Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Alta students try floating their clay boats. From left are Neil Howard and Tevi Camargo, both in seventh grade; Cade Howlett, in back, in second grade; Christopher Eilber, a first-grader; and Adam Ervin, in eighth grade.

ALTA — Eleven students bound in from recess — dressed in ski pants and snowsuits — with cheeks rivaling the pinkness of pomegranates. They have no swings, no slides or teeter-totters, but the students who attend the little one-room school in Alta wouldn't have it any other way.

The school is located in the north wing of the Goldminer's Daughter ski lodge at Alta Ski Resort and is operated by Jordan School District. It operates as a satellite of Granite Elementary.

In the past, Alta parents who did not opt for home-schooling had to brave treacherous winter roads and storms to get their children to schools in the Salt Lake Valley. The school district did not provide transportation because the roads were too dangerous in the winter. However, it did offer parents a transportation stipend.

In the past few years, parents had approached the district about establishing a school in the mountain town to sidestep the transportation issue and allow children to "grow up" where they live.

Last spring the district agreed, using an experimental program grant to get the school off the ground.

Now in its first year, the school has 13 students, kindergarten through eighth grade, and one busy teacher.

Jaeann Tschiffely, the teacher, isn't new to multi-level teaching. She actually attended a K-8 school as a child and has had years of multi-level teaching experience in Wyoming.

"I am loving it — it's a crazy job, but I like teaching that keeps my attention," Tschiffely said. "You can't walk in here and have something else on your mind."

By crazy, Tschiffely is referring to keeping track of 13 different students with different lesson plans on different levels.

She has two boards with the children's names on them — one for homework and one for new assignments. At the end of the day, she evaluates what each child has accomplished for the day and what individual homework assignments will be.

It is a huge job, but Tschiffely said the parents help lighten the burden.

"There have been weeks when every kid here has had their parents in, and it's great," Tschiffely said.

Tschiffely is the only commuter in the school, driving up from Salt Lake Valley. So far, she said, the snow hasn't been a problem, and when the city of Alta shoots avalanches on early mornings, it calls to make sure she arrives early before closing the road. In the event of an afternoon closure, she is welcome to stay in students' homes or the lodge.

As for the students, the one-room school is a trade-off. They have no playground equipment and a very limited number of peers their own age — if any. But they all agree it is worth it for the skiing.

For two hours each week, they get to hit the Alta slopes as part of their physical education program. Snow is key in their recreation.

Cade Howlett, 8, said at recess they make snow slides and jumps to ride shovels down in a corner parking lot of the lodge. They also build snow "rock climbing walls and forts."

"I like playing in the snow way better than playing in dirt," Howlett said.

Julia Howlett, Cade's mother, said before a school was established she chose to home-school her children to avoid the commute and keep them in Alta. But she saw a need for more peer interaction.

"We're very grateful for the opportunity to have a school up here, and I just hope it lasts," she said.

Dave Stoddard, executive area director in the school district, said the school will be evaluated for continuation after three years.

"We are putting it together to see how it works and see if we can get it to a point to pay for itself," Stoddard said.

That means adding more students. An estimated 20 students would make it viable and feasible for continuation. And Stoddard feels confident the interest is there, based on the success of the school so far.

"We feel good about the situation — we feel we are right where we need to be, if not better."


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com