David Cassani wants to enroll children at his school who have been pulled out of the public education system to be taught at home.
Sound like an odd demographic to target? The former Jordan School District teacher doesn't think so.Cassani has plugged $300,000 into the renovation of an old garage to build Alta Vista, a conservative private school Cassani believes will act as a supplement for home educators in core curriculum subjects.
"We are respectful that parents are the primary educators of children," said Cassani, sitting at a table in the just-finished restored school tucked away on a tree-lined 1.3 acre parcel in Orem's suburbia.
"It's a one-room flavor of American schools that we once had," he said. "It's designed to be more like the family instead of a factory or traditional classrooms."
Cassani, as the school's founder, will lead a small corps of teachers and aides into Alta Vista's inaugural year on Aug. 31, the same day Alpine School District students open textbooks for the first time after a summer hiatus.
But instead of a regular school day, Alta Vista, 1045 E. 1630 South, will conduct classes only from 8 a.m. to noon. Elementary-age students will attend three days a week and classes for middle-school-age pupils are scheduled four times a week.
Time away from the classroom will be supervised by parents. Many home-instructed children - an estimated 25,000 in Utah - take musical instrument lessons, help parents run a business or volunteer in the community, he said.
"The school won't tell parents how to handle other hours of the day," he said.
Teachers will spend the morning teaching language, concepts of science, history, mathematics and social studies. A daily Christian devotional also will be part of the school's planned activities.
Older students will tutor younger children. Individual learning plans will be created. Teachers, who are not required to have a college degree or official pedagogical training, encourage students to improve skills - not just learn enough material to pass a test.
It's not an unique idea. Other such schools, such as American Fork's Benjamin Franklin Academy and some charter schools, offer education programs along the same vein.
Michelle Smith, who teaches her seven children at home with her husband, Brian, the president of the Utah Home Education Association, said many parents turn to such schools for priming in such technical subjects as chemistry and calculus.
"It's a nice option to have," she said. Utah's dual-enrollment law allows home-educated children to take classes in public schools on a class-to-class basis.
Cassani is careful to say the classroom's spiritual message will not be culled strictly from the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although most Alta Vista students are members of Utah's predominant religion.
Students from any religion are welcome at the school, he said, glancing at a framed painting of Jesus Christ hanging on the white-painted wall.
Cassani says children do not learn less with a part-time approach, quietly offering an alternative to Utah public school head Scott Bean's proposal of stretching school hours.
Bean wants to add 30 minutes to the average elementary instruction day and 45 minutes to that of junior and senior high students. School days now average 5.5 hours.
A 1990 study by the National Home Education Research Institute reported the average score for a home-educated child was at or above the 80th percentile in all subjects. Subsequent studies by other home-school proponents have yielded similar results.
By way of example, Cassani offers, imagine increasing church meetings to 30 hours a week to increase spirituality or increasing college classes to 30 hours a week for a better and faster education.
"Church may be a good thing and college may also, but it may be like taking too many vitamins," he said. "Too many vitamins can not only be a waste, they can be harmful. Likewise, too much school can kill a child's motivation."
Attitudes toward how children are educated are starting to change in many circles, especially a right-wing faction concerned about a so-called crumbling moral en-vi-ron-ment in public schools.
Witness the burgeoning interest in charter schools, said Cassani, who also founded the Association of Home Educators and School Partnerships to build links for like-minded organizations.
"To a great extent the initial interest in this school began with parents," he said.
In 1992, as a teacher in the public system, Cassani made a proposal to school officials in Riverton to structure a classroom program that worked part time with home educators.
Positive feedback encouraged him to study the efficiency and concerns of home schooling during his graduate work at Brigham Young University.
Alta Vista is not cheap nor is it a place to send dropouts. About 15 students are accepted for each age group. About half the classes are already full, he said.
Tuition is $2,000 a year for middle school and $1,600 a year for elementary, which is about the same as a year of college classes at nearby Utah Valley State College and Ogden's Weber State University.
A conservative private foundation, which Cassani declines to name, paid for the school's overhaul. The pilot classes also will be the subject of research and evaluation.
Interested parents can visit the facility on Thursdays at 7 p.m. until school starts.