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Second in a series.
Yankee Ridge principal Brian Anderson has an uncommon perspective on his school – he was once a student in it.
Anderson, who took over in July upon the retirement of Mary Beth Norris, attended Yankee Ridge in Urbana through sixth grade (it since has become kindergarten-fifth grade). Since that time, the building has undergone few changes, although a remodeling that awaits school board approval could bring $8-12 million in changes in the near future.
Beyond the familiarity of the building, there’s an aspect of Yankee Ridge that remains in place today: The camaraderie inherent in being a “neighborhood school.”
“The sense of community was present even when I was a child,” Anderson said, “and thankfully that’s continued on.”
Yankee Ridge is nestled on Anderson Street – merely a coincidence – in a long-established Urbana neighborhood that has developed alongside its school, built in 1958.
“We’re a fairly small school, what’s called a two-strand school. In most of our grades, we have two classrooms, so it’s a very close, tight-knit community,” Anderson said. “It’s a neighborhood community, but we also have a population just north of I-74 that travel on buses to the school. But those kids easily assimilate right in.
“I take pride in the fact we are a neighborhood school and that pride transfers to even the kids who are outside the neighborhood.”
One thing has changed, though: Anderson said the level of support for students has continued to grow since he was in school.
“I’ve been amazed at how well the students and staff are supported,” he said. “You name it, it seems like we have it.”
Anderson mentioned a large number of students with special needs, who work with two social workers. There are also about 16 students who speak Mandarin Chinese, and the school district reassigned a bilingual teacher to Yankee Ridge to assist with instruction.
“Even though there is a dedicated language program offered in the school district, many of them chose Yankee Ridge,” Anderson said. “It was said to me, jokingly, that ‘All of China thinks that Yankee Ridge is wonderful.’ We like to embrace that. (But) it might have just been a nuance in the language.”
Other things that make Yankee Ridge unique:
–A vibrant PTA that coordinates an after-school program in the fall and spring. Two days a week, students (for a small fee) can learn about a particular subject – yoga was one offered last year, playing chess another – that is handled through the PTA.
Anderson estimated that 20-25 percent of the student body has signed up for an activity.
–An emphasis on fine arts. “We have a strong fine arts program throughout Urbana,” Anderson said. “Yankee Ridge embraces the philosophy of the whole education.”
–An “overwhelmingly positive” staff. “I inherited it,” Anderson said. “This staff has the right attitude, which makes a big difference.”
And, not to be overlooked, Yankee Ridge has a principal who is working on his doctorate. “Slowly,” he jokes.