By Joe Beckfirstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Blue Ridge Educational Center made a big difference in the life of Rob Kurzenknabe, so he was happy to be among those celebrating its new location Tuesday at 606 Massanutten Ave.
As he entered the 10th grade in Warren County Public Schools in 2005, Kurzenknabe, now 21, had never read a book, and school was a hard, dispiriting place for him, a teenager diagnosed with bipolar disorder and high anxiety.
That year he enrolled in Blue Ridge and began to study William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and suddenly discovered he enjoyed reading -- really enjoyed it.
"That's one of the things I loved about school was reading 'Julius Caesar,'" Kurzenknabe said.
He graduated in 2008 and now works two jobs taking care of people with special needs.
"When I started here, I thought I'd give it a shot," Kurzenknabe said of Blue Ridge. "I reached the stars educationally. Blue Ridge Educational Center saved my life."
The rented building in which today's Blue Ridge students attend classes covers two to three times more space than the previous structure on South Royal Avenue, said Carol Olson, the school's executive director. Olson and the rest of the staff think the extra space will allow them to expand the school's educational offerings and its enrollment. The school now enrolls 11, but has room for 15.
Blue Ridge is open to a variety of students who have trouble fitting into a traditional school, but most of its enrollment comes from those classified as disabled or special needs. Homeschooled students who want full-time or part-time help with their studies also can enroll.
"Our mission is to be a safety net for youth who might not get an adequate education elsewhere," Olson said. "That could be anybody."
Blue Ridge's day educational program is open to students from 12 to 21. Lessons are taught under individualized plans and in accordance with state curriculum standards. The majority of Blue Ridge students come from Warren County Public Schools, and those who graduate receive county school diplomas. The school provides one teacher for every three students.
"They can learn at their own pace, which is a lot easier to do than in a traditional classroom," Olson said.
The new building provides learning opportunities that were missing at the previous location, said Connie Richards, a member of the board of directors. As an example, she cited a kitchen that will allow students to learn life skills such as grocery shopping and preparing meals together.
"These kids aren't able to manage in a normal classroom environment," Richards said. "Here they're getting more opportunities be successful at things."
The previous location had space for three computers in the classroom, but the new facility has 12 available, Richards said.
Gaining the extra space also has allowed Blue Ridge to obtain a state license to operate as a day school for children with disabilities. The school's services allow parents and special-needs children to remain together in the community instead of forcing them to seek educational opportunities in distant places, Richards said.
"If Blue Ridge wasn't here, the county would have to ship students out to parts unknown," she said.