More school, less driving for some McCoy students |

More school, less driving for some McCoy students

Melanie Wong
Vail CO, Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailySixth-grader Sam Boles right smiles as Kendra Thompson points at him during a chess game Friday at Rock Creek Academy in McCoy. Previously, the students had to ride a bus to school in Routt or Eagle County, up to a 3-4 hour roundtrip.

MCCOY ” Eighth-grader Kendra Thompson used to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus for the hour plus ride to school, but now she can go to class right in her own neighborhood.

“My day is a lot shorter now and a lot better,” said Kendra, 13.

Kendra is one of seven students attending Rock Creek Academy, McCoy’s new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school. Since the community’s public school closed in 1991, students have been bused to either Eagle County or Routt County schools.

That commute can total up to four hours a day on the bus, especially during the winter months, said Dawn Mutchelknaus, the school’s director and parent of the youngest student, 5-year-old Jayden.

Mutchelknaus said she thought it might be time to resurrect a local school after seeing 30 to 40 school-age children at a community Christmas event.

“There’s been an influx of young families moving here,” she said. “The folks who were attending (the old McCoy school) are now grown and having children of their own.”

Mutchelknaus found Hope Online, an online-based public charter school. Students get their school-district-approved curriculum online, and then work at their own pace through the materials with the help of an instructor.

The program was originally designed for at-risk students, but was later adopted by Dinosaur, a rural community near Grand Junction.

That format has worked well, and the school replaces commuting time with learning time, said Hope Online Founder and CEO Heather O’Mara.

The school day isn’t unlike that of a traditional school, complete with the pledge, attendance and recess, Kendra said.

The students spend a maximum of five hours a week on the computer, and they can access curriculum for art, music and physical education, too.

The idea is that if there are local community members willing to volunteer to teach an extracurricular activity, they can get involved, O’Mara said.

The Academy’s teacher, Becky Ingle, said the smaller, personal environment is more conducive to learning, and the students have been enthusiastic about the new school.

She also has the older students mentor the younger ones, she said.

“We do buddy reading,” she said. “I pair up an older buddy with a younger buddy. They really, really like that. I think it’s been a positive thing that has happened here.”

Kendra, who has a “non-verbal learning disorder,” said the program makes it easier for her to learn the material.

“I like that it’s at your own pace,” she said. “If I don’t get it, the teacher can explain it to me better.”

Mutchelknaus said the enthusiasm of the students shows that the community’s need is being met.

“Kendra’s mom told me that last year she had to drag (her daughter) to school, and this year she can’t wait to go,” Mutchelknaus said.

Her own son, other than being disappointed that he can’t ride the “big, yellow bus,” is excited to go to class everyday, she said.

While Eagle and Routt County schools were great, a local school is better both in terms of distance and for the community, parents and teachers said.

Rock Creek Academy is held at McCoy’s old school building, which had been used as a community center, and even neighbors who don’t have children in the school are supportive and excited, Mutchelknaus said.

“The fact that we could rejuvenate an existing facility is great,” Mutchelknaus said. “It’s so demoralizing for a community to have to close a school. Now people stop me on the street and want to know about the school.”

More community members are volunteering their help and four new students are already committed for next year, she said.

Ingle, who also lives nearby, said neighbors will come by just to see the classroom and offer help.

“I am loving it,” she said. “They’re a wonderful group of children. I can come to work in my community 5 minutes away. We’re just like a little family.”

Kendra said she plans to continue at Rock Creek.

“Plan to graduate here at Rock Creek because I would eventually want to come back and teach here,” she said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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