Our View: Providing an alternative

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The creation of Yampa Valley High School is a good investment for the taxpayers of Routt County and is the kind of cooperative effort we would like to see more of among our school districts.

Yampa Valley High School is a unified alternative school open to students in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt. All three of the county's school districts will contribute students and funding to the school, which will open in Steamboat Springs in the fall.

Currently, each district has an alternative school. But the student populations are small, and without this consolidation, the sustainability of the programs is in question as existing grant money expires.

Alternative schools fill an important niche. They are secondary schools that give students who have not been successful in traditional settings a second chance to complete their public education.

Sometimes, the choices students make -- teen pregnancy, substance abuse and discipline issues, for example -- cause them to fall behind academically. Sometimes, factors beyond students' control -- illness, family instability and economic hardship -- cause them to slip in their schoolwork. Either way, when students are able to resolve those issues, they often find they are so far behind academically that the idea of trying to catch up in a traditional school is overwhelming. Many give up and become dropouts.

That's where the alternative school comes in. Such schools allow for individualized, self-paced instruction under the guidance of a teacher. Students do the same amount of work and complete the same number of credits to graduate. But they are given the flexibility to, for example, complete two math courses in a single semester.

It's encouraging to see Soroco, Hayden and Steamboat working together on this program. Consolidation brings the benefits of combined resources and economies of scale, but it brings with it the complication of transportation from Oak Creek and Hayden. Transportation must remain available and accessible to all of the school's students.

Also, we disagree with the proposal to limit the student population to six students from Steamboat and three each from Hayden and Soroco. Soroco has seven students in its alternative program. The program should be structured in a way that all of those students can complete their coursework.

Besides, because funding for the school will be on a per pupil basis, enrollment should be based upon the most deserving candidates, no matter where they live.

Most students are successful in traditional school settings, but we shouldn't give up on those who aren't. Giving them an alternative route to their high school diplomas is a wise investment. The earnings potential between high school graduates and those without diplomas is significant, and those who fail to graduate high school are much more likely to end up on public assistance.

The new Yampa Valley High School will provide an important service and open doors for future collaboration among our school districts. It should be a welcome asset to public education in Routt County.

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