Arriving at Anchorage’s Chugach Optional Elementary School last month for a Blue Ribbon School celebration, I was greeted by an excited group of staff, students and parents. During our student-led tour, parent and teacher cooperation were on display amid colorful classrooms set up to resemble a comfortable home environment with couches, curtains and rugs.
Principal Anne Salzer explained that, “Parental Involvement is the key to success at Chugach.”
Chugach Optional was founded in 1973 because a group of parents proposed that the Anchorage School District offer an “option” to a traditional neighborhood school. Their vision for the school was a progressive, open concept school, which ultimately became Chugach Optional.
Part of the founder’s vision was that parents should have a wide range of options within the District. Today the District has ABC schools, “Optional” schools, and language immersion schools. “Optional” is the label that stuck to schools like Chugach, though the pedagogical foundation is progressive, and open concept.
Salzer attributes six factors that have contributed to the school’s success:
- High parental involvement
- Emphasis is set on student responsibility for their learning (no letter grades, open ended assignments, choices for students)
- Engaging activities
- Arts integration
- Inquiry learning
- Multi-age classrooms
One of the student tour guides said that “having parents in the school makes me feel warm and comfortable –like home.” A parent commented that, “Chugach Optional makes you feel like family, a place where you feel at home; everyone is on a first name basis.”
Linda Pauley works in the Office of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Seattle office.