She helped save a school, and in the process created an entirely new style of education for northwest Indiana children.
Laurie Metz is the director of the Chesterton based Field Station Cooperative and the Board President for the Discovery Charter School, two roles she found herself in and which make her this week’s Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight.
Metz was born in southwest Michigan and attended Western Michigan University for business management, thus propelling her into becoming the Vice President of Account Services for a company in Chicago. She and her husband, also from Michigan and also working in Chicago, would travel to the city for work. After many long hours back and forth to Michigan, they finally decided to stop the commute.
“We were coming back ad forth so much that when we decided to leave the city we ended up in Chesterton, halfway in between,” she said.
Metz decided to stay at home while she raised her kids, Lennon now 17 and Sawyer, 15, but as Lennon’s school career took off, so did Metz’s.
Lennon was attending pre-school at Augsburg Church, but during her school year, the pre-school lost funding and started to shut down.
The teachers moved the school to a building at Central Beach in Gary, but they lost that building as well.
“They were going to throw in the towel, but Lennon had one more year to go and Sawyer was there to come,” she explained.
So, she and a group of mothers stepped in to save the day.
Metz and the group began setting up the not-for-profit application, the cooperative status, and worked with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on a deal for the property of the school.
They took over the falling-down, grown over site of an old barn and house, located at 399 Howe Rd, rehabilitating it into the Field Station classrooms.
“The barn was literally falling apart,” she said. “We had to jack up the wall to keep it up and it was infested with bats. Thousands and thousands of them.”
Metz said the organization, Rebuilding Together came to the barn and helped them clean and hook up the electricity and plumbing.
In 2005, the school was up and running as a three days a week program, with three teachers and about 45 families.
Now, the school has two, three, or five days a week programs and about 80 families.
The school’s focus is on environmental learning, so it is very nature-based with the kids learning about the outdoors. They take daily hikes through the trails and prairie of the lakeshore property.
All was going good, except for the sadness and despair families felt after leaving the Field Station and not having the same outdoorsy, unique education style when the kids entered public school.
“We started throwing out some different ways to start a private school, or some sort of homeschooling program, but by the end of the day the number of people we had interested in it, we had to start a charter school,” Metz said.
The school, located at 800 Canonie Dr. began in 2010 and already has undergone three major construction expansion projects, in which the latest one included a gymnasium/cafeteria area and eight more classrooms.
When it started, the school was kindergarten through sixth grade, Metz said, and now it is through eighth grade, with about 620 students.
The school sits on the National Lakeshore and has its own trails to walk through and their own naturalist on staff to work with the teachers.
It was really difficult to start the charter school, Metz admitted, since many people fear that type of school takes away from the local public schools.
“It was really controversial and we went through a lot of heartache to open it, but at the end of the day, there were so many people who wanted it,” she said.
This year was a big year for Discovery, with the opening of the new expansion and completing its first year as a self-managed organization.
“We’re in a good place right now and same with the Field Station,” Metz said. “We hope to keep it as it is because everything is in a pretty good place.”
As the director and board president, Metz works with the lakeshore officials, communicates with the parents, and runs things through an administrative approach.
Though her not-for-profit roles keep her busy, Metz decided to return to the accounting world, where she works as the account manager for a small local business.
In between watching high school sports for her son and applying to colleges with her daughter, Metz enjoys spending time at the beach or at the Dunes on the trails.
She enjoys the lakeshore, believing the Dunes –the beach, the trails, the creatures - should be enjoyed by the community, especially the little ones.