When it comes to education in Colorado, students have no end of options. From public to private, age 3 to age 18, today's schools offer up a bit of everything to meet the needs of many different types of students.
Since the Public Schools of Choice Act passed more than 20 years ago, Colorado students have had the opportunity to freely transfer to any public school, whether inside or outside their district. "It is an advantage to all students in Colorado, so that they can make the decision for what school is best for them no matter where they live," says Robin Adair, community relations director of Lewis-Palmer District 38. She says in D-38 the number of students leaving is about equal to the number of students transferring in.
The window for enrollment choice varies by district, but the period tends to include the first two or three months of each calendar year. And if you miss the window, you're probably not completely out of luck — many schools admit students throughout the year when room becomes available.
That said, space availability is usually the potential curveball in the choice process. When there are more applicants than openings, most districts, including District 38, will turn to a lottery system.
The choice process begins by talking with representatives of a student's home district; most programs are defined on individual district websites.
The idea behind the state's Charter Schools Act, passed in 1993, was to encourage parents, teachers and other stakeholders to take advantage of "new and innovative methods of educating children that are proven to be effective" — while also taking "responsible risks" to create and implement other research-based approaches to educating children in our public schools.
Thus, it follows that there is no charter-school cookie cutter. Technically, any individual or group with a vision for student education can submit an application for a new school to their local district or to the Colorado Charter School Institute.
More than 30 charter schools have found a home in El Paso County, with a variety of emphases — from college prep to creative arts to performing arts to the Core Knowledge curriculum.
Because charter schools receive public funding, all must go through the state accreditation process, and attending students must take Colorado standards-based achievement tests.
Each school has its own application deadline, so check with the specific school for more information. To learn more about charter options, visit the school districts' websites or the Colorado Charter School Institute site at csi.state.co.us.
As technology continues to advance within our society, schools are trying to keep up and add new styles of learning to their basic curriculum. This may be as simple as adding iPads in the classroom, as Manitou Springs School District 14 has done across grade levels, and as local entrepreneur David Neumann aims to do for 51,000 area elementary-school students through his newly established Neumann Education Foundation.
Or it may be supporting full-time online learning. According to the Colorado Department of Education, more than 16,000 students in the state now attend an online public school.
Locally, CDE recognizes four online schools, state-accredited programs that provide full-time instruction "primarily through the use of the Internet" that are accessible to students both in and outside a particular district. (Learn more at tinyurl.com/onlineincolorado.) But even online schools have a range of offerings.
Consider Falcon Virtual Academy. In just its second year, FVA opened a new campus at 613 Constitution Ave., giving the 400-plus K-12 students currently enrolled four distinct ways to learn.
Through the Full-Time Academy, students can participate in online instruction completely from home with the support of a certified teacher. In the Part-Time Academy, students take a minimum of three courses online from home with the support of a teacher; a parent provides the other three courses through home schooling. (In both, younger students must be supervised, and the number of courses differs from grade to grade.) Meanwhile, the Supplemental Online program allows students to take web-based courses for enhancement or advancement toward graduation.
Finally, the Blended Learning Academy offers online learning provided on campus, where students have individual access not only to teachers, but additional equipment, like that needed for science and art labs. It's an unusual approach, but an intriguing one. "We're really setting a model for how to do the blended classroom," says D-49 public information officer Stephanie Meredith. "People have to be willing to take a little bit of a risk."
Colorado gives a lot of freedom to parents who wish to home school their children. There is no certification needed and parents just have to register their children within their school district and comply with testing requirements. Starting in third grade, students must take national or Colorado standardized achievement tests every other year and achieve adequate scores.
While a variety of home school support programs exist across the state (see tinyurl.com/homeschoolincolorado), one of the newest to emerge in El Paso County is the secular Mountain Vista Home School Academy in Harrison School District 2.
Located on a new campus at 2400 Slater Ave., Mountain Vista offers first- through 12th-grade students from all over the Pikes Peak region one day a week classes in art, science, languages, history and technology. By working with local community organizations, such as Millibo Art Theatre, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Colorado Springs Conservatory, it also provides clubs and field trip opportunities.
Currently, about 230 students are enrolled at Mountain Vista, and according to director Yvonne Padilla, the common belief that "home school students are not significantly socialized ... is completely false."
As Padilla points out, parents tend to have all sorts of different reasons for home schooling their children — from academic needs to religion to developmental issues.
"In any school," she says, "you find diverse types of parenting and it's the exact same within our school."