Friday, August 17, 2012

Community School breaks enrollment record

Number of students up 9 percent over previous high


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

The independent Community School in Sun Valley is showing enrollment for the coming school year at 369, 9 percent higher than the previous record in the school's 39-year history.

The school's previous high enrollment mark was set in 2002, when the school had 336 students.

Enrollment has continued to climb since David Holmes, former executive director of the Lee Pesky Learning Center, took over as head of school in 2011.

Enrollment for 2011 was 332, which was then the second highest number of students in the school's history and was up 10 percent from 2010.

In an interview Wednesday, Holmes attributed the increase in students to three main reasons: low attrition, active recruitment and the school's reputation.

"We have a number of families that would not have moved to Sun Valley if the school was not here," Holmes said. "There's a real enthusiasm for the philosophical and instructional approach of the school. It involves experiential learning, taking the students out of the classroom and instructing them in fascinating studies.

"I think the school has a long-time reputation of good teaching," Holmes said. "I think there's a level of excitement about what is happening at the school and that is having an effect on enrollment."

Instruction at Community School emphasizes not only basic learning but offers numerous opportunities for "project-based learning," where students are required to take on real-life projects and experiments and apply their math, science or reading skills to finding solutions. The concept is sometimes referred to as "hands-on learning."

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"I've been in education for 30 years and the way we teach here is the most powerful way of learning," Holmes said. "This is the way teaching and learning should take place."

Holmes said the school's successful teaching approach is reflected in an attrition rate that is almost half that of other independent schools in the United States. He explained that the attrition rate, currently at 7.5 percent, is calculated by the number of students who would be eligible to attend Community School but didn't enroll this year because their families moved away or for other reasons. Holmes said the national attrition rate for independent schools is about 14 percent per year.

"The attrition rate is a very good indicator of the health of a school," Holmes said

Another major factor in increased enrollment is the school's recruitment of students from outside the area, for either academic or athletic purposes, combined with the school's Residential Hall in Warm Springs that gives out-of-area students a place to live.

Now in its second year of existence, the Residential Hall provided adult-supervised dormitory living to eight students last year and has 23 students lined up for this year. Eight of them are here for academic purposes while 15 of them have been recruited from outside the area to participate in the Sun Valley Ski Academy. This is a partnership between the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation that provides student athletes the opportunity to improve their competitive skiing or snowboarding skills without sacrificing their educations.

Ten of the new students signed up for the Residential Hall this year are from outside the United States.

"We have a couple of kids from Canada and eight kids from China," Holmes said.

"We've got a full house here," he said.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com

Nelson's fundraiser

The Community School reported Wednesday that a recent fundraiser hosted by local entrepreneur Kipp Nelson grossed $140,000 for the Sun Valley Ski Academy, a partnership between Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Minus expenses, Head of School David Holmes said the event netted about $105,000 that will be used for scholarships to help pay tuition and boarding expenses for out-of-area student-athletes recruited into the program. The fundraiser, held on July 24 at Nelson's Adams Gulch home, featured drinks and hors d'oeuvres and a concert by Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers. About 300 invited guests attended the event.




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