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Catching Up with Katie Falwell of Collage Day School

By Gwinn Volen

For parents who have been in the area for a while, the closing of Accotink Academy by the Sea a couple of years ago was heartbreaking. It was an institution with a lot of history and great memories. My boys both went there as preschoolers, and those special times are embedded in my brain.

This past year, Katie Fallwell took a huge leap, mentally and financially, in buying the old Accotink property and launching a new school, Collage Day School, which serves the needs of early/preschool aged children all the way through elementary school.

Chatter on the street is that it is a wonderful learning environment with a modern twist. (OK, I asked some of my favorite old teachers who are working there, and they said its phenomenal). It is a Reggio-inspired school (see bottom of an article for more details on that) where the environment is given special consideration as part of the learning experience. It truly sounds kind of dreamy – chickens, pot-bellied pigs – and makes me a little nostalgic for those early parenting years.

Collage opened this past August, and I thought it would be helpful for young parents and new arrivals to town to learn a bit more about Collage’s program now that they are six months in.

Open registration begins tomorrow, January 16, so it’s a great time to set up a tour and learn what the school as to offer.

What are some of the unique resources or specialty resources Collage has that other schools aren’t tapping into?

School Day Activities:

Not only does Collage offer unique resources such as a STEM Lab, TimberNook and Gardening, we offer traditional resources in a more child-centered engaging manner due to small class sizes.

For example, students have the opportunity in music to play an instrument in one class setting. Children attend 6 resource classes each week (Physical Education, Spanish, Art, Music, Yoga, TimberNook, and Gardening) We emphasize a mind-body connection. For example, in yoga, children learn self-regulation by practicing breathing techniques in an age appropriate manner such as imagining they have a flower in one hand and a candle in the other.  They breathe in to smell the imaginary flower and breathe out to blow out the imaginary candle. They sense the calmness that this brings and it is a toll that stays with them.  The creative art projects are emphasized at Collage in both art class and in the classroom.  Children have many opportunities to create nature-based art as well and develop an appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds them.  They learn the stages of art criticism and explore a variety of art mediums starting in preschool and grow in their ability to appreciate, discuss and create art.

Collage is also proud to be the only school in NE Florida that offers TimberNook. This is an exciting outdoor education program that enhances outdoor education, team building and the students using their imagination. 

Enrichment Activities:

At Collage, we recently hired a new Director of Enrichment. Currently, we offer Reggio Emilia Art, Adventure and Leadership, STEM Farm to Table, Ballet, Hip Hop, Soccer, Drama, Improv, Spanish, and Music. We also offer TimberNook Mommy and Me classes and after school camp.

Parents can enroll their children for afterschool enrichment classes and extend the learning day. These classes are also open to the community. Sibling discounts are offered. New classes will be added in the near future.

Tell us about your outdoor activities…

On our campus, we can bring the learning outside so easily.  We have nature trails, outdoor classrooms, gardens, basketball court and several playgrounds geared to specific ages. We pride ourselves on offering a lot of outdoor activities from PE to Timbernook to a courtyard with various outdoor learning stations. Our natural spaces flow and emphasize loose parts play. We avoid shiny, plastic, and synthetic materials; neon colors, or pre-packaged toys that limit creativity. We maximize time with natural beauty and minimize any screen time at school. We even have resident chickens and a mini pot belly pig!

Our playgrounds are age appropriate and invite discovery and imaginative play. For example, our children love digging for dinosaur bones and learning more about these prehistoric animals.  In addition, we have a fire pit where children have the opportunity to make s’mores and sing around the campfire. Through these shared experiences in a natural setting, we build a sense of community.  Several times a year, we hold community events in our outdoor environment. 

What grades are you currently serving?

We currently serve students from 3 months old through 5th grade. 6th grade has been requested for next year.

Do kids wear uniforms?

Yes, our students wear uniforms. There are a variety of styles available that includes light blue, navy blue, and white with khaki or navy shorts or skirts.  Uniforms are optional for 1 and 2 year olds and required for pre-k 3 through 5th grade.

Goals for next year?

