Steamboat Springs For children attending the charter school in Clark, its closeness to home is not just the short driving distance but the feeling children have when they are at school.
The harmony of the schoolhouse with hardwood floors connecting the primary and secondary learning rooms as well as a general gathering room where kids get their daily assignments is the same harmony seen between the different ages of children working together, excited and curious to learn.
"It's a natural family-like ecology," said Cindy Gantick, a teacher at the school.
A few of the students also have siblings attending the school, which increases the family-like atmosphere, Gantick said.
She said the school year was one of transition for the children who learned how to be independent and self-directed. She said she tries to instill in children that they are responsible for their learning. The children are given a daily agenda with assignments they need to complete. Gantick said she will schedule time for instructing but gives students a little more freedom on deciding how to spend their time.
"Kids have to learn that freedom doesn't become do-nothing time," she said. Gantick said the children do not just have to worry about academics, but they also have a responsibility to help maintain the school by keeping it clean and helping pick up after themselves.
The multi-age student population adds a different learning experience for all students.
Madi Frick, a fifth-grader and the oldest student in the charter school, said she likes helping the younger kids. Her younger sister, Kenzi Frick, is in fourth grade. Both girls follow a similar curriculum through the school. Madi Frick said she finds going to school with her sister helpful and a lot of fun. She said when they do their homework at home, they work together to understand the topics covered at school.
Both Madi and Kenzi are involved in planning a community playground at the school. The two sisters, along with the other older students at the school, have been surveying the community, generating fund-raising ideas and consulting with playground designers to determine an outline for the playground they want to build.
Madi Frick said it won't be until next year that the construction of the playground will begin, but she said she is looking forward to coming back to school and helping to build it.
The integration of parents' involvement in the classroom has made it more meaningful to the students, Gantick said.
She said many parents volunteer in the classroom or help with the maintenance of the schoolhouse.
Katrina Zupan volunteers every Tuesday morning. Her son, Will, is a kindergartner at the charter school. Zupan said Will was extremely shy when he first came to the school and she wasn't sure how he would do.
"The progress he has made is pretty phenomenal," she said. Zupan works with the students in kindergarten and first grade on special projects in addition to their math and spelling studies.
"It's really rewarding working with the kids," Zupan said. She said she has a full-time job but rearranged her work schedule to be able to spend some time helping the students at the school. She said the integration of the different grades has had a positive learning effect on the group.
"It's nice watching the older kids help the younger kids they work as a team," she said. Zupan said the younger students provide the older students with fresh perspectives and insight. She said she enjoys having a greater knowledge of what her child is learning through her involvement in the school.
Mary Bramer, director of the charter school, said the creation of the school has really taken the pressure off kids who had to get up early to catch the school bus to Steamboat. She said she gets to see her daughter, Halle, do well in her studies under the teaching of Gantick. She said a large part of the success of the school is because of the amount of time each student gets to spend with the teacher. The school currently has 14 students, which gives Gantick plenty of time to make sure all of the students' academic needs are met.
"Each kid is on an individual program. They are allowed to move at their own pace," Bramer said.
Sandy Clark said her son, Nathan, has really turned around since he has been attending the charter school.
She said she used to have a terrible time getting her son to go to school. She said her son's attendance has been almost perfect since he has been at the charter school.
"Kids really love coming to school. They want to stay," Bramer said.
Although the charter school has seen success in the growth of the children attending school, Bramer said there are a few challenges to overcome.
"I know that we have to be sustainable," she said. "I'm taking what we learned this year and fine-tuning it."
Bramer said the school needs a bus and a new driveway safer for the children. The school's needs will require additional funds through some fund-raising efforts, she said. She said she is hoping to have additional children join the school next year.