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MailTribune.com
  • Charter school brings more students

    Prospect School's new focus on natural resources attracts many new students to the remote district
  • PROSPECT — When fifth-grader Robert Taylor arrived at Prospect School on Upper Rogue on Wednesday, he checked the small, bright pink, translucent globes sitting in a classroom aquarium to see which of the salmon eggs were still alive and which had hatched.
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  • PROSPECT — When fifth-grader Robert Taylor arrived at Prospect School on Upper Rogue on Wednesday, he checked the small, bright pink, translucent globes sitting in a classroom aquarium to see which of the salmon eggs were still alive and which had hatched.
    "Six eggs were dead, and 20 hatched," Taylor reported to his teacher, Janice Wood.
    The school's new status as a charter school focusing on natural resources has drawn 45 new students to the remote school in northeast Jackson County. Nearly half of the fifth grade class is new.
    That makes Prospect, with a total of 216 students in grades K-12, only one of two school districts in Jackson County this year that increased its enrollment. The other is the Ashland School District. Each additional student brings in about $6,000 in state funding for the school district.
    Prospect accepted a $455,000 federal grant in 2008 to revamp its school into a charter school focusing on natural resources.
    As such, Prospect can reel in students from other school districts without applying for a transfer from their home district. Public charter schools in Oregon are open to anyone and Prospect has tried to sweeten its appeal with its natural resources theme, full-day kindergarten, small class sizes, an enhanced menu of online classes and a bus that ferries transfer students from Eagle Point to Prospect.
    The economy of Prospect, population about 650, centers on natural resources, so it's a natural fit for the school, said Prospect schools Superintendent Don Alexander.
    The U.S. Forest Service has a ranger station there. High school students are working with the Forest Service to help clean up campgrounds and do other activities that give them a glimpse of what working for the federal agency might be like.
    Next semester, high school students will be able to train to become certified as a first responder under the instruction of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department.
    The natural resources theme is infused throughout the curriculum in grades K-12 to help make classes more interesting for pupils and to provide a peek into what kind of careers in which they could use what they're learning.
    As a part of rearing salmon eggs, Prospect fifth-graders learned how to care for the eggs, check the pH of the water and know when the fish might be ready to be released into the Rogue River.
    Based on what they've learned, they're skeptical that any of their fish will survive to swim in the local river.
    "On average, only five out of 4,000 eggs make it to spawning," said fifth-grader Brandt Downing.
    The students recently worked in groups to create their own species of fish and a habitat for them to live in. The students had to make sure the fish's coloring, body shape, mouth and reproduction habits were congruent with the habitat. Then the students wrote descriptions of their imaginary fish and gave a presentation to the rest of the class, hitting on many of the state's content standards such as math, fish life cycles, public speaking and critical thinking skills.
    Fifth-graders Summer Stone, Marissa Amesbury and Emily Moody made up a fish called a "fuigi."
    "It has a strong jaw and large teeth," Summer said. "It eats shrimp and plankton. It can lay three eggs five times year."
    The federal grant that enabled the charter school's establishment gave the school a boost in training teachers to improve instructional methods and curriculum, and in buying equipment and technology. Technology has played an important role in the school's ability to enhance class offerings to high school pupils. The school has a remote classroom where students can attend video conference courses organized by the Southern Oregon Education Service District.
    On Wednesday, accounting students sat at long tables and heard a lecture from a teacher in Bonanza. During the next period, seven high school students sat at computers working on seven separate online courses.
    "It gives students a lot of flexibility and variety,' said distance-learning specialist Mary Mason. "These are challenging classes and have really increased the rigor. Students have come back and said they were glad they took a distance-learning class because it prepared them for the kind of classes they have in college."
    Twenty-eight students take distance-learning courses at Prospect.
    Despite the school's remote location, Principal Wayne Gallagher said students from outside the district are coming to Prospect because, in addition to small class sizes, it offers things some other districts have cut or are unable to offer.
    "We still offer music, physical education in K-12, agriculture classes in 6-12 and full-day kindergarten," he said.
    Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.
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