Courtesy of Nicole Waggoner

Founding members of Merit Academy, from left, Nicole Waggoner, Jason Ledlie, Kimberly Porter, John Dill and Katie Illingworth.

WOODLAND PARK • Merit Academy founders received approval last week from the Education reEnvisioned Board of Cooperative Educational Services to open a K-8 contract school.

After its request to open the academy was denied by the Woodland Park School District Board of Education in January, the founders applied to BOCES.

According to its website, edreenvisioned.org, Monument-based BOCES serves to “develop and deliver services to BOCES, districts and authorized schools to expand availability and access to quality, innovative public education programs in Colorado parents and students seek.”

The organization offers startup consulting for new school founders, among other services.

“It was a completely different process than what we had to go through with the district,” said Nicole Waggoner, one of the academy founders. “From the beginning, we felt like the district was against us.”

The BOCES board is in favor of school choice, Waggoner said. With the approval, Merit Academy will be the second brick-and-mortar contract school in Colorado. The first, Orton Academy, is in Colorado Springs; others are online schools.

The founders expect to announce a location for the school in the next few weeks.

Under the conditions of the agreement, BOCES will open the school in August and contract with Merit Academy to staff and run the school.

Like a charter or traditional public school, the academy will be funded, in part, according to the state’s formula for per-pupil funding. “Per-pupil funding follows the child,” Waggoner said.

Merit Academy, a 501©(3) nonprofit organization, features classical education and a curriculum of core knowledge. “We want to focus as much on the character development of a child as we do on the academic,” Waggoner said. “Character development is a culture that develops over time.”

The classical curriculum begins with the grammar phase of reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin and music for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“In the next phase, logic, the kids take what they’ve learned and start applying them,” Waggoner said.

By the time students reach the rhetoric phase in high school, they begin asking questions, reasoning and trying to think through things, she added.

The academy will not be banning books, within reason, for the grade level. “There is so much being censored right now. You have to present books in the context of an understanding of the history at the time,” Waggoner said. “You can’t pretend that our history didn’t happen.”

The core knowledge curriculum integrates the three phases of learning. For instance, a science class may be about soil composition followed by a story about farming for the literature piece.

“In history class students would study the contribution of George Washington Carver, an agricultural scientist,” she said. “The curriculum builds a much richer understanding of the material than if there’s no link.”

The program will include the opportunity for mentorship; perhaps a seventh-grader will mentor a younger student. “The mentorship piece has the potential to build a strong community,” she said. “That value system would hopefully carry past school.”

The founders plan to open the school in August with one class per grade. To date, the academy has 235 students, representing 133 families, standing by to register for the school year.

“We will have per-pupil funding from the state and will be writing a lot of grants,” she said. “No school can function without grants.”

For information, check the website at, simply, Merit.Academy.

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