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Learning curves ahead


Well, this certainly doesn’t feel like school.

It’s a Friday midmorning and the children are, well, everywhere. In one corner, they’re splay-legged on the floor, scribbling meditatively on worksheets, learning to write poems. In another cluster at a small table, they’re using pencils, paper and iPads to write fables using basic narrative elements. Outside, they’re making desert dioramas with handfuls of sandbox dirt, paint and that timeless classroom staple (and, if I’m remembering my own elementary schooling correctly, occasional food item), white glue.

Every once in a while, a child will wander off. Maybe he’ll go over to the desktop computer to slip on headphones to try a learning module, or she’ll go sniff at the shakers of cumin and curry sitting out as part of a study section on the Silk Road. Wandering off? Just like that? No big deal. It doesn’t trigger any scolding from the four adults minding this whole operation. In fact, it’s by design. That’s the way this program, Co-Op Elementary Homeschool Group, works. The kids’ curiosity is in charge at this two-year-old elementary alternative that blends the intimacy and focus of homeschooling with a village approach. It’s held in a rented church room off Cheyenne Road, but the only religious element is the fervent focus on the kids, who represent first grade and second grade and third grade all at once.

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“We want school to be more relevant, meaningful — and just fun,” says founder Gina Morrello. Sure, she can drop phrases such as “whole-child-oriented” and “parent-involved” like a true edu-wonk, but at her core she’s a mom who cares about her kids’ education. (Read more about Morrello on page 14.) Call Co-Op Homeschool Group a modern-day educational mashup or a one-room schoolhouse 2.0. Whatever you call it, though, Co-Op Elementary is an interesting educational alternative in a city that, after all, is supposed to be about choice and freedom, right?

Before I go all infomercial on you, that’s my point: Alternatives. Nevada is once again stuck in that glacier of déjà vu that locks us up every other year: the battle over education funding. In the best of times, we’ve barely kept up. In the worst of times — well, just scan the latest headlines about the prospect of teacher layoffs, ballooning class sizes and entire college departments disappearing. At this point, the best-case scenario is that we’re spared the deepest cuts by keeping in place a handful of sales and business taxes that were set to expire. Worst case? I’m not the kind of guy to make grave pronouncements about this setting our cultural, intellectual and economic life back a generation but, yeah, wouldn’t be surprised. Gov. Sandoval’s leadership seems to involve cupping his hands protectively around a tiny, delicate, guttering flame of possible economic recovery to the exclusion of all else. The message to us in the meantime: Fend for yourselves.

Bring it. We’re a pioneering and resourceful people, and our “Get Smart Now” guide will open your eyes to options for schooling your kids, improving your career prospects and expanding your skills. You don’t have to start your own homeschool group like Gina did. But you do have to start something.

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Congratulations! To us! We took home a Maggie Award April 29 in Los Angeles, where the Western Publishing Association gathers every year to honor excellence in an event dubbed “the Oscars of publishing.” Desert Companion won a Maggie for Best News Story, for T.R. Witcher’s article, “Spread the Health Around.” The article, published in our November/December 2010 issue, is about an innovative nonprofit discount medical care plan started in Reno that’s aiming to expand to Southern Nevada in July.

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This win is particularly meaningful for three reasons. One, because of our now more frequent publication schedule, we vied for the award with a mix of other monthly magazines and even alt-weeklies, including the respected Westword in Denver and the SF Weekly in San Francisco. Two, it’s an important story that jibes with Desert Companion’s focus on constructive journalism. Third, it was, amazingly, overlooked by the local press, and T.R. Witcher sensed a scoop. We hope to bring you many more.

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.