Young school grows, improves

North Routt Community Charter School's enrollment is up

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The word is getting out.

Nearly two years after securing a three-year charter school contract with the Steamboat Springs School District, the North Routt Community Charter School continues to grow and improve, and North Routt County residents are taking notice.

"I probably get a phone call a day inquiring about the program," school Director Mary Bramer said.

The callers must like what they hear.

Enrollment at the school jumped from 14 in its first year to 22 this year, and projections point to increased enrollment next year. Bramer said she expects about 25 students for the 2003-04 school year.

Accordingly, the school is expanding. An older building adjacent to the one-building schoolhouse will be converted into a multi-purpose building by the end of summer. The school is awaiting word from Great Outdoors Colorado on a grant that will fund a new playground capable of entertaining the school's growing population.

Four new computer workstations -- hooked up to the rest of the world through a wireless network -- bring state-of-the-art technology into a building last occupied by students who rode their horses to school.

The growth is a clear sign of the young school's early and hard-earned success.

"It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to build (the school) into something sustainable," Bramer said. "It's a huge challenge, building from the ground up. It was two years in the making, really."

The school's visionaries, namely a group of dedicated area residents and parents, were tired of sending children on long bus rides to attend school in Steamboat Springs and wanted a more community-oriented and place-based approach to their children's educations.

After approval of the application and final negotiation of a contract with the school district during the spring and summer of 2001, public schooling returned to North Routt.

But, as those who have worked toward the implementation and success of the school know, transferring application proposals and goals to an actual school proved difficult.

"You can't help but have growing pains and differences of opinion," Bramer said.

And while many of those initial growing pains and obstacles have been overcome, issues will continue to face the school. Sustained community involvement through the school's board and various committees and surveys will help address future community concerns and desires, Bramer said.

Designing and developing curriculum continues to be the school's top priority, Bramer said, as does improving day-to-day operations.

"It wasn't a structure that was already in place," Bramer said. "Creating that internal structure was a big part of last year."

The school's commitment to place- and project-based learning is a large part of the curriculum. The goal, Bramer said, is that student-directed projects will help them "buy in" to their education while integrating lessons from numerous core subject areas.

"The point really isn't the end project, it's the process," Bramer said of project-based learning. "It's identifying what the goals are, doing the work yourself and being able to assess what you've learned."

The first such project, dubbed the "Garden Project," has students constructing and planting a garden of vegetables, fruits and flowers.

"What's exciting is that they're learning their reading, writing, math and science through these projects," said Maureen McCabe, one of the school's two teachers.

Future projects, such as creating a school newspaper, are in the works, McCabe said.

Students Callie Swinsick, Brianna Watterson and Alana White couldn't be happier with their new school.

Before North Routt Community Charter School opened in the fall of 2001, all three attended Strawberry Park Elementary School, where more students and larger classes are a major contrast to the 22-student, multi-age setting in Clark.

"We do more hands-on learning experiences and we go on more field trips," White said.

"I don't miss the bus, no way," Swinsick said, remembering the long rides to Strawberry Park.

For Bramer and others who dedicated themselves to opening a North Routt school, their hard work, and all the hard work to come, was vindicated the day in the late summer of 2001 that students showed up for school.

"It made everything else pale in comparison," Bramer said.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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