Columbus Academy will welcome students back to class in grades 6-12 on Monday, Aug. 20, and in the lower school, ages 3 through fifth grade, on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Bob Lee, the academy's communications director, said the school at 4300 Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna has an enrollment of more than 1,100, with a senior class of 100 students.

The independent college-preparatory school is home to students from around central Ohio, drawing from 54 different ZIP codes, Lee said.

Head of school Melissa Soderberg said she loves how the campus comes alive when students and faculty return for each new school year.

"We spend so much time and effort planning events and creating spaces for them, so we can't wait to see the results," she said. "I especially look forward to hearing all about the internships and amazing experiences our students had this summer."

New staff

Students in grades 6-8 will be greeted by Shaka Arnold, who began work as the new head of the middle school July 1.

He said all of Columbus Academy's students will return to a school that is welcoming, fun and intellectually stimulating.

"Under my leadership, students can expect that our faculty will always strive to do what's best for middle school-aged children in every area of their education," he said.

Arnold most recently served as assistant head of middle school for Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

He graduated from the College of William and Mary with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology and worked in public relations for the Baltimore Ravens NFL team.

Arnold also received a master of divinity degree from the Howard University School of Divinity and a master's degree in education from Goucher College.

He previously worked with the Gilman School in the positions of teacher, coach, program director, admissions coordinator and dean of students.

Arnold and his wife, Davida, and their four children look forward to residing in Pickerington.

Other new middle school staffers include Alison Gorsuch, science department; Aimee Hall Nicole White, Spanish department; and Betsy Zoeller, counselor.

New upper school staffers include Amy Berkley, history; Sean Corey, computer science; Heather Downey, science; Mary Johnson, Spanish; and Valerie Nandor, physics.

The lower school welcomes new teachers Stacy Bittinger, fourth grade; Molly Murphy, kindergarten; Courtney Owsley, second grade; and Megan Quinn, pre-kindergarten.

In arts and music, Charity White joins the roster as an art and ceramics instructor and David Wong is the new orchestra teacher and director.

New administrative staff members include Melissa Clarke Beckett, director of alumni relations; Sharelle Buyer, controller; Christine Cea, afternoon receptionist; and Jeremy Morgan, communications coordinator.

New play space

Lee said one of the most exciting changes this coming school year is the addition of a classroom for 3-year-olds for the "3YO Explorers" program.

He said it will have a new nature-based playground right outside the classroom.

"We always had age 4 and now we'll have a (program for) 3-year-olds," said Mark Hansen, head of the lower school. "We looked at what we could have as a developmentally appropriate playground. It's in the construction phase now."

He said a program started last year took the school's pre-kindergarten students outdoors every Friday, even in the winter.

"We spent the entire day outside, taking advantage of this beautiful campus," he said.

Hansen said a primary part of the playground will be a water feature.

"The kids will have this pump they can manipulate, and they can change the flow of it," he said. "The grass area will be in waves and there will be a climbing structure with some aspect of a boat they can climb on."

Hansen said the play area also would have logs and objects the children could use for imaginary play.

"It will be a large area we haven't been using," he said. "The classroom we're using will have a door to the outside."

Hansen said the youngsters also would have balance bikes, equipped with two wheels but no pedals.

"They use their feet to get going and just balance," he said. "We have a paved track they can use."

He said the playground is being built from as many natural materials as possible, and it will be used by about 112 pre-kindergarten students.

"We'll have huts made out of wood that are about 5 feet tall and will look like the old A-frame tents," Hansen said. "We also have a garden with flowers and plants.

"It will be really, really cool," he said.