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Learning beyond four walls

Brittany Markert
bmarkert@gjfreepress.com
Twenty-two students graduated from Grande River Virtual Academy's online program through Mesa County School District 51 last school year.
Submitted photo |

BY THE NUMBERS

1.5 Million: Number of estimated students participating in home-based education across the United States.

7,489: Number of students who were home-schooled during Colorado’s 2013-14 school year.

161: Number of students enrolled part time in home-school programing in Mesa County last year.

40: Number of District 51 alternative education programs available.

1,000: Number of students using alternative education through District 51.

ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS FOR DISTRICT 51 STUDENTS

Mesa County School District 51 offers more than 40 alternative education options. Through those programs, students must take the same assessments and tests as everyone else.

Options include Grande River Virtual Academy, Mesa Valley Community School, and other charter schools.

Though Mesa County School District classes began Aug. 4, Mesa Valley Community School and Grande River Virtual Academy are still accepting applications until mid-September for new students.

Mesa Valley Community School currently teaches 425 students in a home-based alternative program for grades kindergarten through 12th. It allows students to complete their education at home with a personalized learning plan, while still maintaining connection to the school district. Students and their families receive two advisors to support them.

According to Mesa Valley Community School administrative director Laurajean Downs, students benefit from a variety of education choices, including classroom settings if they choose.

For students who prefer online-only education, Grande River Virtual Academy offers classes from kindergarten through 12th grades. It started in 2009.

Grande River Virtual Academy Principal Pat Chapin said 180 students are currently enrolled with predictions of growth before the end of the school year. Last year 22 students graduated from high school using the program.

Though classes are Web-based, local teachers assist students in person as well. Plus, students can choose to learn in classroom settings, too.

Grande River Virtual Academy students also meet a few times a week for socialization and clubs offering activities like rock climbing, golf, gaming, skiing, etc.

For more information, visit http://www.mesa.k12.co.us.

— Brittany Markert, Free Press reporter

Wyatt Rollins, 18, and Max Rollins, 14, of Collbran, Colo., are typical teen-aged boys. They love being outside, playing sports and hanging out with their friends. One thing setting them apart, however, is that they are educated by their mom in an alternative school setting.

“I like being able to make my own schedule,” Wyatt said, “especially to be able to play the piano.”

Home-school and other alternative education programming for kindergarten through 12th graders is picking up steam throughout Mesa County. Parents involved in home-school programs say benefits include children learning at their own pace about subjects of their own choosing. Even so, home-schooling and other alternative learning options aren’t right for every family. This type of education can be time intensive and not conducive to parents who work full time.

According to numbers from the Colorado Department of Education, 161 students were registered as part-time home-based learners for Mesa County’s 2013-14 school year. If home-schooled, students must attend at least 172 days of classes, averaging four hours a day, allowing flexibility in family schedules.

LEARN THROUGH EXPERIENCES

For the Rollins family, home-school was the best option for their sons’ education due to their desire for flexibility.

According to Michelle Rollins, mother of Wyatt and Max, “there is no one else better to teach my own children than myself.”

The boys also attend co-op classes — where home-schooled students learn about topics like science, drama, or art in a group setting. Many home-schooled students additionally attend classes offered by Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mesa University to expand their learning environments.

The Colorado Department of Education considers a home-based educational program to be a sequential program of instruction for educating, while taking place at home under the supervision of a parent or adult relative; it is not controlled or supervised by a school district.

“It’s fun to choose my own curriculum and learn about a certain topic,” Max said. “If I want to learn for a few hours during the day and then go snowboarding in the afternoon, I can.”

Wyatt mentioned that home-schooled students often deal with stigma regarding limited social interactions, which he said is not accurate. The brothers often “hang out” with other home-schooled and public-schooled students after school.

Michelle added that in her experience home-schooled children benefit because they are often around people “of different walks of life and backgrounds.”

Kimberly Clemmer, of Grand Junction, feels similarly to Michelle Rollins when it comes to educating her three sons, Nick, 18, Jonathan,15, and Jake, 9, at home. She became responsible for their education eight years ago.

Clemmer’s oldest son, Nick, attended public school until the fourth grade, while the younger boys attended home-school only. According to his mom, Nick recently graduated high school, is ranked in the top 10 percent of college applicants, and tested out of some college classes through ACT scores.

“He has a brilliant mind and wanted to do more bigger and faster,” Kimberly said. “There weren’t a lot of options in Collbran [where they lived at the time] and I decided to teach him myself.

“I was very hesitant to start home-schooling,” she added. “But it’s the best decision I ever made.”


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