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Silverton School Works

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    Lauren Parent

From the Denver Post on June 21, 2013:


For anyone following the issue of Colorado public education, it isn't news that our schools are some of the least governmentally funded in the country. According to the website Great Education Colorado, which recently published a winter 2013 report of statistics from the 2009-2010 school year, Colorado ranks 42nd out of 51 in per pupil spending.

Likewise, from 24/7 Wall Street, Colorado is listed in 10th place for states spending the least on education. In spite of these numbers, it is heartening to note that there are schools across the state that are making great strides in supporting our children's education. One of these is Silverton School in the very small, very poor, very remote community of Silverton, which is tucked high into the San Juan Mountains.

This past year has been exceptional for this school. It opened its doors to a fully renovated, environmentally friendly and technologically advanced building. The middle school raised funds to sponsor two Rwandan students and one teacher to visit the school for a cross-cultural learning experience for six weeks this winter. And at year's end, 13 of 16 high school students went on an expedition to Washington, D.C.

What makes these types of educational opportunities possible in one of the state's most economically challenged counties? Commitment — not just from a superintendent and a handful of teachers, but also from the school board, whose members have a vision of what is possible; to a dedicated staff that continues to seek interesting and challenging subjects for the school's Expeditionary Learning curriculum; to parents who recognize that a non-traditional setting can highly benefit their children; to the children themselves, who take ownership in not only their educational success but also in the day-to-day responsibilities that need to be addressed in an academic setting with only a handful of individuals to do the work.

And all of these committed individuals are wrapped in a community that is proud of the accomplishments of their young people, from those who win science fairs to those who develop plans for their own skate park to those learning about international politics and languages.

It is a network devoted to the future.

The size of the school is seen both as a blessing and a curse. With only 65 students, it is difficult to field teams for traditional, organized athletics or hold a prom, events that are seen as rites of passage for many young people. But the small classes allow for educational expeditions like the one to Washington. All students participate. Special trips are not just for special students. These learning scenarios are the curriculum, and students work to make them happen through in-depth classroom studies to be prepared when they arrive at their destination and through fund-raising to cover costs. In a small environment such as this, it is difficult to hide from accountability.

"We have always been rooted in literacy, critical thinking, and individual instruction," said Superintendent Kim White. "Now with the new facility, we can fully support the level of education we strive for. The dynamics are extraordinary." She is correct. Between the new technology offered at the school and the dedication to encourage globally interested students, the energy and excitement at Silverton School is contagious. Credit must go to the BEST Program (Building Excellent Schools Today), which funded renovations to the school, believing that a small community with its eyes to growth deserved assistance. But much must also be said for the creative determination of the school staff itself.

"It is truly possible to create an authentic learning experience, no matter what your economic circumstance," said Elizabeth Barszcz, the middle school teacher who was instrumental in the Rwanda Project. But, she adds, it was successful because the students bought into the idea.

And when young people are this excited about their school, it must be doing something right.

Shawna Bethell writes from Silverton.