Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville has become Schuylkill County's first brick and mortar charter school under the Pennsylvania Charter School Law.

The school received approval from the Harrisburg Charter Appeal Board on June 7. This new, tuition free, public school will open this fall with classes from kindergarten through ninth grade. High school grades will be added in subsequent years.

Named after the Gillingham Family, residents of Mahantongo Street in the 1800's, the school's vision is to help students "be proud of who they are, from whence they come and for what they will do for their home community and the world," according to the school's founders. The Gillingham family name was selected in recognition of the Quaker family's resolve in assisting slaves escape the South. Their home was part of the Underground Railroad.

According to Pennsylvania's Charter School Law, a charter school must offer something not offered by traditional public schools. Gillingham offers a "Relational Education" and implements Childlight USA's educational program. Relational education is explained as a way of teaching focusing on respecting children as persons, thus focusing on the whole child.

Gillingham's Director of Education Nicolle Hutchinson explains, "We believe that all persons love to learn, and we teach students in such a way that helps them to not only know but also to care about themselves, others, nature and ideas." Class sizes intentionally stay small and traditional textbooks are replaced with "whole, good books." Class periods will be short and varied to fit the attention span and interest of individual students. "The broad curriculum expects a lot of students, who will be expected to act, paint, solve, dialogue, compete in a sport, design, build, pay instruments, experiment, take risks and read for up to two hours a day," according to Christie Werkheiser, the school's director of organizational development.

Gillingham Charter School is located at 915 Howard Ave., Pottsbille, in the historic St. John the Baptist school building. Enrollments are now being accepted at the office, 912 Howard Ave. For hours or more information, call 570-995-3830.