Byllie Andrews & Robert Morgan

Photo by David Robert

Fire alarms were being installed Monday at Rainshadow Community Charter High School, a few blocks from downtown Reno. In one room, boxed computers were stacked floor to ceiling. In another, boxes of donated books represented the start of a school library. Co-directors of the new charter high school Robert Morgan and Byllie Andrews were hired in May. In July, the school moved into the former Retail One building at 434 Washington St. Morgan is an international educator who’s working toward a PhD in education at UNR. Andrews has a PhD in education along with decades of experience teaching math at half a dozen local high schools. The tuition-free public school has room for about 40 more high-schoolers, any grade. An open house runs 7 to 8:30 p.m. July 23 for enrolled and prospective students and their parents. Call 322-5566 for info.

Is this a good location for Rainshadow?

Morgan: It’s excellent. It’s 1.7 miles from Oxbow, so kids can walk to the river.

Andrews: It’s also walking distance to the Reno main library and to the Nevada Museum of Art.

Why’s the river important?

A: Our curriculum is interdisciplinary.

M: It’s a project-based, hands on approach to education.

A: We’ll build curriculum around things that are relevant, like the river. The idea is to have kids leave Rainshadow empowered to function in a democratic society.

What does it take to function in a democratic society?

A: Kids have to know that they have a voice and how to use that voice. How to go about finding out what’s going on in their city, county, state. To know when the city council meets and who the members are and how to go about petitioning them.

Your students learn by doing hands-on projects.

A: They’ll work on the four core subjects in the morning. Our plan includes students doing internships—paid or unpaid—and job shadowing, based on students’ interests. If they’re interested in banking, they might do something related to banking. Are kids interested in banking? I don’t know if that’s a good example.

M: Kids are looking to do real life stuff, things that are relevant. The river has relevance because it’s part of where we live. It’s an obsolete idea to have kids learning things that have nothing to do with their community. The idea is to adhere to state and county curriculum standards and still teach these other things. That’s the trick.

What’s makes Rainshadow a good choice for a high school education?

A: Our school is a community of learners. It’s small enough so that the teachers will know the students and the students will know the teachers. A child will not get lost or fall through the cracks.

You sound excited about this venture.

A: For me, it’s the chance to make up for years of frustration, the chance to do high school right. I went to Galena [High School] to do interdisciplinary education, but it got too big too fast. I believe in small schools.

M: When I saw the announcement for Rainshadow and saw its philosophy, it was just me. It was a chance to put into practice the things I’ve written about at the university.