3B

What M-CHS has vs. what students need

On this year’s general election ballot, most of the choices are well defined. Candidates for president and Congress have obvious differences. The county commission candidates are well known. Nearly all voters know how they feel about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

They may not have decided yet whether Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 needs a new high school. Those who are still on the fence — and certainly those who believe the present building is perfectly adequate — should take a tour of M-CHS before they cast their ballots, because what they see there will be convincing.

The building’s issues fall into two overlapping categories: safety/security, and learning environment.

Some of the problems are simple to identify and much more difficult to correct. Mercury and asbestos are neither easy nor cheap to eliminate or keep sealed off. The challenge of controlling access while ensuring quick and safe exits in case of emergency is not easily met in a building that’s been remodeled and expanded. But those are the smaller issues.

Nearly every occupation, including fast-food clerk, now involves technology that existed in a much more rudimentary form or didn’t exist at all in 1967. Without access to the technology they must learn to use, they cannot prepare for the workplace — and without something so basic as enough electrical outlets in a classroom, they have a much harder time learning what they need to know.

That problem cannot be solved simply by running a few more miles of electrical conduit, and anyone who thinks it can should visit a modern workplace — not the science-fiction environment these students will face a few years down the road, not the cutting edge research and manufacturing facilities of larger cities, but workplaces that exist in Cortez today. Extension cords won’t solve the problem (nor will they meet the approval of the fire marshal).

The pace of change is accelerating. Students learn differently now partly because they must learn different things. No longer can they sit at desks with just textbooks, notebooks and pencils, and classrooms designed for that learning style are no longer sufficient. Yet M-CHS was designed for just that, and it can’t be adapted easily or well to current pedagogical demands.

The people who designed the current high school, and the citizens who funded its construction, cannot be faulted for not anticipating those needs. No one did. Nonetheless, here we are, well into the 21st century, with an inadequate building.

Other problems have existed since the school was constructed. Students who attended classes there in the late 1960s remember that the climate-control system was never what it should have been. In the year 2012, it’s simply ridiculous that our students need outerwear indoors in the winter, and August temperatures in windowless classrooms are high enough to make students miserable, if not sick. Those conditions don’t promote concentration and motivation, and educators shouldn’t have to instruct students in spaces that hamper, rather than aid, their efforts.

Those are the realities of the current facility. They aren’t unlivable — obviously, as teachers teach and students learn there every day — but they’re far from optimal, and someday soon, they won’t be sustainable.

Here’s a fair challenge: Before you decide M-CHS was just fine in 1967 and it’s just fine now, see for yourself. Tours are offered late in the afternoon on Tuesday and Thursdays for the next couple weeks. Take a look; ask hard questions. That’s the very least a community owes its children.