Jessica Corona, 22, paints a wall of VIBES Public Charter School Saturday morning at Kids Unlimited in Medford. In a matter of days, six erstwhile fitness, computer and technology rooms and administrative offices will serve as classrooms for first- through third-graders. - Julia Moore

Unlimited potential for VIBES school

Jessica Corona returned to her old stomping grounds Saturday at Kids Unlimited on Riverside Avenue, paint gear in hand.

The 22-year-old South Medford High School graduate was a participant at Kids Unlimited and later coached in some of its youth programs. But she came back in a different capacity this time — part of a volunteer paint crew from Northwest Community Credit Union helping to transform an office cluster into Medford's newest charter school — VIBES.

"There are so many memories," Corona said. "I grew up in the program here, so coming back and giving back to the community always makes me feel good."

It was more than the usual corporate volunteer outing for Corona.

"If it wasn't for Kids Unlimited, I wouldn't be working at Northwest," Corona said. "When I was younger, this was the place to be. It got me off the streets and onto a good track. I know where we started from at the old building on Main Street. It gets me excited to see where the place is going, and we've got a new chapter — the charter school."

In a matter of days, six erstwhile fitness, computer and technology rooms and administrative offices will serve as classrooms for first- through third-graders. It's a natural progression for Tom Cole, executive director at Kids Unlimited, which has long provided after-school opportunities in and around downtown Medford.

With the school year looming, a dozen green-shirted volunteers from NCCU rolled buckets of paint onto the classroom walls adjacent to the Kids Unlimited gym where candidate Barack Obama appeared in 2008 en route to winning the White House.

The credit union has a long history with Kids Unlimited going back to when present regional manager Jan Griffin was on the organization's board, and when it remodeled the kitchen on the west end of the building.

"We have a pretty good history here," said Kelli Cox, the Medford branch manager. "It was really interesting today, not having been in this part of the facility, to see what they've done, and exciting to see the adventure they're beginning."

Prior to June, students were enrolled from Medford, including Howard, Jackson, Oak Grove, Roosevelt, Hoover and Griffin Creek schools. Since then, they've come from as far as White City and Talent.

The attraction, Cole said, is smaller class sizes and a learning day that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — contrasted with 2:15 dismissal times at public schools and early release on Wednesdays. The school's two curriculums — "Success for All" and "Singapore Math" — were picked based on their results elsewhere.

"We were looking at why certain schools were outperforming other schools, especially those that had come from areas with glaring achievement gaps," Cole said.

Instead of students being held to a single standard, "Success for All" provides tracks of varying ability, providing intensive help for struggling readers. Singapore students regularly perform in the top three globally, Cole said. New Jersey students using the curriculum routinely advanced more quickly.

Academic achievement numbers across the state, as well as Jackson County, have suffered in recent years, giving rise to more efforts such VIBES.

"We know there are certain populations of kids who are struggling and have larger achievement gaps than others," Cole said. "We purposely went into this wanting to be advocates for those students because we believe their achievement possibilities can be so much greater. The truth is, from what we're finding from the feedback that we're getting, there are a lot of parents across the economic spectrum who want more for their kids."

VIBES will get a week's head start on other district schools, meaning the volunteer efforts came in handy.

"We're coming down to the wire," Cole said. "We finally have walls, and all the electrical is in place. They transformed the primer walls into classrooms today, and all the bright-colored classrooms will be ready to go. The floor will be laid this week, and glass will go into the observation-room windows. This will all be transformed into a school in the next seven days — that's crazy."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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