School Days

From the Farm


Published in the Casper Journal October 6, 2010

School has officially started again.  And, while I do prefer summertime to school time, I will never complain—even one iota—about Natrona County Schools.
            We recently moved to Casper from Nevada.  Try to imagine sending your children to school in downtown Las Vegas.  Let me illustrate, with no exaggerations.
            To start with, the city school was surrounded by a high fence, coupled with a cinderblock wall to divide it from the raging freeway right next to it.  There were no windows in the building except for a few, high, barred ones in the office.   Despite the exterior view, however, I took my oldest son there to start kindergarten.  I was optimistic.  After all, good people and good teachers live in Las Vegas.
            I joined my son often in his classroom, and quickly made an observation:  there was no recess!  I was sure I was mistaken.  No recess in school?  I called the secretary, and then the principal, and then the school district. 
            “No, ma’am,” the voice on the other line said.  “Recess was cut several years ago, after a new study showed it detracted from the school day.”  Detracted from learning?  Little children without a break?  ‘What disillusioned doctoral student did this research?’ I wondered.  He was certainly not a parent or a teacher.  No, I’m not exaggerating.
            After our first semester, I approached the principal about volunteering.  He informed me that the school had no PTO, but he invited me to a parent’s meeting the following week.  At the meeting, he addressed us. 
“My focus is on three groups of children this year:  those receiving free lunch, those who don’t speak English, and those from one-parent homes.”  After listening empathetically for most of the hour, I raised my hand and asked what the principal would do for children who didn’t fit in any of those three categories.
“Nothing,” he abruptly replied.  “I don’t have time to think about the others.”  I sat quietly through the rest of the meeting.  No, I’m not exaggerating.
            During a later school year, a teacher approached me and told me that my daughter had scored well above the math standards for the 2nd grade. 
“Wonderful,” I replied.  “Will she be doing advanced math then?” 
“No,” the teacher said, apologetically.  Then, in a whisper, she explained that as a federally-funded school, she was not allowed to stray from her script or curriculum, and could literally do nothing for my daughter.  Her hands were tied at the expense of losing her job.   Once again, I’m not exaggerating.
Why do I love Natrona County Schools?  It hardly needs an explanation, but let me explain anyway…with no exaggerations. 
We arrived in Casper in January of 2009, and began searching for a school where all four of our elementary children could attend together.  We started our search at the school nearest our home.  As we entered, I was pleasantly shocked when the secretary, dressed in a nice skirt, rose from her seat, smiled, and asked if she could help me.  After catching my breath, I explained our situation.  Unfortunately, her school didn’t have four grade slots available. 
“Let me recommend you to the next nearest school,” she replied. Soon I was speaking to another friendly secretary at another school, and then another, and then another.  While none of these schools had room in all of the grades we needed, the secretaries were all incredibly helpful!  I returned to the car and my waiting husband each time, exclaiming, “You would not believe how kind everyone is!” 
When we finally found a school to meet our needs, the secretary, once again, was fantastic.  I will always be grateful to the secretaries at Verda James, Cottonwood, Manor Heights, Crest Hill, Sagewood and Fort Caspar Academy for their warm welcome to Wyoming.
            As my children left for school on their first day, I had no expectations of what Wyoming education would be like.  But when they arrived home that afternoon, they couldn’t stop chattering. 
“Everyone is so friendly!  The teachers all smile!  Everyone speaks English!  All the classrooms have windows! We have three recesses!  We have an indoor gymnasium!  We each have a computer!”  My jaw hit the ground.  When my husband arrived home that day, I couldn’t stop chattering either. 
“Look,” I said, showing him the contents of their backpacks.  “Newsletters from the teachers, quality literature, field trips and spelling words!”  I hadn’t seen a single spelling list or field trip in Las Vegas.  One son even had an assignment to memorize The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 
“They allow you to repeat that in school?” my stunned husband asked.  We were filled with gratitude.  I immediately called my friend.  “You would not believe what Wyoming schools are like!” I told her.  “You should move here immediately!”
This fall, we’re starting our second, full year of school here, and my wonder hasn’t diminished.  Last week I received a phone call from a school principal. She told me she had noticed my son’s high math score, and wanted permission to move him to an advanced math class. 
“Thank you,” I wanted to sing.  “Thank you for being aware, and for allowing my child to progress.”
And so, although the school days have started and I miss my children as they walk out the door each morning, I always watch them leave with a sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for the friendly bus driver who picks them up and knows them by name, gratitude for the teachers who love them, gratitude for the principals who are aware, gratitude for the high standards, clean buildings, and abundant resources of Wyoming schools, and gratitude that this type of education still exists.  No one in Las Vegas would believe it.
Nettie Francis is editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine