The hands-on education program given by industry professionals in the Professional-Technical Education program at Sandpoint High School has seen several of its graduates begin their chosen careers even before starting college.
Education is one of the most important choices a parent can make for their child. When choosing where to live, new parents will often research what schools are available in the neighborhood before they purchase a home. And even if it’s the home of their dreams, they will walk away if they don’t have easy access to the schools they would like their children to attend.
Much is discussed when it comes to education: responsibility of teacher versus parent, curriculum, levies, classroom size, standardized testing and more. The bottom line is that parents want the best atmosphere for their child to thrive, and not everyone is going to agree on those environments. While the majority of Bonner County children attend one of the 11 District 84 schools, others choose to place their children on a different path of learning. Outside the district there are schools that vary from bible-based education to schools that encourage children to wear their Superman costume to class. The variety of alternative schools is based on the demand of parents looking for a unique environment in which to help educate and shape their children.
Sandpoint Junior Academy opened its doors in 1939 and has been in operation ever since. With just 17 students and two teachers, it is one of the smallest schools in the area, but that is something that a number of parents are looking for. “The comment we hear the most is they like the family feeling at the school, the Christian atmosphere, learning about the Bible and the focus on Christ,” said SJA Board Co-Chair Sherri Wheeler. “Parents love our outreach program, classrooms interacting with one another, and big kids working and playing with the little kids.”
Students here worship each morning, have Bible study and utilize Bible-based text books while developing their relationship with God. All students have two days of music class and two days of Spanish each week. Every month they leave the classroom to help serve others in the community in several ways, such as shoveling sidewalks, raking leaves and serving food to the hungry. Parents are also encouraged to take an active part in school activities. “We encourage families to join us on our field trips or small events at school, which makes it more family feeling, especially for families of younger children not in school yet,” said Wheeler.
Opened in 1996, the Sandpoint Christian School is another faith-based education center with a little less than 100 students preschool through eighth grade. “Along with all the traditional academic subjects and high national standardized test scores, we also teach the love of God, the Bible and living a Christ-like life to the best of our ability. Love, mercy and kindness are foremost in the daily workings throughout the campus,” said Principal Elizabeth Page. Page said 80 percent of the school’s teachings are Christian-based and non-denominational.
“We have a published SCS Statement of Faith that we go over with new families outlining who we are, what we believe and what we teach. We want to make sure they are comfortable with what we teach so that we are not confusing children with differing teachings between home, church and school.” SCS is a member of ACSI, Association of Christian Schools International. ACSI offers several academic events each year when Christian schools can get together and compete in the annual Spelling Bee, Speech Meet, Creative Writing Festival and Math Olympics.
Since opening in 2001 with just a class of seventh-graders, the Forrest M. Bird Charter School has expanded to 23 teachers with students in grades six through 12. The school keeps parents actively involved in daily school life, provides a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio as well as offers classes in advanced technology like 3D printing, coding, robotics and IT networking. Middle-schoolers are taught problem solving throughout the year. “All classes have a focus on cross-curricular, project-based learning. Each unit taught has either a project creation or a problem to solve in relation to the lessons. The goal is to have students really thinking of all possibilities and options, which will allow them to better problem solve and critically think through ideas in future jobs,” said Education Leader Jennifer Greve. When students get to high-school age, they can begin to see what college curriculum looks like and if it’s the right choice for them. “They have the chance to either take a single class to see if college is right for them or to graduate with a full associate’s degree. There are teachers available to help them learn the cultural shift between high school and college,” said Greve.
One of the latest opportunities for young students is the Sandpoint Academy of the Arts, which opened its doors in September 2015 after transitioning from a homeschool-like setting taught in the basement of current director Lorri Goodman’s home. Goodman oversees two teachers; one who handles pre-k and another grades first through fifth. However, it’s not uncommon for all classes to mingle. “Whole group learning occurs every afternoon where all ages gather in “The Big Room” for activities such as social studies, science, art, music, geology and more! Students often come to school dressed up, because we believe that if you feel like a princess or superhero, then you should be a princess or superhero,” said Goodman.
Students are at different levels of learning here, and it’s tailored by the subject. “Students work at their own pace, meaning if they excel in one subject, they are allowed to move quickly through that subject. If they need reinforcement in a subject, they have that freedom, too. Many students work in various levels in all subjects that may or may not match the grade they are in. Some students may be chewing gum or manipulating a stress ball to help them concentrate,” said Goodman. Music and theatre are showcased and taught by Sandpoint Music Conservatory and Planted Roots Productions.
Education is a constantly evolving tool meant to mold the next generation into positive contributors to society. Whether it be God, music, math or technology, students who have a focus and set goals for themselves are more likely to stay away from negative temptations that are around them each day. Parents are the most influential people in their children’s upbringing, and their choice of public, private, alternative or charter school reflects what is valued most in the home and what values they most want to see their children obtain and respect. Parents who want something different have helped create demand for these education centers, and it’s unlikely that alternative learning centers will suddenly vanish. While public school is the choice of the majority, it’s evident that a good number of parents are willing to go outside a traditional education toward something they feel is a better fit for their family.