Families find BESis rating a second look
Commuting to her job as an emergency room nurse at Aspen Valley Hospital, Basalt parent Beth Barnes thought from initial appearances that Aspen was the place for her oldest son to attend elementary school.After a year, she enrolled her son at Basalt Elementary School.”I’ve been really happy with the school,” said Barnes, who has a second-grader and kindergartener attending BES.”I was very closed-minded when I first started. I realized I really needed to give Basalt a chance,” said Barnes, who has lived in the valley 14 years. “I took a tour, and I met the principal and was very impressed by their openness and friendliness,” Barnes said. “When you go in there and meet the teachers and actually see what’s going on, it’s a great school.”Barnes is a fan of the school’s PEAK program for talented and gifted students and the strong level of parent involvement.The parent said teachers at Basalt Elementary are “fabulous,” and Principal Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo, in her seventh year at the school, agreed. Wheeler said the diverse teaching staff fits well with the multicultural nature of the school. A variety of teachers were raised in or have taught in other countries, from Chile to Switzerland, from Canada to the Philippines. Last school year, the staff at the elementary made some changes that have proven successful for students, parents and teachers. Families are offered the option of either regular grade level classrooms or dual language Spanish and English classrooms from kindergarten to fourth grade. The school reorganized the campus to include separate early primary and upper elementary buildings. Students sometimes stay with the same teacher for two years in a row, throughout first and second grades or third and fourth grades, via a looping option. Class sizes average 18 students.The school boasts an impressive supplemental book room with thousands of paperbacks in English and Spanish for every reading level. The science program is bolstered through outdoor field trips and environmental lessons provided by the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.Small but significant improvements such as specialized, 80-minute extended literacy blocks and a bilingual front desk staff member are helping meet the needs of the school’s 523 students, some 40 percent of whom are Latino.Hundreds of kids take part in after-school STAR programs at BES, from homework help to enrichment classes such as sign language or yoga. The school campus houses satellite offices for five agencies that assist youth, including the Family Resource Center, BOCES, Camp Chip-a-Tooth, Aspen Counseling Center and the Buddy Program.Wheeler said that with the school’s options, special offerings and well-received recent changes, enrollment is up again this year. The school has added another section of kindergarten and added more bilingual classrooms at first and third grades due to increased interest by Anglo parents.Test scores continue to improve, with significant growth in reading and writing scores at the third-grade level on the most recent CSAPs.”We really saw a big difference this year,” Wheeler said. “Our goal is all students can learn and will learn.”Suzie Romig is public information officer for the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District.Suzie Romig is public information officer for the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District.
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