Flagstaff Academy is proud of its inquiry based, hands-on Science Lab that allows students to use the process of science to understand the world around them.

Flagstaff Academy is proud of its inquiry based, hands-on Science Lab that allows students to use the process of science to understand the world around them. (Photo courtesy: Flagstaff Academy).

Students opting for a charter school often get a more rigorous, focused education that gives them extras in anything from technology to art or math.

Summit Middle School in Boulder, founded in 1996, offers accelerated, bi-level courses, while the focus at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, founded in 2005, is science and technology. Other specialty programs can range from a classical education to Core Knowledge.

“Our mission is one of academic rigor,” said Adam Galvin, principal at Summit Middle School, one of five charter schools in Boulder Valley School District. “We have a curriculum and a school culture that’s focused on academic achievements. … All of our curriculum is advanced, above grade level.”

The school’s 400 students take five core classes and two electives every day — the core classes are in English, math, science, history and foreign language, either Spanish or French.  

“Student choice is what we focus on,” Galvin said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all program determined by address.”

Charter schools operate independently of the school district and make decisions based on what’s best for students with curriculum, instruction and resources, Galvin said. The schools can be innovative and provide an education that’s based on their mission, be specific in offerings, and collaborate more with families, he said.

“Our families like that the overall school size is smaller,” Galvin said. “Students and families do choose to come here, so they’re invested in the mission and are supportive.”

Flagstaff Academy, an open enrollment PreK-8 school in the St. Vrain Valley School District, offers elementary-level essentials in science and technology in place of the traditional specials. Students take essentials on a weekly rotating basis in STAMP, or Science, Technology, Art, Music and PE. For the science and technology essentials, they visit labs to extend or enrich what they’re learning in the classroom. In science, they might visit the greenhouse, while in technology, they can learn about robotics, coding or digital storytelling – these also can be separate, more in-depth elective classes.

“It’s project-based learning because we see them for a week at a time,” said Katie Gustafson, executive principal of Flagstaff Academy. “It varies, and it’s the kind of curriculum that builds on each other.”

At the middle school level, students visit the greenhouse monthly and can take an elective in it, plus forensics, anatomy, food science and myth busters. Some of their options in technology include computer science, advanced computing and engineering.

“We’re making sure there are options to make sure all kids can explore their passions,” Gustafson said. We’re making sure kids have exposure to things so they can learn all the options available to them.”

As a charter school, Flagstaff can test out ideas and be more innovative and creative with its curriculum and follow best instructional practices, Gustafson said. It also has smaller class sizes and multiple opportunities for family involvement, he said. 

“Not all kids are cut from the same mold – that’s why charter schools exist to make sure there is an educational option for all students,” Gustafson said. “Inherently, that makes all schools better. Schools aim to be the best they can be and provide the best education for students.”

By Shelley Widhalm for Raised in the Rockies