Steamboat Springs In Joanne "Doc" Lasko's senior English class Thursday at The Lowell Whiteman School, every student took part in a discussion of the Edith Wharton novel "Ethan Frome."
They didn't have a choice - there was no place to hide from participation in the 10-person, Advanced Placement class.
Small class sizes and a rigor-ous curriculum, along with many class trips, are among the traits greeting students during their first week back on campus at the private high school outside Steamboat Springs.
"These guys who are serious pretty much get to be in classes with other students who are motivated, active and intellectually curious," said Lasko, who also is the academic dean.
Enrollment at the school dropped slightly this year, Admissions Director Jared Olson said. The school has 96 students enrolled, with 46 students living on campus. Olson said the average total enrollment is about 100 students.
To kick off the academic year, the school is planning a camping trip Sept. 12 to 14, with staff-led trips to several sites around the state. That comes in addition to the regular kayak, mountain bike and hiking trips taking place every Wednesday and Thursday.
A new offering this year is a workshop for new students, teaching time management, goal-setting, organization and an introduction to the high expectations of a college-preparatory curriculum.
"We have new kids coming in from not only all over the country, but all over the world with disparate backgrounds in education," Lasko said. "We've required this because Whiteman poses some unique challenges to kids, especially the boarders."
Lasko said the school has a "serious college prep education," but almost all of the students are doing everything asked of them.
"So far, I've found only two students out of the whole school who did not complete their summer readings, and that's kind of unheard of in schools," Lasko said. "I think a lot of kids have gotten to where it's just accepted that you don't go for three months without reading a book."
In Jim Linville's honors environment and geography course, the students are expected to read full books, such as Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel," but they also get to choose half of the curriculum for the year.
"We just have to agree that we're going somewhere," Linville said. Topics the class covers often include local and international water issues, population problems, the rise of militant Islam and globalization.
Linville said he was reluctant to teach globalization because he is not as comfortable with economic issues, but after the students did research and presented it to him, he agreed to it.
"I learned tons," he said.
The average class size is about eight students, Olson said, with class sizes ranging from one student in Advanced Placement French to 13 students in a film class.
At The Lowell Whiteman Primary School, class sizes also remain small, with six to 15 students per class.
Sixty students have enrolled for the 2008-09 school year, about the same number as last year, said administrative assistant Mary Williamson.
To start the school year, about 120 parents and students attended an overnight camping trip on a ranch near Sleeping Giant State Park.
Classes for both schools began Monday, and Williamson said the primary school already is preparing for student council nominations and will begin pairing up in big brother and big sister pairs.
The school also will hold a parents' night Sept. 11, allowing parents to walk through their student's classes.
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