’s Esencia village. The $45 million campus will have a curriculum focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the arts.
Principal Josh Wellikson, who officially joined the school a year ago, said it will serve about 400 students from kindergarten thru fifth grade this year.
Wellikson said the school’s tentative plan is to add a grade each year. He said the school will serve about 1300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade within the next four years.
The school’s completion marks the culmination of years of work by the Capistrano Unified School District that involved an agreement with the developer, the hiring of an architect, a site plan and many rounds of meetings, said Superintendent of Schools Kirsten Vital.
Vital said it was nice to see the fruits of that labor, not only for school officials, but also for the community at large.
“People are so excited,” she said. “So excited that we are opening a brand new school, so excited (for) the school they envisioned as they purchased their home here in Esencia.”
Vital said that she and school board Trustee Jim Reardon met with Esencia families starting in 2016 to get their thoughts, opinions and questions. She said that’s a process that Wellikson continued after his hiring.
“Josh really took that to the next level of building a vision and a mission of really what was going to happen in the classroom,” she said.
Wellikson said he had community engagement meetings every month and Rancho Mission Viejo residents had a hand in every aspect of the school from the curriculum offered to the school colors and logo.
“Everything we’ve done in here was done with community input and wasn’t done the opposite way,” he said. “This was our school. It was of the community of Rancho Mission Viejo, not separate.”
Wellikson touted some of the features of the school, including that the classrooms are completely “flexible.” He said furniture items such as desks and tables can be easily folded and wheeled to other locations. Many of the electronic devices teachers and students will utilize are WiFi enabled meaning they won’t need to be connected to the walls and can be moved about as needed.
“My grammar school didn’t look like this one,” said Rancho Mission Viejo CEO Tony Moiso during the ribbon cutting ceremony. His comment elicited chuckles from the audience.
Moiso thanked those involved with establishing and building the school. He also spoke directly to the audience of parents, students and teachers.
“We long ago had to admit and acknowledge that the landowner, the developer and all I represent may help establish the place,” Moiso said. “But it’s you, all of you, you parents, you teachers — you’re the fabric. You’re what makes the community the community.”
Welkinson said he looks forward to seeing the students when the school year begins.
“My favorite thing is welcoming the kids at the front of the school and seeing how excited they are to be here and then showing them that we’re building… a home for learning – that they want to be here, they want to innovate here and our teachers are caring and connected to them,” Wellikson said. “My big thing is building a space for students that is just like home to them.”