Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
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New Arts and Education Center Home for Three Local Schools

Ellen Gilbert

“We are three very different schools and that’s why it’s so interesting to work together,” observed French American School of Princeton head and founder Corinne Gungor in a recent conversation about the new Princeton Center for Arts & Education (PCAE) that will open late this summer on the site formerly known as St. Joseph’s Seminary. The two other schools participating in this adventure in education are the American Boychoir School and Wilberforce Academy.

Although the Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), which is scheduled to open in the fall, had expressed earlier interest in the Princeton-Plainsboro site, it was determined that there wouldn’t be room at St. Joseph’s to accommodate the potential growth of their student population and faculty. It is not yet clear where PIACS will ultimately settle.

The Arts & Education Center is an incorporated, not-for-profit entity. Although details have not yet been fully worked out, administrators at the three PCAE schools look forward to various forms of collaboration. Ms. Gungor anticipated sharing resources like a nurse and, perhaps, teachers, while Wilberforce School Head Howe Whitman suggested sharing a food service and bus transportation for field trips. PCAE founding Executive Director Karl Held pointed to outdoor playing fields and a shared gym that also boasts a stage with “decent” acoustics as pluses for all of them. “No one has comparable facilities at this point,” he noted.

“We’re going to share a very, very nice campus,” agreed Ms. Gungor.

“It will bring life to that beautiful campus that’s been under-utilized for many years,” said Mr. Whitman, who sees the dramatically different missions of each of the participating schools as an asset. “It’s a unique situation to be able to have three schools that all have a strong record in their areas of focus come together on one campus. Each school has its own mission and will remain focused on each school’s mission,” he added. “We’re all educators, and after meeting several times, we already respect each other.”

The American Boychoir School, which is currently located on Lambert Drive, is considered to be home to the nation’s leading boy choir. The mission of the French American School, which has a campus at All Saints Road in Princeton and another on Carter Road in Lawrenceville, is “to meet the educational needs of both the French speaking community in the Princeton area and the American families seeking an academically rigorous education in a challenging bilingual environment” for grades Pre-Kindergarten through six. It is the only accredited French-American school in New Jersey. Wilberforce Academy has been renting space in a church in Kingston. Named for abolitionist and philanthropist William Wilberforce (1759-1833), it is dedicated to providing “a distinctly Christian education” for children from junior Kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Recording for the Blind Studio already located at the Mapleton Road campus will remain. “We had entertained the possibility that some of our boys might read or sing for them,” said Mr. Held. “There’s potential space for other schools, and we hope that other arts organizations will join us on campus,” he added. Architects are currently “working 24/7,” he reported, in anticipation of the August 20 opening date.

“It’s a big project,” admitted Ms. Gungor, “but I think that it’s a unique project and since we are very focused on arts and education it’s very exciting.”

“The PCAE represents an institutional quantum leap for the American Boychoir School said Litton-Lodal Music Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz. “The improvement in quantity and quality of facilities that the new campus provides is staggering.”

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