A heady hum of machinery buzzes at the corner of 9th Street and Bridger Avenue, as rooms that once housed the Downtown Senior Services Center are readied for their new occupants: children aged six weeks through kindergarten. The two-building property, originally built in 1946 as a church, is now the 9th Bridge School, the first brick-and-mortar product of the $50 million education arm of the Downtown Project. It arrives only two years after the initial brainstorming session and one year after purchasing the site from the city.
Connie Yeh, the director of the Downtown Project’s education initiative, looks neither harried nor hassled, despite being mere weeks away from the first day of school on August 26. For the past several months, she and her team have been holed up inside a roomy trailer at the southwest end of the complex. Despite the large to-do lists and calendars that blanket a portion of the wall, a calmness reigns as Yeh, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, picks at a bagel breakfast and ticks off the remaining tasks. There’s a design to choose for the students’ T-shirts, final lunch logistics to hammer out and the family handbooks and staff manuals to be completed, among other items.
Yeh declined to give current enrollment figures as she says applications are still coming in, but she did note that it’s on track with the school’s projections and that the final number will purposefully fall short of the building’s limit of 106 students.
“It’s never been our intent to reach capacity during our first year,” she says. “We’d rather start small and do it right than to max out our capacity.”
Tuition for the school year, which consists of full-day programming, costs $13,000 for pre-kindergarteners and $15,000 for kindergarteners, with sibling discounts offered.
Because 9th Bridge is seeking to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the number of students—and their ages—directly impacts the number of teachers the school will hire. Yeh, a former commodities trader, easily recites these student-teacher ratios from memory, explaining that the younger the students, the lower the ratio needs to be. This makes it difficult to determine how many teachers are needed until a final student enrollment is tallied, but Yeh said that hiring would soon be completed.
“We have gotten a great response locally, and we have had interest from out-of-state as well,” Yeh says of the applicants.
On August 5 the teachers will embark on three weeks of training and professional development with the aid of members of the school’s global think tank, which served as a sounding board in shaping the school’s curriculum and philosophy. Yeh describes 9th Bridge’s methodology as a blend of Montessori, Reggio and classical education models, infused with a modern emphasis on neuroscience, sustainability and positivism.
The long-term vision is to expand 9th Bridge up to the 12th grade, though not at the same location. Yeh says it’s too early to know how much the school will grow next year, but that they’ve made a commitment to expand at least one grade.
And as for the Downtown Project’s education team after 9th Bridge opens? Yeh says they’ll be present, but that they won’t have official roles. One of her greatest hopes of the school is for it to literally bridge the vibrant Downtown community with the educational process.
“There’s so many things going on in Downtown Las Vegas, why can’t we spend a week at Stitch Factory at the shipping container park, at Work In Progress and really leverage what’s going on in the community and bring that into our curriculum?” she says. “I envision that as the kids get older we can take them on walking field trips to bring the classroom outside the four walls of the building.”
PHOTO OF CONNIE YEH BY ANDREW JAMES