School Spotlight: New Branches Charter Academy

New Branches Charter Academy Snapshot

Students Served: 297

Grades Served: Preschool – 8th grade

Year Founded: 1971 as The Climbing Tree School
1994 as the current New Branches Charter Academy

Principal: Terry Larkin

Board Members:
Ryan Julian, Board President
Nygil Likely, Board Vice President
Scott Embree, Board Treasurer
Athena Cronberg, Board Secretary
Dawn Martinson, Director
Steve Null, Director
Guiseppe Lupis, Director


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New Branches Charter Academy (NBCA) is a community school nestled on the outskirts of busy downtown Grand Rapids.

Resting on a vast 12 acres, New Branches is the next up-and-coming environmental school that provides a rigorous, tuition-free education for students in preschool through 8th grade. Choice Schools Associates became New Branches’ educational management company in July of 2015, after the current Board decided a management company would be helpful to the then self-governed Board.


One of Choice’s long-time employees, Terry Larkin, became New Branches’ principal after Choice’s management was underway. Stepping back into a leadership position within a school, Mrs. Larkin works diligently to ensure her students are the number one priority.

Principal Terry Larkin with New Branches Charter Academy students.

“We’ve come so far since July,” notes Larkin. “Big accomplishments have been made at New Branches, and even our building has seen vast improvements.”

From the moment you enter New Branches, you can sense the warmth and love in the Academy. From the newly branded entrance doors to the light hue of Mrs. Larkin’s office walls… a feeling of being home embraces you – making it a second home to so many children.

new-branches-charter-academyEmbracing the mentality of “It Takes a Village,” New Branches has been working to rebuild a sense of community within the school. Since the school year began, Mrs. Larkin and her staff host monthly family events, work closely with the PTO, conduct collaborative professional development sessions, and implement role modeling and encouragement activities between the older and younger students. They’ve also added a new technology lab which serves 30 students along with additional laptops that are used in the classroom.

“It’s important for us to create a connection with the neighborhood church as well – especially because we share a parking lot,” explained Mrs. Larkin. “It truly does take a village to raise a child, and we are using all avenues to support our students, staff and parents.”

A true transformation has taken place within New Branches Charter Academy. In the past, students have struggled academically, but with new instructional changes, students’ NWEA winter scores are showing an overall improvement. Discipline referrals have also been declining due to the implementation of restorative lessons and teaching students the benefits of self-discipline and empowerment.

“We’ve also implemented Owl University, which consists of a 35-minute intervention block built into the day for all students to help develop reading skills. Our teachers and students love this time together, and it helps students focus on areas they may be struggling with,” Mrs. Larkin says with a smile.

With all the changes being made at New Branches Charter Academy, one thing reigns stronger than ever.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“We are a family,” Larkin says. “We have worked hard this year to continue to develop the feeling of family with our students, parents, staff and Board.”[/perfectpullquote]

How New Branches Charter Academy Engages Students in Learning

Rebekah L HostRebekah Host, 4th Grade Teacher

Rebekah Host is a 4th grade teacher at New Branches Charter Academy. Since the school year began, Rebekah has been creating a family-like atmosphere within her classroom. She finds ways to show her students the importance of learning, all while building love in learning.

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pallAl Paul, 2nd/3rd Grade Teacher

In my 2nd and 3rd grade classroom, we practice Whole Brain Learning techniques for both class management and engagement. I utilize short mini lessons, teacher-student interactions and I reward students for positive behavior. Whole Brain learning keeps the students engaged in the learning, rather than having them become dissociated from what I’m teaching.

To learn more about Whole Brain Learning, check out Chris Biffle and some of his videos here.

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ryskampRachelle Paxton-Ryscamp, Kindergarten Teacher

I’m a firm believer that in order to get students to learn, they need to want to learn. I spend extra time explaining to my students why we are learning a particular skill, and that gets them invested in their own learning. For example, when I’m teaching letters and sounds to my kindergarteners, I tell them why we are doing it – we are learning these sounds in order to read stories and become authors ourselves! When they begin to learn those sounds and start stringing them together, they then feel immense pride and make the connection that not only are they reading, but they are learning too!

I also like to use the “name” strategy by incorporating students’ names in the lesson, especially when in praise. For instance, I might say: “I love how Bobby is sitting. He is ready to learn!” When other students hear that, they not only look at that student to see how they should be sitting, but they then replicate the action so they too can have their name called. You instantly see a change in posture and attention. In addition, using students’ names in lessons, and by highlighting the students’ past experiences, memories and achievements, teachers can show the students that they are valued and respected.

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PRULLAGENancy Prullage, Title One

Students need to be active participants in their learning. Whenever possible, manipulatives, movement and games are wonderful tools, which help students eagerly become engaged. Keeping a toolbox of activities in your pocket helps you to teach new ideas to your students in fun, meaningful ways.

To keep my students engaged, I also involve the interaction of the four language domains: reading, writing, listening and speaking. I keep the same structure in my class so that students are familiar with the routines, and each lesson is systematic and explicit allowing the child to grow into a master reader.

Although it’s important for routine in a classroom, it’s also important to be flexible. We need to be comfortable straying from the original lesson plan. For instance, sometimes students need extra time on a specific subject. Sometimes students need less time on a subject. We also need to be flexible when students achieve to allow for time to celebrate when needed.