Enrollment going up in nontraditional schools

It took one informational meeting to convince Leah and Larry LaMette to send their daughter to Caprock Academy.

The couple had just moved to the Grand Valley from Houston when they learned about the new charter school in January 2007. Leah LaMette said she searched for a new school because Melissa wasn’t being challenged enough in her public-school kindergarten class.

“Her teacher said they weren’t equipped to cater to kids where they are,” LaMette said.

Melissa, now a fourth-grader at Caprock, enrolled there as a first-grader when the school opened in the summer of 2007. Her brother, Larison, followed two years later.

More Grand Valley parents than ever are doing what the LaMettes did: choosing a school outside the traditional public education system for their children.

Caprock alone increased enrollment from about 200 kindergarten through seventh-grade students when it opened to 460 kindergarten through 10th-graders now. The school has grown so much Caprock is moving to a new, larger location this summer and is working on permanent facilities to eventually replace the modular units used for classes.

Enrollment increased by 13 percent year-over-year this fall at charter school Independence Academy and jumped by 31.5 percent at District 51-run home-schooling program Mesa Valley Vision Home and Community Program.

A new online schooling option in District 51, Grand River Virtual Academy, picked up 40 students immediately after opening in the fall, and enrollment has increased in R-5 High School’s various alternative programs.

Only private schools experienced a drop in local enrollment this year, going from 1,311 students in nonpublic schools in fall 2009, a 45-student increase from fall 2008, to 1,059 students in fall 2010.

Many blame the economy for the private-school drop as some families struggle to pay tuition. But some private schools continue to flourish, including Holy Family Catholic School, where tuition is $3,600 a year for Catholic families and $4,600 a year for non-Catholic students. The school’s enrollment of 345 kindergarten through eighth-grade students remained steady this year, according to Assistant Principal Jake Aubert.

“With the economic situation in the valley, that has been really amazing,” Aubert said. “We try to work with parents, whether that means amortizing tuition, financial aid or working on a payment plan.”

Holy Family student Max Adamson, 12, said he loves “everything” about the school, including his teachers, class sizes capped at 25 students, and inclusion of God in his school day. He occasionally discusses the differences between public and private school with friends who go to other schools.

“It seems like it’s more disciplined here, in a good way,” Adamson said.

Classmate Sarah Megan Erb, 12, said she thinks there is less bullying at her school, possibly in part because of uniforms.

“You don’t get made fun of for what you’re wearing,” Erb said.

The solid colors and plain-color pants and skirts required at Holy Family are also part of attending Caprock. LaMette said finding clothes for uniforms has gotten easier in Grand Junction.

“That’s kind of an indication of growth” in nontraditional school enrollment,” LaMette said. “In the beginning, we had to order them online.”

Like Caprock, Independence Academy has waiting lists full of parents hoping for a spot to open up for their child. Hadassa Berger is delighted her two oldest children, Akaycia and Elijah, were accepted into the school, beginning when Akaycia, now a sixth-grader, was entering second grade.

Berger said her daughter enjoyed the public school she attended for kindergarten and first grade. But she was going there under the school-of-choice system and was told after first grade the school was too full for her to go there anymore.

“I kind of panicked, but we tried Independence and loved it,” Berger said.

Perks for Berger include the school’s Monday through Thursday class schedule and never having more than 20 children in a classroom.

“That’s huge for me because it seems public schools have so many students in the classroom,” she said.

Parents who choose to home-school get even smaller class sizes, with students working alongside only their siblings or, in a co-op situation, a few other students. The number of students being home-schooled without anything but the most minimal contact with District 51 has dropped. But that’s because the Colorado Department of Education reports home-based education enrollment minus the children enrolled in the district’s Mesa Valley Vision Home and Community Program, which offers parents assistance with home-schooling by creating plans for how students can reach education goals by subject.

The number of traditional home-schoolers combined with Vision students decreased to 493 in fall 2010 from 506 the previous fall. But before the Vision program began in 2008, 239 students received home-based education in fall 2007.

People’s reasons for home-schooling with or without the program vary, Vision Executive Director Susan Scofield said. But no matter what attracts people to home-based education, Scofield said she isn’t surprised it’s happening more often in the Grand Valley.

“There’s always been a significant number of home-schoolers in the valley since I’ve been here,” she said.


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