We will extend the project-based learning opportunities for children and share our learning with the community. We plan to have a school museum exhibition where children from each age group and grade level working on specific science or social studies topics create artifacts to demonstrate and share their learning with their families and the community at large.  This experience fosters development of 21st century skills including the 4C:s (creative thinking, critical thinking, communication and collaboration) and helps children to create their best work as it is on display for others to enjoy.  The children are the docents of the school museum exhibits and therefore the experts on the topics. 

In addition to deepening their understanding of content, this experience builds self-confidence. Our goals for next year also include an expanded list of after school enrichment classes. We will continue pursuing accreditations including NAEYC and FCIS. Our faculty will continue to receive comprehensive training and professional development, including visiting other Reggio schools across the country for inspiration.

How has parent feedback been?

Our parent feedback has been very positive. We receive most of our referrals through happy parents spreading the word in the community. We have worked to create a community at Collage.  We communicate regularly with parents and invite them to special programs throughout the year. Teachers also send home a weekly newsletter updating parents on classroom learning activities and include ways for parents to extend the learning at home.

Any enrollment deadlines?

Our current families have let us know of their intent for the upcoming school year and we will have open registration for the community on January 16th. We currently have some openings available and will register students until we are filled. Our hope is that you can join our family next year and not be placed on the wait list. 

Are you doing VPK?

Yes we offer several different VPK options. We have a 4-day program and several 5-day options also that include half-day, school-day, or full-day.  Our VPK program is greatly enhanced by our resource classes and focus on the whole child.  This is unique to other VPK programs in NE Florida.

Where do the bulk of the families live/come from?

We have families from all over NE Florida from Jacksonville to Ponte Vedra to St. Augustine.

Some families commute over an hour to attend our school. However, the bulk of our families come from Nocatee and Ponte Vedra. We pride ourselves in being a premier private school in contrast to neighborhood franchise daycare. Discriminating parents are willing to drive a few extra miles to access the best educational opportunities for their child.

About Collage Day School:

Collage Day School is a Reggio-inspired, academically challenging independent school nestled on an 8-acre wooded campus. In this inspirational setting, Collage teachers nurture the mind, body and spirit of the children we serve. Our school is wellness-focused, meaning that we develop the whole child. This is a truly developmentally appropriate environment which ensures that children are active learners who are challenged at the level they can succeed.

Elementary students are instructed at their individual learning level in all subject areas. This allows for students who need more of an accelerated curriculum to receive the instruction they need regardless of their grade level. In addition, if students require additional remediation, the appropriate support will be provided to meet their current academic needs.

The environment in each classroom is carefully designed to promote discovery, investigation and learning. Since Collage is a Reggio-inspired school, we refer to the environment as the third teacher. It is carefully and intentionally arranged to be aesthetically pleasing and serves as an invitation for children to enter and participate. We use many organic materials and consider the outdoors an integral extension of the classroom environment. Children learn to care about the outdoor environment as they have daily personal experiences in our nature-based setting.

Here is a peek into some of the high-quality teacher child interactions that you can expect at Collage on a daily basis:

  • Focus on responsive caregiving which includes teacher sensitivity to children’s needs such as responding to babies’ cues or bids for attention
  • Provide early language support by modeling turn taking and adding language including songs and rhymes to infants’ daily experiences.
  • Ensure a positive class climate and proactive behavior guidance
  • Provide many opportunities to make choices to maximize independence including self-help skills
  • Actively engage toddlers throughout the day with intentional choices by the teacher to provide age appropriate opportunities for exploration and learning
  • Provide support for autonomy and set clear developmentally appropriate behavior
  • Increase productivity by having efficient routines and transitions
  • Tune into children’s interests and create centers that build academic skills in literacy, math and science as well as expand children’s understanding of their world
Elementary students
  • Create lesson plans informed by education standards with clear learning objectives
  • Communicate expected learning outcomes and provide demonstrations and guided practice before independent application
  • Emphasize concept development & encourage children to engage in analysis & reasoning while investigating curricular topics, creating artifacts and designing displays to share their learning
  • Actively engage students with hands-on learning opportunities throughout the day including a variety of choices for demonstrating their knowledge

An important goal at Collage is to extend children’s thinking and deepen their understanding of concepts by posing both convergent and divergent questions to note what they remembering and understanding. We help children apply what they are learning, compare and contrast concepts and ideas, investigate, share theories and share their knowledge in creative ways. This becomes a more sophisticated process as children develop.



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