Growth, no pains, at school |

Growth, no pains, at school

North Routt Community Charter School has increased enrollment, new program

Susan Cunningham

It was chilly in North Routt on Wednesday morning — snow coated yellow-leaved aspens — but the kitchen of the North Routt Community Charter School was warm, its air filled with the sweet smell of freshly baked blueberry muffins.

Kindergartners had just read “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.” They learned about the “m” sound. As they watched the timer for the muffins descend to zero, they showed off their newfound knowledge with smiles.

The charter school is off to a running start this school year — 31 students are enrolled and two more are expected, said Colleen Poole, principal and director. Last year, the school began the fall semester with 20 students, an enrollment that grew to 24.

To accommodate the growth, the school hired a third full-time teacher, who brings math, science and technology expertise.

The school also has, with the help of its supporters, bought additional computers. All 12 computers will be used for a computer lab.

And as enrollment has increased, the school has outgrown its buildings. Recently, the North Routt Community Charter School Board decided to buy a yurt — a circular, temporary structure historically used by nomads.

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The yurt, which will be in place by early November, will provide needed space and also will be a way to teach students about alternative forms of housing.

“We have our vision in sight,” Poole said about the school, which has been operating since 2000. “We know where we’re heading.”

The theme for this school year is that everyone plays an active role in the school and the community.

“We are crew and not passengers,” Poole said. “We are responsible for helping when we can, we are part of this community. … We’re all in this together.”

As part of that theme, the school is reaching out to a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina that is moving to the area. Students and their families have collected various donations — including furniture and clothes — and are helping the family make North Routt home.

The charter school is committed to taking part in the Expeditionary Learning Out-ward Bound teaching program. About $30,000 still is being raised to allow the school to be an official expeditionary learning school.

Still, Poole said, the school is “making huge strides” financially. It already has sponsored two fundraisers, and more events are planned. Grant applications also are in the works.

Under the expeditionary learning model, the school’s curriculum is based on the same state standards that all Colorado schools use, but the method of teaching is slightly different. Although there are traditional classroom lectures, students also learn through expeditions, during which one big question is posed and students work step by step to find answers.

Students are finishing a school-wide expedition they began last spring to map historic schools in the area. The project is being done in conjunction with the Hahn’s Peak Historical Society.

One aim of the charter school is to provide differentiated instruction — teaching individual students based on their needs and learning levels, a task made easier by the school’s small size.

Students also learn in multiage groups that span from kindergarten through eighth grade. That method helps younger students because they look up to the older students and see them as role models, and it helps older students develop patience, understanding and confidence.

Maddie King, a second-grader, practiced her reading with the help of eighth-grader Callie Swinsick on Wednesday morning.

Maddie said she liked the help because “you can show off your reading skills.”

“She helps me by, like, sounding it out with me and stuff,” Maddie said.

Callie said she enjoyed helping Maddie learn to read. “It’s like doing community service, except you’re at school,” she said.

All the school’s students set goals for themselves at the beginning of each school year, with the help of teachers, so they can see where they are going and track their progress. The goals are academic, physical and character-based.

“They’re understanding that they’re the ones that are learning,” Poole said. “We’re not telling them what they’re learning.”