When the faith-based Steamboat Christian Academy welcomed students to class last week, board chair Jenn Foss was thrilled as the vision of what she and others have worked so hard to create had become a reality.
“It’s been exciting (to see it open) after a couple of years of hard work,” Foss said Wednesday. “We had a task force; we now have a board of directors, and everything has come together so well. The students are calm and they’re smiling. The families are happy and our staff is happy … It’s been better than we imagined.”
The school year began Aug. 22 with 40 students walking through the doors of the Steamboat Christian Center where the school is located.
“Most first-year private Christian schools start much smaller, so it’s a good number,” Foss said. “I think it still allows flexibility and for teachers to make quick tweaks or pivot quickly if something’s not working with programming.”
The school has five teachers and offers an 8-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. The kindergarten class is the largest, but for the most part, the students are spread equally from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Actually, it’s pretty miraculous how even they are,” said Katy Ginn, the school’s executive director. “Our classes are even across the board. Our third through fifth grade are our heaviest. Kindergarten is large, but kindergarten stands by itself, and our other classes are all mixed grades.”
Students at the school are divided into a kindergarten class taught by Karen Cuevos, a first- and second-grade group taught by Elizabeth Mathey, a third- and fourth-grade group taught by Stephanie Shreve, and middle school classes taught by Lucas Habich and Jamie Marsh.
In addition, there are Spanish classes taught by Megan Gates, and younger students are introduced to music by teacher Erick Ocampo, who is bilingual and sprinkles some Spanish into to those enrichment classes as well.
The school’s focus, which is posted on its website, is to build leaders who love God and love people by instilling excellence in faith, academics and stewardship.
“In general, our curriculum is very hands-on project-based learning,” Ginn said. “Kids are involved in it and they’re really getting into ‘What does it mean? What does it look like? How does that apply to real-world situations?’ It really is that hands-on experimental learning, which is fun to get to see.”
The school offers enrichment classes utilizing members of the community. Foss said community members — including a lawyer who comes in to teach debate and communication and many local artists — have volunteered to help. The school is also working with horse ranch owners Kent and Aileen Sandstedt, who own CR Summit, to teach students about agriculture.
The school and students have partnered with the Warhorse Ranch for this year’s compassion project — a program that brings learning to life by linking curriculum to service projects with local and international mission partners.
The curriculum will also include weekly chapel in which students will learn about God and learn from age-appropriate fun, interactive teaching, music and competitions.
Foss said there is also a difference in how technology, such as Chromebooks, will be used in the classroom with the focus relying on teachers to present the primary lessons and technology coming into play when pertinent.
“When students do a class presentation, it’s very appropriate for them to use Google Slides and put in pictures and use that as a visual to go along with their oral presentation,” Foss said. “All of our students will start using cursive writing third grade and up, so they will be writing their first, second and other drafts by hand, but for their final drafts the students will type those on the computer because it’s important to learn how to type and how to put together written communication.”
The smaller class sizes at the academy allow the school day to begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m. Monday-Thursday. School days on Fridays end at noon.
Foss said the shorter days allow students to get outside, take part in other learning experiences and to take part in extracurricular events including sports and theater programs in the public school system.
Foss said the school also wants its students to get outside weather permitting, and the shorter day is an extension of that philosophy by allowing students and family members to get outside to take part in the activities that make Steamboat Springs such a great place to live.
“We have an amazing staff here, which then creates such a wonderful community of students,” Ginn said. “We’ve already seen connections built within grade levels where our fourth-graders are buddies with our kindergarteners … and to see the leadership that our students are taking on because they have this community of younger learners that already look up to them and know them by name, it’s been so cool to see just the community that has been created among the families, the students and the teachers coming together as a whole as a school.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.