Monday, July 24, 2006

Nation’s first equestrian high school close to opening

Canned public schooling is failing American children. New Hampshire has an innovative school opening this fall. The following article appears in the New Hampshire newspaper the Union Leader.

Nation’s first equestrian high school close to opening
Union Leader Staff
Sunday, Jul. 16, 2006

ROCHESTER – With federal grant money finally in the bank, what’s envisioned as the nation’s first public equestrian high school is much closer to becoming a reality.

Susan Hollins, superintendent of the New Hampshire Equestrian Academy charter school, deposited $189,000 in school accounts last month. The money will be put to work immediately, as school officials scramble to meet a self-imposed deadline of opening in September.

“This is the first school of its kind we can find in the public sector,” said Hollins. “There’s a great need and interest for a school like this, but the facilities issue is daunting. It’s understandable that a school like this doesn’t exist.”

Hollins compared the academy to schools for tennis or music prodigies, but she emphasized it will be first and foremost a college preparatory high school.

“It’s a college prep program with a complete equine studies career program,” she said.
Students accepted

Leslie Bryan, president of the academy’s board of trustees, said seven students had been accepted for the fall prior to a recent open house. That event proved successful, as the school now has 18 ninth- and 10th-graders lined up for the fall.

It will begin with those grade levels and expand to a full, four-year high school as the first class progresses toward graduation.

Although it doesn’t have its own facilities yet, the academy has a home thanks to the donation of land and use of buildings from Dr. Grant Myhre, owner of the 110-acre Myhre Equine Clinic.

Myhre runs the only large referral hospital for horses in New England. Over the past several years, he’s refocused his practice from veterinary surgery to primarily high-tech diagnostic work.

He said he has always been involved in education — he’s taught university courses and regularly holds continuing education conferences for farriers and veterinarians — so playing host to the equine academy feels like a natural fit.

Until the school can build its own facilities, Myhre will donate half a house for classrooms and two barns which now sit largely unused.

Grand plans
Through grant money and fundraising efforts, school officials plan to eventually build an academic building/conference center, an indoor arena, a small stable with school-owned horses, and a small building for equine studies classes.

Bryan said the academy must now hire two teachers qualified not only in various classroom disciplines, but who also meet criteria to lead the equine studies program.

A major hindrance in marketing the school and finding teachers to staff has been financial uncertainty, said Bryan.

Getting the grant money is nice — it’s essential — but she wishes it had arrived awhile ago. A little over $200,000 more will come the school’s way as part of the nearly $400,000, 36-month federal grant.

The state will also give the school about $3,700 per student, roughly one-third what “mainstream” public schools receive on average.

While money will probably always be a source of concern for charter schools, Hollins and Bryan said other aspects of the equestrian academy are on solid ground. Most importantly, they said, a challenging curriculum is being finalized.

“I wanted a high standard high school,” said Bryan, “where students would not only be prepared for any college in the country but they would also have a portfolio of work. The students we attract are incredibly bright students who also have a passion for horses.”

Heavy course load
Equestrian academy students will be expected to take more courses than their peers at other schools because there will be no drop-off in traditional classes and an additional requirement in equine studies.

Traditional classes will also be tweaked with an eye toward equines. For example, said Bryan, students will look at the role horses have played while studying world history, and literature choices will have an equine theme.

The academy will have an equestrian team, but Hollins emphasized that it shouldn’t be considered a riding school. “At least four of the students enrolling have said they want to be veterinarians,” she said.

The students, said Bryan, have come from across the state. A couple are planning to carpool each day from Keene. It’s that kind of commitment, she said, that will allow the academy to prosper.

“Horse people are just very creative and driven,” said. “We have done almost no advertising, but we have had interest, not only in New Hampshire, but all over the country.”

Hollins envisions the academy flourishing and becoming a drawing card for the area.
“The potential of this school to have an impact on the New Hampshire economy is really significant,” she said. “This is an events kind of school. Events planning and management is going to be one of the courses.”

Good example
As a model, Hollins points to the Big E, the huge two-week agricultural exposition held each fall in West Springfield, Mass.

“This school has many possibilities to help the state that people won’t realize until it’s open and running,” she said. “The potential to help Rochester and to help students develop the background to open their own business, should they chose to do that, is huge.”
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