October 2003

Home-schooling a concern as Mancos enrollment falls

By Suzanne Strazza

A generation ago, nearly everyone went to the local school without it being a “choice.” Nowadays, parents give it much more thought, and many are deciding to home-school their children.

Since state funding for education is directly tied to enrollment numbers, this has become a critical issue in Mancos, where enrollment appears to be down for another year. Preliminary numbers indicate that the total enrollment for Re-6 on Oct. 1, the day when it is actually measured, will be between 402 and 416 students, compared to 444 last year. Elementary enrollment is up while secondary-school numbers appear to be down.

In the Mancos Valley, for those who do not send their kids to public school, the alternatives are either home-schooling or going to another district such as Cortez or Durango.

Many families who home-school do so for religious reasons, not because they have problems with the local school. Then there are those parents who always knew that they would home-school because of the perceived advantages to their children and families. Basically these people feel very confident in their decisions either way, and some are even a tad judgmental towards those who have chosen differently.

Yet there is also a contingency who question either the public school system or the Mancos School itself.

For families who have never considered sending their children to public school, religion is often a significant reason — folks wanting to blend their faith into their child’s education.

But many parents are dead set on home-schooling for reasons that are not faith-based.

Carla Borelli is one of these mothers. Her decision is founded upon her own personal experience as a child. She said she attended some of the best public schools around and that “the system failed me….children are expected to be one particular way and those who aren’t, are labeled as problems. Conformity is the key.” Borelli wants more for her daughter, Sierra.

She also expressed concern about the difficulty teachers have in full classrooms in addressing varying learning styles and dealing with children as individuals.

Connie Blanchard, Re-6 superintendent, responded that this year, workshops will be held in order to better educate teachers on working with various learning styles.

Another home-schooling mother, Charlene Swansen, seconded Borelli’s misgivings regarding learning styles and added another classroom matter, “Children tend to say and do hurtful things. Punishment is not the answer – children need to be empowered to resolve differences themselves and learn to treat each other with respect. Is this happening in public school classrooms, or any schoolrooms for that matter?”

She added that she is also concerned about the amount of television most kids watch. “It affects how they learn and interact. This is a culture that I want to avoid.”

Swansen said if these issues were addressed in a satisfactory way, she would consider sending her son, Jasper, to school in Mancos, but until then, no.

She said that, contrary to the popular image of home-schooling, she and her son do not sit at the kitchen table at home all day, but have outings and field trips, sometimes with other families. When the question of socialization is raised, her response is that Jasper “can play really well with people of all ages because he interacts with people of all ages. He’s not locked into a classroom for five hours with only kids his age.”

Other parents say they home-school simply for the joy of it, that it is a special experience and that they relish the one-on-one attention they can give.

There is probably not much that a school such as Mancos can do differently to attract families who are set on a home-school lifestyle. But what about families who hesitate to send their children to their local school because of issues specific to that institution?

Many Mancos parents say they have concerns such as classroom size, teacher-student ratio and lack of electives, in addition to sharing the same questions as home-school parents. A lot of parents think education involves more than just CSAP scores – they want children to sing, paint and play. Due to limited funding, some of these programs have been reduced if not cut entirely in public school.

But while many parents voice concerns regarding Re-6 schools, some base their objections on second-hand information, not on actual experience. One Mancos couple, Sharon and Steve King, never even considered Mancos schools as an option. This, in large part, was based on what they had heard about the schools, yet they had never set foot inside.

At the last minute, they decided that their daughter, Sera, would attend first grade. They said they have been very pleasantly surprised.

Sharon King said her decision was based on a conversation with Blanchard. “I got called on my lack of personal experience with the school and therefore felt that I had to at least give it a try.”

Not only has King tried it, but she is now running for school board. Her attitude is, “If you don’t like something, get involved, be a part of the process of change.”

Another mother, wishing to remain anonymous, has had a similar experience. She said there was “no way in hell my child is going to school here,” and for two years of preschool, he didn’t. Then this year, due to lack of options and the belief in trying something before condemning it, she sent her son to kindergarten. “He loves it. I was worried about him sitting at a desk all day, but they bake, they take long walks by the river, they have fun.”

Blanchard challenges parents to find out for themselves.“Just give us a try, and if there is something that you don’t like, bring it to me or the school board so that we can address it.”

Hearing that art is a major concern for parents, Michael Canzona, the elementary-school principal, has approached the local Artisans Co-op to try and plan ways to bring more art to the children.

But fine arts isn’t the only issue in the Mancos schools. Some children, especially as they get older, feel that their choices in all subjects are limited. Many also feel the pressure to conform; team sports are not for everyone.

Quite a few families in the valley start their kids here, then send them to other area schools as they get older and look for more variety in classes and extra-curricular activities.

Karen and David Blaine have sent two daughters to high school in Durango because they felt they had exhausted the possibilities in Mancos.

Melissa had even taken everything she could at Pueblo Community College before moving on to Durango for a greater variety, not only in English classes, but also in teachers.

Her sister, Valerie, is an artist and moved on to DHS for the expanded resources. Their younger brother, Jephry, is still at Mancos High, but is looking at customizing his own program, working with community businesses to supplement his in-school education.

This shows that just getting parents to send their children to Re-6 is not enough. Retaining them once they are here is also critical.

Asked why he thinks enrollment is such an issue, school-board candidate Tim Hunter answered, “I’d love to know why. This is a good school; I don’t understand why parents don’t want to send their kids here.”

Hunter is a “3R’s kind of guy” and feels that other subjects are a bonus.

Rodney Cox, a school-board member, said the fine-arts issue is a valid one, but not the only reason that people may avoid the Mancos schools.

He feels that, at one point, people were disenchanted with the direction that the school was going, “but now much of that is a big misconception. This is a small town and there is a horrible rumor mill – people believe what they hear.”

Cox says that one of the district’s goals is to get out in the community and find out what the specific issues are.

The board wants to increase enrollment in the next year by 5 percent, but no decision has been made as to how. They are also looking at expanding after-school and summer programs to include some of the “fun stuff.”

Cox feels strongly that people here like to complain, yet the “level of apathy from the community has been high. It’s your school.”

Whether people home-school, send their kids to Mancos or Durango or don’t even have children, what happens within the schools affects every member of the community.

The upcoming school-board election is a chance to vote for the candidates you believe will do the best job for the schools.