School's Growth Proves Challenge ; Cair Paravel Pressed for Space

By Llopis-Jepsen, Celia | The Topeka Capital-Journal, September 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

School's Growth Proves Challenge ; Cair Paravel Pressed for Space


Llopis-Jepsen, Celia, The Topeka Capital-Journal


On a Monday morning at Cair Paravel Latin School, two high school freshmen sit in a hallway, flipping through flashcards bearing the curvy symbols of a foreign script.

Together, Avery Brungardt and Olivia Duda review words like "agros" and "doulos," the ancient Greek words for "field" and "slave." They have just started their first year of the language, and will need at least two to graduate.

"It's way different than public school," Brungardt answers when a reporter interrupts her to ask what she is learning, and what it is like attending classes in this building, where about 330 elementary- , middle- and high-school age students walk the same halls. "I think here you have a closer relationship."

That is a feeling likely familiar to many Kansans who have attended rural schools. Only this small K-12 community is set in downtown Topeka, in a 1920s red brick building that once housed Clay Elementary, an all-white, segregated school involved in the Brown v. Board case.

Brungardt, who transferred here a year ago, sounds her way through the word "ego" -- "I" -- then turns to Duda for help confirming her pronunciation.

Duda, too, is new to this school. She explains why she is hopeful Cair Paravel will push her academically.

"I had a huge problem with motivation" at my previous school, she says. "But here, everyone, they all want to do well. So just that feeling -- it surrounds you."

Cair Paravel opened in 1980, and its first graduating class was just three students. Last year it graduated 17. That may sound like moderate growth, but a tour of the school reveals a bigger story -- one of an educational model that has gained popularity and a school that has outgrown its facility.

External portables now house the middle-school classes. Across the street, high-schoolers attend studio art and study philosophy in a modest, one-story building -- a former biker bar purchased and renovated for that purpose.

For the first time ever, Cair Paravel has two sections each of seventh- and eighth-graders. And this fall, the school's enrollment jumped 10 percent.

For Melody Congdon, the school's principal, the growth is a blessing. It is confirmation that Cair Paravel's classical, Christian education -- a curriculum rooted in Greco-Roman civilization and biblical studies -- resonates with local families and draws back alumni to enroll their own children.

But it is a conundrum, too.

"Space is an issue," she says. "High school pretty much goes wherever they can, whenever room is available. We're desperate for room."

Cair Paravel is considering a fundraising campaign to expand the original Clay building, which was designed by the same architects who created iconic Topeka High. There is plenty of land to build on, administrators say. It is the potential $4 million price of construction that is more concerning.

"We're a small school, and those kind of numbers seem out of reach," Congdon says.

She pauses to remember that not everything that feels unachievable is in fact impossible.

The school just underwent $1 million in renovations. This work to replace a patchwork of old radiators and air conditioners with a modern heating and cooling system, among other improvements, was made possible by unsolicited donations that caught Congdon and other staff off guard. …

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