New international boarding school to offer free admission to half its students
The school aims to offer a broad and diverse curriculum, to students from all around the world. Source: Shutterstock

When it comes to international and private schools, people typically associate them with top-tier education for the rich and privileged.

Classes are generally smaller than those of public schools, and learning environments more dynamic and focussed on individual styles. The outcome is a well-rounded student primed to continue his or her learning journey at any top-rated university around the world.

But what about those from low-income households? They want the same access and given the opportunity, could excel just as well as their higher-income peers.

Kiran Kulkarni, a private equity investor who was born in India and lives in Toronto, wants to provide that access with his international school project, which caters to both students who can afford the fees and those who can’t.

It was recently announced by the Bay County Economic Development Alliance that construction is slated to begin on the inclusive K-12 international boarding school in Bay Country, Florida.

The idea was born when Kulkarni, upon learning that 19 British prime ministers attended the Eton School in Windsor, considered whether the success of Eton students is attributable primarily to their own attributes or to the environment and curriculum that Eton provides, according to 850 Magazine.

He asked himself if an ‘ungilded’ student could succeed at Eton on the same level that children of privilege do, and through research and reflection, concluded that the answer is ‘yes’.

This led to the birth of his vision for the school.

Last year, he founded the Casa Laxmi Foundation, and purchased 260 acres in Fanning Bayou in north Bay County for the project. The project represents an investment of approximately US$117 million.

260 acres in Fanning Bayou, a premium waterfront community, has been bought for the new school project. Source: Dr Horton

Kulkarni told 850 Magazine that students will be admitted to the school by invitation, and that the  Emotional Quotient of prospective students will be considered more important than their IQs.

He said, “You have a lot of people with high IQs who do horrible things.”

The tuition fees will range from US$100,000 to US$150,000 a year for paying students, which will make up half of the student population. The other half will be accepted for free, under scholarships.

According to 850 Magazine, “the school will admit, free of charge, ‘vulnerable’ students who have lost their parents due to abandonment, death or incarceration”, from impoverished communities all around the world.

Sunal Thomas, Kulkarni’s and member of Casa Laxmi’s governing council, said, “The school will focus on “producing great human beings, not academic scholars.”

She also said, “We’re building the most unique school in the world. We want to take two complete opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, put them together with equal treatment and equal footing. But more importantly, develop the leaders of tomorrow.”

They plan to incorporate a broad and inclusive curriculum, starting by enrolling around 300 students from different backgrounds.

According to the website, “Each privileged student will be paired with a vulnerable student to help, guide and teach him or her. Our privileged students are encouraged to spend time with their partner, learn from them, and even invite them home for holidays. All of our students will be accustomed to a certain standard of living that is unimaginable for the other half. It will be a significantly humbling experience for our privileged students.”

Bay County EDA president Becca Hardin (right) along with Casa Laxmi Foundation president Kiran Kulkarni (left) and his daughter, Sonal Thomas, a member of the foundation’s governing council, at the official announcement event of the project. Source: 850 Magazine

Watersports and a focus on marine-centric activities are some of the main elements of the school, and the top reason why the waterfront location in Bay Country was picked for the project.

Students will have the option of choosing from extra-curricular activities such as swimming, surfing, canoeing, kayaking, skating, tennis, drama, photography, dance, yoga, and more.

The school will also strive to instill in students respect for self and others, as well as respect for surroundings. Some eco-friendly techniques that the school plans to adopt include the use of electric cars, reliance on solar power and an investigation on the possible use of geothermal heating and cooling systems.

It is planned for Grades 6 to 8 to officially open by 2021, with the addition of more grades through 2026. A name has not yet been officially designated for the school, but is termed ‘Project Royal’ for now, according to The News Herald.

Plans for the school include a Center for Excellence that will seat 600 people and serve as a venue for events open to the general public, and an Expedition Center that will be made available to community groups looking for a staging site for field trips.

The school will serve the community in various ways, starting by bringing jobs to approximately 300 people making an average of US$50,000 per year when it is fully operational.

There are also plans to hold summer programs for its students which will be made available for free to some students in the community. The school will also hold regular teacher professional development programs that will be opened to local teachers, too.

The school will partner with 30 universities to offer a diverse curriculum to students, and is already making good on its promise.

Already, the school has begun developing collaborative relationships with leading universities including Yale, Penn, NYU, Stanford and Cornell, and has consulted the University of Guelph in Ontario about organic farming and plans to raise food for consumption by resident students.

“Many people would call this a social experiment, but that’s not how we view it, if you look at the amount of research that’s gone into gradual integration,” Thomas said. “That’s why we’re partnering with universities … to teach respect, empathy and compassion.”

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