Cram session

By Kendra E. Fish
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Elana Wolfinbarger still teaches small-group reading and math classes in the hallway at Prairie Ridge Elementary.

Last fall, the St. Vrain Valley School District bought cubicle partitions to put around her desk and the sitting area for four to six students to partially address the problem at the Firestone school.

“It’s a regular hallway with regular hallway noise,” Wolfinbarger said last week. “That’s probably the biggest stress about it: It’s easy to get distracted. You just can’t have everybody quiet all the time.”

Until a nearby elementary school — located near Weld County roads 11 and 18 — is built using a piece of the $96.2 million in 2002 voter-approved bonds, which the school board OK’d in February, the creative use of space to accommodate 784 students in a 426-student-capacity building will continue.

“Next year, this space will again be used for a teaching area,” Wolfinbarger said.

According to Principal Nancy Hurianek, by utilizing six portable buildings, which line the perimeter of the main school, and staggering class times, as well as creatively using space, the school has been able to keep class sizes down.

“Yes, we have a lot of students and a lot of classes,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we have large classes.”

Hurianek said class sizes range from 21 to 26 students per teacher.

Still, the school is busting at the seams and is facing the most dramatic growth issues in the district.

Scott Toillion, the St. Vrain district’s planning specialist, projects that 876 students will attend Prairie Ridge during the 2003-04 school year.

Fall River Elementary in Longmont is pushing similar student-enrollment numbers. During 2003-04, the school is expected to grow from 663 to 738 students, Toillion said. The building is designed to hold 528 students.

“In the elementary school setting, pushing 1,000 students will not lead to an effective or conducive school setting,” Schmidt said.

Class size at Fall River also ranges from 21 to 27 students per teacher. To keep class sizes down, the school has been using space originally designed as teacher workrooms or common areas for teaching.

Fall River also should breathe a little easier when a new nearby elementary school opens for the 2004-05 school year.

Until then, both schools will have to keep brainstorming ways to keep up with the students that each new home brings.

“We’re looking right now at (Fall River and Prairie Ridge’s) portable classroom needs for next year,” Toillion said. “We’ll have to see how many we can afford and where we could locate them.”

Portable or modular buildings are not cheap. It costs the district about $30,000 per year to lease and operate a portable, said Rex Hartman, director of operations and maintenance. The district utilizes 49 portables; it owns 21 of those.

As a result, at Prairie Ridge, Wolfinbarger will continue to tell her kids to wear jackets to class on cold days because her hallway classroom is near an entranceway; two teachers who share a teacher conference room as a classroom will continue to divide the room in half using a conglomeration of file cabinets, book shelves and tables; and fourth- and fifth-graders will arrive for class at 7:45 a.m. while other grades arrive at 8:55 a.m. in order to better use space for music, art and PE courses.

“So long as we are teaching them successfully, and we are, then we’ll be OK,” Wolfinbarger said. “The kids are much more flexible than the adults.”


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