More than nostalgia motivates local One Room School House

New school will offer elementary students multi-age approach to learning

There was a time in Gunnison County when a one-room schoolhouse was the only place outside the home for kids to learn reading, writing and arithmetic.



Today, students have other options for schooling, but a one-room schoolhouse will again open its doors in Gunnison County in September to offer a 21st century approach to education.
The One Room School House, or Orsch, is the brainchild of Jackie Burt, a former teacher of gifted and talented students at Gunnison Elementary School who wants to bring an old-time solution to some of the problems facing modern education.
The idea isn’t connected to a larger national or state organization, but instead is the product of “a philosophy born of my experience working with children of all ages,” says Burt.
“Multi-age is common, but combining students of such a broad age range in one room—well, we can’t say a it’s ‘new’ idea—but it hasn’t been done in a very long time,” she says.
Burt says some of today’s students need flexibility in the classroom to address their changing interests and a school should be able to provide that variability to give children the freedom to pursue their dreams.
To provide an atmosphere where that can happen, Burt will use a multi-age approach, putting students from first grade to sixth grade together in one room. There, they will teach and be taught by one another to the content standards set by the Colorado Department of Education, just like students attending any accredited public elementary school.
Because Orsch will operate as a private school, it won’t be accredited by the state.
But beyond the standard curriculum, Burt also wants Orsch students to learn time management, teamwork and responsibility as well as relationship and communication skills.
“Orsch students will be well aware of state standards and will come to see them as guidance to a broad perspective within subject matter,” Burt says. “But the [Colorado Department of Education] is also currently creating content standards in the fields of creativity, collaboration and leadership.”
Burt had hoped that the school district would take Orsch under its wing, but after hearing a presentation on the program, superintendent Jon Nelson said the One Room School House wasn’t something the district could pursue.
“We want to be a district that provides an education that is research-based with a proven track record,” says Nelson. “This idea, in its most recent form, is fairly new and there isn’t a lot of research to support it.”
Burt concedes that the idea is a new one, but she has seen the positive impact such an intimate style of education can have on children.
She first had the idea in the summer of 2008 after a group of first to sixth graders participated in a program she called Enrichment Day that included science experiments, math lessons and other classroom experiences similar to those that will be offered at Orsch. That experience motivated her to extend the one room schoolhouse idea into something bigger.
“Orsch is a one room school house in its student population, but cutting edge in its implementation, meaning that we will use the very best of today’s researched-based best practices in the field of education,” Burt says. “The one room school house population is magic in its ability to create a community of learners of all levels, abilities and areas of interest.”
Nelson also said the district budget is too tight in the current economy to be adding any new programs.
But the school district could be losing some “per student” funding from the state of Colorado as a result of students who don’t return to class after enrolling at Orsch. And applications are rolling in with a “very balanced age range” represented, Burt says.
In addition to students’ parents, the school has also attracted the attention of other teachers who are helping Burt build the school as she imagines it. They are going to be creating positions for music, art, foreign language and humanities, as well as helping kids when needed.
Although the school is open to the public, it will be operated as a private school, where tuition and donations will fund the school’s activities. Colorado Department of Education standards will have to be met and attendance will have to be taken, just like a publicly funded school.
Students won’t, however, be subjected to the standardized testing that public school students are required to take, and parents will be able to choose whether or not their children will participate.
And although the curriculum will be based on gifted and talented programming, it isn’t open only to gifted and talented students.
According to Burt, “What is good for gifted and talented students is good for everybody, and the state is moving in that direction.”
The cost to send a student to Orsch for the 2009-10 school year is $3,300, which can be paid in full or in 12 monthly installments.
For students who cannot afford to pay the tuition in full, Burt says, some scholarship money is available.
Orsch will be located in the lower level of Webster Hall at 109 N. Iowa St. in Gunnison.
Burt says, “The space has been beautifully remodeled into a school space. Orsch space needs include a wide-open one room and outdoor access. Webster meets both of these needs, including several smaller connected rooms,” and other spaces that can be used by students.
For more information on the one room school house, visit or call Jackie Burt at (970) 209-1811.

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