By Rena Distasio
We hear a lot of talk today about thinking outside the box when it comes to public education. Some schools don’t just talk. They do.
East Mountain High School is one of those doers. Established in 1997 on 26 scenic acres bordering the Sandia National Forest, this APS charter school offers the resources of a large, urban high school while retaining its rural character and close knit ties to the community. Its mission is to encourage students to be academic achievers as well as effective communicators, involved, culturally sensitive citizens, and to develop a sense of personal accountability.
While EMHS doesn’t charge tuition or impose other entrance requirements, enrollment is fixed – via lottery – to only 330 students per year. The resulting nineteen-to-one student/teacher ratio fosters creativity, critical thinking, and enhanced personal attention.
The school also believes in giving its teachers a greater say in how they run their classrooms. “Our teachers are professionals and we trust them to make effective decisions,” says Development Director Lori Webster. “Yes, they have to meet state standards, but the difference is in how those standards are delivered.”
Math and science teacher Bradd Schulke appreciates that leeway. “What most inspires me, teaching here, is the school’s spirit of academic freedom. I teach, but I also exchange ideas with my students.”
East Mountain High School promotes a rigorous college preparatory curriculum in the humanities, mathematics, science, foreign language, fine arts, and physical education. But students aren’t tied to their desks or their textbooks. Rote memorization is replaced with Socratic Practice and experiential programs like “Inquiry Projects,” in which humanities students research questions regarding everything from the necessity of atomic power to vitamin therapy and then present their findings to the school in a multi-media presentation. Likewise, all students are required to participate in an annual two-week, year’s end “Discovery Project” led by an EMHS teacher. Through this program, students have learned how to scuba dive and ballroom dance, taken trips abroad, studied world religions, and investigated the latest developments in health and fitness.
Athletics is also an important part of the school year. Due to a joint use agreement with Bernalillo County, EMHS has access to the Vista Grande Community Center and Gym, located next door. The school is also one of the few charter schools in the state that offers all students the opportunity to participate in varsity athletics at the AA level.
In addition to their academic requirements, students perform 20 hours of community service each year, while their parents are required to donate eight hours of resources or time per month to the school. Says principal Doug Wine, “Our goal is to help students become lifelong learners, to make them responsible for their education, and to connect them to their community and its needs. Parents are important partners in this process.”
An East Coast native, Wine came to EMHS in June of this year after the school’s governing council conducted a nationwide search to replace retiring principal Lane Widner.
Wine spent the summer meeting with students staff and says his goals for the future are to help guide the school to even greater achievements.
“Now that we’re established and we’ve enjoyed this success, our challenge is to see where we can take it from here,” he says. “Students, parents, the community, they all believe in what we’re doing. We plan to stick to our mission while working to become an even better educational and community resource.”
To learn more about East Mountain High School, log onto www.eastmountainhigh.net.
East Mountain High