EDITORIAL: Valentine’s Day for the Charter School? Part Two

Read Part One

I stopped to visit with a friend yesterday, and he asked me about the Pagosa Peak Open School.  He was concerned that the new charter school was going to be teaching cultural values that ran counter to his own personal values.

I imagine he’s not the only person in Pagosa with those kinds of concerns.

I explained to my friend that the key educational models driving the school — Place Based Education, and Project Based Learning — are not built upon any political or cultural agenda, but are instead aimed at igniting the curiosity and passion inherent in each and every child.

In the service of education.

The public schools in America, no matter where they may be located, provide two essential services.

1. They provide a place for children to be, while their parents are working.

2. They provide a steady paycheck for teachers and staff.

That might sound a bit cynical, but I don’t intend it in such a manner. Generally speaking, children in America really do need a place to be, while their parents are working.

And as far as the paycheck is concerned, we can probably guess that the vast majority of teachers and school staff would be hesitant to spend five days a week working at a school, if a regular salary were not part of the equation.  And I make this statement as the son of a lifelong public school teacher. My father was one of the most caring, dedicated teachers I have ever known, but he would not have continued to teach, were it not for the steady paycheck.

Beyond those two essential services, many public schools additionally provide an excellent education.

Some do not.  Some schools mainly produce students who drop out prior to high school graduation, feeling disillusioned, dejected and discouraged about life — without an understanding of basic arithmetic and unable to read a daily newspaper. These schools do, however, provide a place for the children to be, while their parents are working (or standing in the unemployment line.) And these schools provide a steady paycheck for their teachers.

Our public schools in Pagosa Springs are not excellent, nor are they the kind that produce a large percentage of high school dropouts. Academically, our Pagosa schools are consistently “slightly above average,” or “slightly below average,” when measured against other public schools in Colorado.  These measurements, however, are extremely limited in scope. Basically, the only things measured with any consistency in Colorado — when comparing students from different school districts — are the ability to read, the ability to solve preconceived math problems, and the ability to take tests.

Many other types of learning take place in public schools. Some students learn, for example, how to appear to be paying attention. Some learn how to disguise their lack of understanding of crucial concepts. Some learn how to tolerate physical or emotional bullying. Some become proficient at sports. Some learn to how to be popular.

Presumably, there are things every human being can learn, to their long-term benefit. Some of these things — certain skills, certain pieces of knowledge — have not changed in 10,000 years. Some are brand new in 2017. A public school cannot address all of them. Which are most important — to you, dear reader?

Two years ago, the Pagosa Charter School Initiative (PCSI) — a group of moms with preschool or elementary age kids — began the process of developing a public elementary school using the charter school process. One of their first steps was the creation of a list of “core values.” These were concerns that the whole group hoped a future charter school might be able to address. At this point in the process, we — a volunteer board that included no professional educators — knew very little about how such a school could be created, or whether our goals were even realistic. Looking back, I have to smile at our innocent sense of future possibilities.

Here was our vision of our charter school, approximately two years ago. Quote.

PCSI envisions happy, thriving children that are eager to learn in a respectful and friendly environment where teachers and students feel strong fellowship and are comfortable communicating with each other. In a safe and supportive setting children will learn personal responsibility, social justice and conflict resolution as well as cooperation and competition skills while participating in teams and on group projects such as plays, murals, construction activities and working in the school garden. Students will experience social justice; fairness, people’s rights, politics and governance, and be heavily involved in the community. Emotional councilors will be present to help support self-confidence and develop independence, a strong sense of self and personal value, as well as positive relationships with their surroundings and fellow students.

Our modern world lives in an ever-changing environment. PCSI feels it is vital that children have a deep understanding of nature and their surroundings. We live in a beautiful and rich area and our students will be immersed in the outdoors as much as possible. Environmental awareness courses, local area exploration, “green living” education and wholesome health will be part of every child’s experience. Recycling, repurposing and composting will be integrated into daily activities. A school garden for children to learn the delicate balance of an ecosystem and experience an intimate relationship with plants, as well as build the skills to cultivate food. Students will learn to respect and care for their local environment, all the while be shown the bigger picture of our global community and the importance of sustaining our natural resources.

It is vital for a child to have a strong sense of place; to be positively engaged with the people and community that they live in. Interaction with others not only builds social and life skills, but can also provide inspiration and spark curiosity. The family of each student will be welcome and encouraged to participate not only in their own child’s education, but also to be a part of the learning environment of the whole school. Guest speakers, apprenticeships, field trips, assemblies and volunteering for local non-profits and community projects or events will provide avenues for children to explore different interests and discover their place and personal worth.

PCSI believes the application of creative arts is pertinent for healthy mental development. Be it writing, music, arts and crafts, drama or dance performance and sports. Each person has a special way in which to create and students will be encouraged to explore any and every avenue of interest in a safe and non-judgmental setting. With a strong focus on the process and production of craft items rather than “fine” art, children will learn many applicable life skills, and have encouragement and support to market and sell such items if so desired. Freedom of expression is the heart of every culture and students will explore different customs and traditions from around the world, past and present. Spanish immersion and learning expeditions to see other cultures will be highlights of each year.

A healthy and happy life begins with holistic living. Yoga, meditation, exposure to nature, exercise and nutrition all play an important role. Students will experience a wholesome environment and be shown the proper ways to care for themselves, each other and nature. Students will be heavily active in the school garden where they will learn seed planting, crop management, how to harvest and processing. Ultimately the children will learn the importance of proper nutrition and dietary habits. An innovative lunch program utilizing local resources will provide delicious and nutritious breakfast and lunch options which will be served in a “family” dining setting where parents and siblings are encouraged to join for meals.

Two years later, many of those ambitious goals continue to figure in our Project Based Learning / Place Based Education model for the Pagosa Peak Open School.

Today — Tuesday, February 14 — at about 6pm in the Middle School Library, the Archuleta School Board will consider signing a contract to officially authorize this new charter school. The founding board of the Open School awaits the School Board’s Valentine’s Day decision, with hopeful expectation.

Read Part Three…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.