Northlake Elementary could scarcely find a better time to celebrate its 30th anniversary. TAAS scores soared last spring, bringing the school tantalizingly close to the coveted “Recognized” status. First grade teacher Melanie Yungclas joined four colleagues as a RISE Award winner and was named RISD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.

A new library and media center, as well as a revamped front entrance, update campus facilities. And discipline, which Principal Denise Moulton acknowledges was once an issue, is firmly in hand.

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Families are beginning to take notice. Many who might once have opted automatically for private schools are touring Northlake – and deciding to enroll their children there, Moulton says.

Take Belinda Bruneman, whose twins began third grade at the school. She and her husband Steve had been happy with the private school, but they also wanted their children to attend their neighborhood elementary.

“The first time I visited, I said: No way,” she admits. “It (the diversity of the student body was) so different from what I was used to.”

But subsequent visits and conversations with other parents reassured her.

“I started talking to the teachers,” she says. “They seemed more than accommodating. And the moms have been wonderful. I have been welcomed with open arms.”

Bruneman’s experience is what Moulton aspires to offer all members of the school community. When redrawn attendance boundaries brought more Spanish-speaking students to the school, Moulton recruited bilingual teachers and had notices translated. English courses for adults were conducted in the evenings.

The result, Moulton says, is that families from all backgrounds feel welcome at Northlake. And diversity, which many once equated with lower standards, is becoming a drawing card.

“This is the world we live in,” Bruneman says. “It’s an education in itself.”

This year, Northlake began to offer a two-way language option in which kindergarten and first grade students receive academic instruction in both English and Spanish. Third graders can participate in a modified version of the program, and the school hopes soon to offer Spanish classes to all students.

Northlake’s recent achievements have generated positive publicity and opened people’s minds. Families are more willing to investigate the school themselves, rather than relying on others’ opinions, says PTA President Cheryl Jones.

“The neighborhood is starting to embrace the school again,” Jones says.