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Birch Grove Community School Rings in a New School Year with Highest Enrollment to Date!

On Tuesday, September 5, Birch Grove Community School welcomed 51 K-5th grade students, the school’s highest enrollment since the free, public charter school opened in 2005. BGCS board members, staff, and the West End community in Cook County are happy with the steady growth that has been seen at Birch Grove over the past few years.

“Not only have we enjoyed an increase in K-5 enrollment, but our Community Service pro-grams, the school year Saplings program and both of the summer programs, are also doing well,” stated the school director, Diane Blanchette. Ms. Blanchette also added, “Our parent satisfaction continues to be 95% or higher, with parents indicating that they would recommend Birch Grove to other families, which I believe is one of the factors that has contributed to the increased growth – parents talking to parents.”

Birch Grove Community School continues to focus on outdoor learning and experience. This has become a popular focus for many schools since the pandemic, but it has always been a part of Birch Grove’s programming. Recent improvements have been made to The Camp-site located in the woods just behind the school, that make it a magical place for learning, exploring, discovery and play. BGCS is set to create a 5-year strategic plan that will include continuations, additions, and refinement of its outdoor learning and elementary program. A new after school special program, Birch Bud-dies ~ SKATE! was offered last year, and Birch Buddies ~ HIKE!, created by staff members Sara Knottski and Gayle Grinnell, who will be guiding K-5 through eight beautiful North Shore hikes this fall, is being offered this year. These new programs are examples of some of the offerings BGCS is extending that align with the school’s focus and mission. “The goal is to get better and better each year; to maintain the quality programming that we have, and add new programing where there is a need and where it makes sense,” said Ms. Blanchette.

Birch Grove has had a few irons in the fire the past few years (some postponed due to the pandemic) that are intended to contribute to the financial health and longevity of BGCS. Being a small, rural school where housing is limited and living wages can be challenging for families, means that BGCS has to stay vigilant about finances and fund balances to ensure that the programs offered are not only efficient and of high quality for today, but that they are able to be sustained for families in the future, even if enrollment dips. As such, a youth hostel was created that will run out of the building while school is not in session, set to start this win-ter. Revenues from this venture will be used to support elementary programming. Plans for a new daycare are also underway for ages birth to 3, to further serve the community and working families with young children. Birch Grove has accomplished much over the years and does not intend to slow down.

Past township support of Tofte, Lutsen and Schroeder was instrumental in getting BGCS where it is today. Tofte Township purchased the building and surrounding land years ago and maintains the building, tennis court, pavilion, outdoor wood-fired oven, ice-skating rink, warming hut/bathroom, and has been incredibly supportive of the projects at The Campsite. Tofte continues to support BGCS today.  “This facility really serves the community year-round. It is truly an asset to the community,” said BGCS founder and school board chair, Judy Motschenbacher. Tofte Township supervisors are Craig Horak, Sarah Somnis and Sam Crowley.

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