Applying to YVHS
Applications to Yampa Valley High School are accepted on an ongoing basis throughout the year, but the deadline for priority enrollment is Friday. Teacher Karla Setter said it's unclear how many openings Yampa Valley High School will have next year, but she anticipates openings in Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt.
Applications are available at Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Soroco high schools as well as Yampa Valley High School on the third floor of the George P. Sauer Human Services Center in Steamboat.
Applications and information also are available at www.nwboces.org.
Yampa Valley High School requires 24 credits to graduate with a diploma. The school runs on a quarter system with each student earning a minimum of six credits a year.
Students are required to meet five national standards and benchmarks to earn one-quarter credit. Those standards are available at www.mcrel.org. The Yampa Valley High School is an autonomous school, so it has its own graduation requirements and standards independent of the county's three public high schools.
The credit breakdown for graduation at Yampa Valley High School is: Language Arts (4 credits), Math (3), Science (3), Humanities (3), Health (0.5), Physical Education (0.5), Electives (10).
Students can participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics, music and drama through their home school districts in Steamboat, Hayden or South Routt.
Steamboat Springs Cole Breland is an artist, and he has no problems painting a picture of what would have happened had he remained at Steamboat Springs High School.
"I would not have made it through high school," he said.
Breland left the Steamboat school last year and en-rolled at Yampa Valley High Sch-ool - the county's alternative school - for his sophomore year.
"I'm doing so much better now," he said last week.
With the school's first year quickly coming to an end, school officials are eagerly anticipating what lies ahead for the program.
Started in 2006, Yampa Valley High School is a collaborative school for South Routt, Hayden and Steamboat students. Area administrators, teachers and students devised and implemented a plan and policies for the alternative school. The high school has a cap on its enrollment, and all three Routt County school districts are allocated a certain number of slots for students who live within their boundaries.
Yampa Valley High School teachers Karla Setter and P.J. Zenewicz plan to expand the school's programs and have more one-on-one time with students next fall. Whatever the case, local school officials say providing an alternative for struggling students is a priority.
"I believe very strongly, as a secondary principal, that there needs to be multiple options for students," said James Cham-berlin, principal at Soroco High School and Soroco Middle School. Chamberlin spent eight years working toward the creation of Yampa Valley High School.
Myths abound about the school and its 12 or so students, who attend class on the third floor of the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street in Steamboat. School officials say one of the most common beliefs is that the students sit in a room and do nothing.
Rather, teachers say, the students spend part of their day in teacher-instructed classes - Zenewicz said his students recently finished a rigorous philosophy unit on existentialism, but a good portion of the students' learning is self-directed. For example, freshman Keenan Kulma is researching how to build a hydroponic system to improve the growth of tomato plants because of his interest in botany.
"They do better in a setting where they have more choices in what they are learning and how they learn it," Setter said.
Some people also think students show up for school only when they want to.
Setter said attendance may be more strictly monitored at Yampa Valley High School than most traditional high schools. Attendance is handled on a case-by-case basis, but students are expected to attend and work while at school. Discipline is taken for those who don't follow the rules, Setter said.
Yampa Valley High School graduates receive a diploma, not a GED.
"We hit national standards and benchmarks for high school students instead of (standards) just for Colorado, but we are definitely hitting Colorado's standards," Setter said. Students pointed to the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning Web site at www.mcrel.org for a list of the standards and benchmarks they consistently check when working on projects.
And the most common perception about the alternative school students is that they were expelled from their previous schools. While Yampa Valley High School can be an outlet for students with disciplinary problems, many students are there because they thrive in a nontraditional academic setting.
"Currently, the three students we have there, none were discipline issues," Chamberlin said. "It was just their choice of trying to do something different. The standard we use down here is for students who choose to go or are not successful in a traditional learning environment."
Setter said the alternative learning model works well for a variety of students, including Gifted and Talented students who want more individual control of their learning.
Sophomore Rae Steele, an outgoing, articulate teen, said Steamboat Springs High School "was too big," so she never went. Now, she is considering graduating early so she can get certified in massage therapy.
"It's such a small environment here," Steele said.
On Wednesday, Steele sat at a table with Breland, a teen who ends each question with a polite "ma'am," to talk openly about their struggles in a traditional setting and their successes at Yampa Valley High School.
Breland, who eyes a career as a cartoonist or illustrator, cited the pressure of attending Steamboat Springs High School.
"I'm more motivated here," he said.
And motivation is critical for academic success, but for a variety of reasons, some students lack motivation in a traditional school setting, which is why alternative schools are commonplace in large school districts throughout the country.
"I was one of the people who really pushed for the Yampa Valley school to happen," said Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel. "I think it's very important. It gives us more flexibility in meeting more specific student needs. The students are very much held to the same standards, they just take a different path to get there. I'm very pleased with it."
Model that works
Jane Toothaker, executive director of the Northwest Colo-rado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, oversees Yampa Valley High School. Toothaker was out of town at the end of last week and unavailable for comment, but Zabel spoke highly of Toothaker's relationship with the South Routt, Hayden and Steamboat districts. That relationship allows Yampa Valley High School to operate as smoothly as it does.
Financially, it would have been impossible for Hayden and South Routt to run alternative schools of their own. Founded in 2002, the South Routt Alternative School in Oak Creek had the most consistent enrollment, but a five-year grant that provided between $35,000 and $45,000 annually expired last year, effectively ending the program.
Hayden had a cyberschool program so students could take courses and earn credits online, but Zabel said enrollment fluctuated, and the district ended up serving more Steamboat and Moffat County students than Hayden students.
Yampa Valley High School is funded much the same as all state public schools, with each student's "home" district passing on the per-pupil funding to BOCES, which oversees the school's day-to-day operations.
On Wednesday, the teachers and students were preparing for this week's trip to Grand Mesa to study Colorado's indigenous people. It is the third extended learning trip the students have taken this year - the first was to Rocky Mountain National Park and the second was to Summit County.
Education is the priority of the expeditions, but the camping and hiking give the students and teachers time to communicate and work together.
Jars of raspberry jelly and peanut butter sat on a classroom table next to a thick book listing the country's four-year colleges. It was an atypical site for a classroom, but the Yampa Valley High School isn't a typical school - and that's the point.
"We are a family here," said Kulma, who added that he didn't think school used to be for him. He didn't care and wasn't interested in continuing to attend traditional high school.
"Now, I'm starting to see the value of school more," he said.