Kepler Neighborhood School: Where Lines Are Blurred for Greater Clarity

Apr 13, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Community, Education, Strolling The Town, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Tom Sims has been covering the Tower District and Downtown Fresno for KRL for the past couple of years so we have decided to turn this into a monthly column which will go up every second weekend of the month. We are also adding to the mix articles on Old Town Clovis. We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling Through Town!

Downtown Fresno

“The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.” – Johannes Kepler (1571 –1630)

What if life was a schoolhouse and the schoolhouse was life itself? What if all disciplines were somehow related? If history and science, mathematics, technology and community engagement were all interwoven, and integrated into a curriculum designed to build citizens who make history themselves as part of a process of ongoing discovery?

What if a school were designed to explore such questions and principles?

That is the vision of Kepler Neighborhood School. Kepler is a charter school in downtown Fresno, due to open in August with students from kindergarten through 8th grade. Tuition is free.

According to their mission statement:

“Kepler Neighborhood School exists to inspire K-8 students to find passion and joy in learning and to become ethical, caring, effective, innovative members of their community and informed world citizens who develop and leverage their strengths to achieve educational, personal, civic, and career goals.

There is no education in isolation. Everything we learn is gained from the past and indebted to the future. Arts and service are integrated into the whole. Everywhere, there is beauty. It is present in mathematics, physics, language, history and civic engagement. A child must integrate all facets of the diamond of learning, and then real learning will take place. Education is preparation for the whole of life, a lifetime of learning, service and significance.

Charter Developer Shiela Skibbie

“Nothing in isolation,” exclaims Sheila Skibbie, Lead Developer of Kepler, says. “Our school is designed to benefit the entire community, not just the students.” Skibbie and other founders envision the school as a transforming presence in a community where they are deeply invested. For many years, there has been a concentrated effort to build strong community in the Lowell District, a neighborhood closely connected with downtown Fresno. The Lowell Neighborhood Association grew out of that commitment and much of the energy for this project comes out of that initiative.

Students at Kepler will be encouraged to relate multiple academic disciplines to each other. They will be challenged to see the mathematical rhythms in nature and art. They will explore the principles of physics in musical sound. Technology will be utilized and maximized and the history of its development celebrated. They will study history as something that is living, of which they are a part.

More than that, they will understand that what they learn and what they do matters in real life.

“Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife.” – Johannes Kepler

In partnership with the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, students will engage in what Skibbie calls, “service learning.” In that process, they will discover that they can be a part of solutions in their communities. Service learning is different from mere community service because it flows out of classroom experience and is integrated back into that experience. Learning is life and life is learning.

KNS at Discovery Center's Egg Fest _ with Christine Montanez and Shiela Skibbie

“There is an algebraic equation in a flower,” observes Skibbie. Architecture develops through history and history influences architecture. Thoughts are interwoven between traditional subjects and the lines of separation are blurred, as deeper patterns emerge into greater clarity. Johannes Kepler’s life and work demonstrate a continuum of learning on a plane where one generation is mentored by the previous generation, becoming a mentor to the next. Schools, buildings, and even space programs are named for Kepler, an astronomer, mathematician and philosopher of the past. Students need to know and be inspired to believe that they may make great contributions as well and have things named for them!

Inspiration is part of the Kepler curriculum and mission!

Board President Doug Davidian

Innovative, passionate, engaged and enthusiastic are words that aptly describe the team, which includes Valerie Blackburn (Co-Developer), Dr. Christine Montanez (Principal), Board Chair Doug Davidian, and Board Members Barbara Fiske, May Tag Yang as well as others.

Community partners include CMAC (Community Media Access Collaborative). CMAC trains community members at the highest level of media production with state of the art equipment and studios. Students at Kepler will access these resources to create and distribute high-quality video content. Again, it is about integration of learning, expression, service, and communication.

Parent Info Session

In their own words, the Kepler staff: “…is dedicated to creating a learning community where all stakeholders students, staff, families, community members – will grow together in their ability to see beyond their immediate circumstances, recognize their strengths and passions, and envision a transformed future. With this vision in mind, KNS will bring to a community partnership in the Historic Lowell Neighborhood and Cultural Arts District an exemplary educational program built upon our core values of Community, Character, and Creativity.”

There is a great deal of energy in this project and it is spiraling. Parent meetings are creating a buzz and excitement over something truly different is in the air.

Open enrollment closes May 13th.
1545 Fulton St., Fresno, CA 93721
Phone: 559-273-4513

You can find more of Tom’s Tower District and Downtown Fresno articles here.

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.



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