NORMAL — It's been nearly 40 years since the voices of children echoed in the cottages and on the lawns of Normandy Village in Normal.
Come January, children will return as Bloom Community School puts down roots in a cottage at 11 Normandy Drive.
“It’s charming. It’s a place for children to be children and imagination and curiosity to drive their learning process. That’s clearly reflected in the unique architecture of the buildings, big trees, playhouses and green space,” said Laura Kalmes, founder and director of Bloom Community School.
Curriculum at Bloom Community School is project based, with most lessons including trips to local businesses, museums and libraries. Kalmes said the students, in kindergarten through fifth grade, “have some discretion in what the learning process looks like and the teachers facilitate their ideas.”
The school, with 27 enrolled students and three full-time teachers, currently occupies three classrooms at the former Bloomington Junior High School at 103 E. Washington St., Bloomington.
Kalmes said she always had an eye on the cottages at Normandy Village, and when a unit opened up, she quickly swept in to work with Normandy Village co-owner Bob Broad.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Broad. “Bringing kids back to the village is important to us. When these were first built, the cottages acted as dorms where students dined, slept and were educated.”
Built around 1931, the cottages were originally part of the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School.
Established in 1865, ISSCS began as a home and school for children of disabled and deceased Civil War veterans. After housing and educating children for more than a century, the facility closed in 1979.
Bloom Community School will become the second educational facility on the ISSCS grounds, joining Mulberry School for preschool through second grade at 1101 Douglas St.
After a few restorative upgrades are made to the cottage, Bloom Community School will move in over holiday break.
The L-shaped building includes two large, open rooms which will be used as main learning spaces. Smaller rooms will be staff offices and quiet study spots for students.
A full kitchen and restrooms also are on site. School officials hope to install a reading loft in one of the wings.
The original charm is preserved through arched doorways, lofted ceilings with exposed beams, a fireplace and vintage murals.
The window-lined walls frame the outdoor classroom where students will explore, including the nearby University of Illinois Extension food forest.
“The main room in the building feels like a living room and contributes to the sense that learning can happen in an inclusive and integrated environment. The best learning doesn’t have to happen in a really sterile or hyper-technical environment,” said Kalmes.
The first semester for Bloom Community School “was a learning process,” said Kalmes, but she and her fellow educators are eager for the future of the progressive school.
“The initial chaos of starting a new adventure has quieted a little, but we’re still trying to grow into that vision of Bloom Community School, which is cultivating joyful, independent learners,” said Kalmes. “I can’t think of a better place to do that than here.”