From French Broad River Academy
Asheville, NC–The French Broad River Academy (FBRA) has broken ground and started construction on its new facility along the banks of the French Broad River in Woodfin in the New Year. After securing a donation of three riverfront acres adjacent to the Riverside Business Park, architect Robert Todd of Red House Architecture and FBRA co founders Will Yeiser and David Byers have been collaborating with Deltec Homes to design a new facility that will allow the French Broad River Academy to fulfill its original vision of creating a riverbased school.
“The collaboration with the FBRA team has been exhilarating for Deltec. Together we have envisioned an entirely new Deltec structure that allows the school a space that is much larger than a standard Deltec, all while maintaining a high level of affordability for a highperformance commercial structure, ” according to Deltec President Steve Linton.
“Our current location is in Riverview Station in Asheville’s River Arts District and it is certainly convenient for getting to various river access points,” says FBRA Director Will Yeiser. “However, there is a big difference between being located near the river versus being truly on the river”
The new site, combined with the unique design of the school, will enable students and staff to access the river within minutes. The opportunities for handson, experiential learning on the water are infinite. Whether science classes are conducting water quality studies, math students are calculating the cubicfeetpersecond of water flow, or physical education classes are refining their canoe strokes, having the ability to safely access the river just steps away from the classroom will be a gamechanger for the young oneofakind middle school.
Architect Robert Todd explains that, “the curriculum for this school in particular is so unique and the site and the buildings reinforce that uniqueness. The buildings in close proximity to the water created challenges in the design of both the site and the structure. We elevated the building up well beyond the required heights so in a flood event the buildings will remain unharmed, with the added benefit of the classrooms enjoying a great view of the French Broad River. The school campus itself will be a living classroom for the students to experience the systems both natural and manmade that shape our world.”
“We will be using superior walls to lift the Deltec units out of the floodplain while also creating much needed secure boat storage and repair space below,” explains Will Yeiser. “We will also have a large multipurpose space that will serve as a performance venue for our growing music program.”
“For the FBRA project we are building on the success of other our other school buildings constructed by Jack Eller and utilizing the Deltec building system,” according to architect Robert Todd. “We have created a sustainable model for smaller schools to build quickly and deliver a product constructed in a factory environment built with superior strength and energy efficiency. We have prioritized sustainable features that can be built in the initial construction and plans for adding additional features such as solar hot water, photovoltaic panels and enhanced rain gardens in the future as fundraising allows.”
“The Deltec structure has a strong track record in creating an excellent learning environment that is built to last. Seeing the new, expanded designs that came out of our collaboration with FBRA, we are confident that the FBRA students will be well supported in achieving the school’s mission of building character and integrity – also built to last for a lifetime,” says Linton of Deltec.
FBRA had been able to secure some initial funds for the new facility in the spring of this year. However, it was the $175,000 matching fund challenge that enabled FBRA to secure the majority of its funding to date. “In addition to contacting current and alumni parents, I reached out to my friends from college, summer camp, and family members,” explains Will Yeiser. “I knew it would take an extraordinary effort in a short period of time to raise the funds necessary to secure financing. However, we have previously overcome other seemingly insurmountable challenges in the school’s sixyear history.”
FBRA has been able to double the required funds for the downpayment and will continue to aggressively raise funds for the new facility. “We want to secure 110% of the cost of the project within five years,” says Yeiser. “Our goal is to cover the cost of construction, as well as establish an endowment to maintain the facility.”
Prior to opening the French Broad River Academy with six students back in the fall of 2009, Will Yeiser had been experimenting with taking kids on the water while teaching Spanish at Asheville Middle School. Will Yeiser was inspired by the riverbased classroom experience that Dr. Gordon Grant (current principal at Hall Fletcher Elementary) and colleague Greg Lisenbee had created and implemented in previous years as teachers at Asheville Middle School.
He founded the “RiverCorps” program with fellow teacher Jessica Carson and French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. They met monthly with students from sixth, seventh, and eighth grade and they took students canoeing on the urban stretches of the French Broad River, conducted water quality tests with the help of RiverLink, built rain gardens on nearby creeks, and were able to expose many students to a new and different outside the walls of the traditional classroom or gym.
In addition to to starting the RiverCorps program, Yeiser planned and led his first trip with middle school students to Costa Rica. “I wanted my students to have an opportunity to apply the Spanish they were learning in the classroom in a real context as well as gain the exposure and benefits of international travel while also completing service learning,” says Will Yeiser. “It just so happens that one of my parents happened to be a professor at Warren Wilson College and had been leading college trips to Costa Rica for years.” Will Yeiser partnered with parent Lynn O’Hare and they modified the trip for middle school students and coled the first trip in 2007. Students completed a homestay with a Costa Rican family, worked with local Peace Corps volunteers, and explored some of the rivers, volcanoes, and beaches of Costa Rica. The AMS Costa Rica trip focused on three components: service, learning, and adventurewhich are still the cornerstones of FBRA’s annual Costa Rica experiences for its students.
After completing the second trip with help from fellow Asheville City Schools science teacher David Byers, Will began formulating a vision of how to scale up the successful RiverCorps program and the international component in Costa Rica. After exploring the option of trying to start a “school within a school” and consulting with parents Sheri Lalumondier and Lindsay Hearn, Will determined that his vision would be best fulfilled by pursuing his Master’s in School Leadership. He applied for and was accepted into the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s School Leadership Program.
While Will was completing his Master’s program, he recruited David Byers to help him lay the groundwork back in Asheville while he finished up in Cambridge. David was able to recruit several families and by the time the school opened its doors in August of 2009, FBRA had six boys enrolled in sixth grade at the new academy. By the holiday break in December, they had enrolled twelve students, which was their goal for the first year of the school”.
“We always joked how it was such a leap of faith for us and those first families,” explains Yeiser. “We were in the depths of the 2008 economic fallout, our facility plan had fallen through, and all we could promise was an idea and a vision. However, deep down we had a quiet confidence because we knew we were doing the next right thing and it would only be a matter of time before we would be successfully established.”
The school is now in its sixth year and is at capacity with families moving to the area so their sons can attend. FBRA has had unprecedented interest for the upcoming year with over forty applicants applying for sixteen spots in the early admission process. “While academic performance comes into play in the admissions decision, we look at a wide variety of factors to determine what we believe is the best fit,” says Admissions Director Elizabeth Douglas. There are still spaces available for the regular admission round in the spring, but student visitation days are filling quickly according to Mrs. Douglas.
Girls on the horizon
In addition to building a new school, FBRA is launching a new girls school that will parallel the current boy’s program. “Ever since we opened the French Broad River Academy, we have had immediate requests to start a girl’s version of FBRA,” explains Assistant Director David Byers. “We are now at the point where we can finally fill that niche of providing an outdoorfocused middle school for girls in Asheville.”
The girls school will open in the fall of 2015 with twentyfour sixthgrade girls. The school will then add twentyfour students each year until they are at full capacity with a total of seventytwo students with twentyfour per grade level. Current FBRA Spanish teacher Jen Horschman is slated to be the Director of the new girls school.
“Jen’s background in education combined with her international work experience in Costa Rica make her an ideal candidate to extend our mission and unique programming to the middle school girls of Asheville and the surrounding area,” says FBRA Director Will Yeiser.
The girls school has already received applications for over half the spaces available and will continue enrollment into the spring.