WALTON (ap) — A small elementary school in south-central Kansas has rebounded from low enrollments to become an example of charter school success by focusing on elements of rural life.
Demand at the Rural Life Center in Walton, a farming community about five miles east of Newton in Harvey County, has been increasing steadily since it was re-established in 2007 as a charter school that emphasizes agriculture and project-based learning. It’s one of only 17 charter schools in Kansas.
Since re-opening, its enrollment, which had been barely 80 students, has more than doubled, and Walton soon may have to turn students away, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/YPVVQf).
“I just started (the waiting list for) 2018,” said Deb Flavin, the school’s secretary. “My granddaughter was the first one on the 2017 waiting list, and she wasn’t born yet.”
The school has become so popular that a team from New Zealand visited last month to see how it operated, and officials with the U.S. Department of Education produced a video about Walton’s turnaround, which can be viewed on YouTube.
“Walton is really going above and beyond,” said Jessica Noble, who coordinates charter schools for the Kansas Department of Education. “Many other schools are doing great things as well. But the model Walton Rural Life Center is using is very unique and forward-thinking.”
Teacher Johannah Hein’s typical morning to-do list for her first-grade homeroom class includes collecting eggs, feeding cows, goats, sheep and pigs and straightening the barn.
Second-graders learn how to clean, weigh, package and market eggs, which the school sells for $2 a dozen. Students also fill orders and decide what to do with the proceeds. A list of possibilities includes buying new hens, feed or hay and giving money to the Walton food bank.
“We’re not trying to make a whole school of farmers,” said Walton principal Natise Vogt. “But project-based learning makes a big difference for kids. . They learn the hows and the whys behind what they’re learning.”
The school, which operates within the Newton school district, is trying to raise $300,000 to build two new classrooms, including a new kindergarten. If it can’t, nearly 20 kindergartners on the list for next school year won’t be able to attend, Vogt said.
“That saddens me, but we just don’t have the room,” she said. “Success and popularity are wonderful, but eventually you run out of space, and that’s where we are.”