Staying on top of things | NevadaAppeal.com

Staying on top of things

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Nicole Halabuk, 16, from left, Kylie Antti, 16, Rachel Kennedy, 16, and teacher David Papke laugh after reading an introduction written by Kennedy for an English class at Silver State Charter School on Thursday. One of the features of the school is small cubicles where students can work without distractions. Kennedy and Halabuk said this has enhanced their ability to study at school.

Maggi Gebhardt, 17, seems like any other high-schooler.

She has too much homework, can’t decide what she wants to do after she graduates, oh, and she designs the school’s newsletter – in the registrar’s office where she works in quiet on the four-page monthly.

“I basically live here,” she said

She is one of 225 students attending Carson City’s only charter high school, which started Aug. 24, just like the Carson City School District schools did. Enrollment jumped this year from 2004 – the first at Silver State Charter High – when it maxed out at 145.

“We had 100 people on the waiting list last year,” said Principal Steve Knight. “The problem was we couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to come to the school. Each quarter we did a lottery to fill our openings.”

Take a look around the school and you can see that something’s different: the parking lot outside is packed, and the chairs in the computer lab and in the cubies in the main room, formerly used by telemarketers, are full of students.

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“The school year is off to a great start,” Knight said. “The new teachers and students are having a little more challenge getting used to doing thing on the Internet more.”

That’s because all learning is done online using curriculum programs designed specifically for long-distance charter school education. Staff supplements learning during the once-weekly time students must be at school each week: freshman on Tuesdays, sophomores on Wednesdays and juniors and seniors on Thursdays.

The school’s new afternoon session means more students can attend. Maggi, who lives in Fernley, comes as often as she can, especially when her mother can drop her off. She volunteers for the school newsletter, works on the student council and is a student representative to the governing board.

“I do all of my schoolwork at home,” she said. “When I come here, I’m doing student council stuff and newsletter stuff. I don’t like not being involved.”

Her semester schedule is a heavy workload: U.S. history and government, hands-on technology, English IV, geometry and possibly yearbook, if it gets off the ground.

“I’m not kidding that you have to be really self-motivated to be here,” she said. “The staff can only hold you up so far.”

In its second year, Silver State is experiencing some upgrades. Forty new computers have brought the total up to 75. The new ones are flat-screens and two to a cubie, where there was previously one. Charter Communications upgraded Internet access from cable to fiber optic.

“We probably have one of the fastest connections in the city,” Knight said.

New bathrooms have been put in off the side of the main computer lab next to three snack machines. There are large high-definition TVs that use stereo and high-streaming video in three of the classrooms.

“So many times, some teacher in high school, and even in college, puts some small TV in front of the classroom,” Knight said. “Not only can’t you see it, you can’t hear it.”

Maggi, at work on the newsletter, is laying out pictures and information on the four new staff members at the school: Beth Haddadd, guidance; Bill Capsle, math; Cindy Talia, health and physical education; and Keith Martin, social studies.

Martin, who came from Dayton High School and has 25 years’ teaching experience, much of that in inner-city Chicago, says Silver State is what teaching is about.

“This (experience) is a reminder why I became a teacher,” he said. “I’m not disciplining kids. I’m not handing them pencils and papers. I’m not stopping gossip. All of my time is spent one-on-one working with them.”

The new hires increase the teaching staff to eight and the counselors to two. And there’s a new IT guy.

Plans for the next several months include a science lab and more classrooms. Plumbing and wiring have already been put it, and the only thing holding back construction is a permit.

“It’s a real disability to us that we can’t bond,” Knight said. “When public schools bonds, they can include the cost of the infrastructure, computers, equipment and furniture in the bonds.

“A lot of what we do has to come out of what we can get through student funding and grant money.”

Silver State is a public facility: tuition is free, students must pass state proficiencies, and funding is per-pupil from the state.

Maggi is looking forward to the day her car is fixed so she can drive herself to school. After graduation, she plans to go to college – then maybe go into nursing, maybe writing, maybe teaching.

“I can’t decide what I’m going to be,” she said.

But she does have dreams.

Student body make-up:

• Approximately 60 percent from the Carson City area

• About 30 percent from Douglas County

• The remaining 10 percent come from other counties

– Source: From Principal Steve Knight