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C of O explores prep lab school

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Early indications from a feasibility study suggest that history might be repeating itself for College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout.

College officials are winding down a feasibility study exploring the addition of a preparatory laboratory school on its campus, said Sue Head, Ed.D., feasibility study coordinator and dean of character education at C of O.

While it would be at least a year before a lab school could open, it wouldn’t be the first time C of O has focused on high school students, Head said. The college was actually founded in 1906 as an elementary school, Head said, and a high school was later added.

Eventually, the school evolved to a junior college, and then to the four-year liberal arts college it is today.

Head said the lab school, initially focused on high school students, would be consistent with the school’s mission to provide Christian education for students who cannot afford it. Initially, lab school students would not live on campus, but officials aren’t ruling out that possibility.

“We see (a lab school) as a great opportunity to provide a unique school environment, one that has small class sizes, a biblical worldview and an emphasis on character education and patriotism, coupled with a rigorous curriculum,” Head said. The Bible also would be threaded throughout the lab school’s curriculum, along with other areas of focus, including classical literature.

The college is focused on gauging the level of interest in adding a preparatory lab school. An online survey at CofO.edu will run through Sept. 30, and so far, Head said there have been nearly 200 responses that indicate a solid interest base.

“People from as far away as Aurora, Republic, Nixa and Omaha [Ark.] – all over this area – have expressed interest in enrolling their children here,” Head said.

Head also is examining the resources available to add a high school at C of O. She said an existing campus building on the campus could be repurposed for the lab school, which would put it ahead of the curve compared to other private school startups.

“Many Christian schools struggle because they do not have the infrastructure or the resources,” Head said. “At the same time they’re trying to get students, they’re also trying to get a building (and) build a gym and all of those kinds of things. We’re grateful that we already have the infrastructure in place – the labs, the gym and the library.”

Head also is traveling to other private and laboratory schools to identify best practices. By the end of September, she will have visited eight different high schools, including Horace Mann School at Northwest Missouri State University, Hillsdale Academy in Hillsdale, Mich., and Greenwood Laboratory School at Missouri State University.

Greenwood Director Janice Duncan said the school on the campus of MSU was founded in 1907 to train future teachers and provide an education for students from rural areas that no longer had schools.

Still today, lab schools serve a dual purpose, providing a rigorous curriculum and a training ground for current and future educators.

“All lab schools that I know across the United States are associated with a university, (either) begun by the universities or (they) have partnerships with universities,” Duncan said.

She noted that at Greenwood – a kindergarten-through 12th grade school – college students complete about 1,700 hours of observation and 1,200 to 1,500 hours of practicum service a year, and at any given time, there are three to five research projects led by MSU professors under way.

Duncan said, too, that 100 percent of Greenwood graduates go to college, including some who stay at MSU, though they are not required to do so.

Preparing students for college is a goal that would be shared for C of O’s lab school, Head said.

“We would love for 100 percent of our students to go to college, whatever that college may be,” Head said. “It could be anywhere. We just want them to be prepared to excel and be successful in college.”

Annual tuition at Greenwood is $4,717 for elementary students and $4,806 for high-school students, plus fees. At a C of O lab school, Head said, students would pay on a sliding fee scale based on family income.

“We don’t want the cost to deter any family from being able to come,” Head added.

And because the school would be part of C of O – also called Hard Work U because students work on campus to pay their tuition, Head said enrollees would likely have to roll up their sleeves to some degree.

“We think that’s a great education for the real world,” she said.

Adding a lab school might bring challenges, but it also could complement C of O’s work-school model, Duncan noted.

“They could give some real work opportunities to their college students to be teacher aides and things of that nature,” she added.

The next step is for Head to present survey results, findings from her school visits and information about available resources to C of O’s board of trustees in late October. While there’s not a set timeline – or a green light from the board – Head said the earliest a lab school could open would be fall 2012.

Max Ruhl, a 1974 C of O graduate and member of the board of trustees, was formerly dean of education at Northwest Missouri State University, where he was familiar with the Horace Mann lab school. He is in favor of adding a lab school at C of O.

“Anything we can do in this country right now to promote character at all levels is only good,” Ruhl said. “I feel like it’s critical to make sure that somebody’s out there with a voice supporting and lauding character development, and I see this as another opportunity to do that.”[[In-content Ad]]

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