Unique Antonito school brings dream to reality

ANTONITO— Imagine a school that bases its curriculum on academics, arts, justice and the community — then visit the Antonito Home School Consortium.

A perfect opportunity to see their education at work will present itself from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Society Hall in Alamosa. This “Freedom Concert” will include musical selections that mirror social justice, along with the poetry of the children. Admission is by donation.

Co-director Dr. Michele Trujillo says public performance will be good for the students. “These young kids will go out and share their message of freedom. Performance boosts their confidence and self-esteem.”

She explains the school is fruition of a long-held dream. “I have always dreamed of starting a school, since I got into the field of education.”

That was more than 20 years ago, but in late summer of 2007, it began to take shape.

She explains the all-volunteer staff includes parents, grandparents, friends and visiting experts who love to teach and are concerned about educational, social, environmental and food justice. No tuition is charged and the school receives small grants for field trips and materials. Parents devote time to the school and donations are given according to the ability to give.

Students aren’t tied to the curriculum, but are taught to exercise critical thinking. “Liberation is the root mission of education,” Dr. Trujillo explains. “Kids need more options on how to think freely.

“We strive for a growth mindset and problem solving using different approaches,” she continues. There is no detention or expulsion, students are taught to meditate and do so, working most issues out themselves.

The school enjoys a great deal of support from various experts in their fields, such as artist Christi Duran, Dr. Marty Jones, emeritus professor of chemistry, Music Professor James W. Doyle and students at Adams State University, who share the knowledge of their majors. Dr. Eugene Schilling and Robin Wolfe share their art abilities and Dr. Rebecca Jessen of Mountain Harmony Yoga teaches that discipline.

Mary Alice Trujillo teaches algebra to students as young as second grade, who are already mastering other facets of mathematics.

The school has a library of donated books and novels are used, not only for English education, but also for discussion of social justice issues.

Abe Rosenberg, director of Valleybound Antonito School and Community Garden and on staff at Conejos Clean Water, provides food justice education. This can include analytical thinking and work to eliminate food insecurity in families. “We analyze what things are good for us to eat,” says Trujillo.

With so much to learn, students may feel overwhelmed, so they’re introduced to music and art, as well as yoga to relieve stress.

While Dr. Trujillo is concerned with the over testing of children, testing still must take place to determine if the students are achieving as they should.

There are formative assessments, performance based testing and standardized testing as is administered in the public schools.

Parents are involved in the process, as each parent has his or her idea of what each child needs. “Parents were never recruited, they came to us,” she explains.

When it came to the point that she felt her own daughter needed to be home schooled and she discussed it with other parents, the home school concept was born.

With three generations of teachers in her family and married to Dr. Aaron Abeyta, who has a similar strong background, Trujillo knows what education is and what it should be. Dr. Abeyta is volunteer co-director of the school while teaching classes at Adams State University.

Educated in Antonito and at Mt. St. Scholastica Academy in Canon City, she gathered thoughts on what education could become and the support of so many shows its true.

Academically, she cites the work of Paulo Friere, who believed in not only reading the word, but also reading the world. This involves the development of critical consciousness, which allows people to question the nature of their historical and social situation—to read their world—with the goal of acting as subjects in the creation of a democratic society.

For education, Freire implies a dialogic exchange between teachers and students, where both learn, both question, both reflect and both participate in making meanings for life.

Taking her own educational path, Trujillo, like Friere, dreamed of coming back to help the community.

The Antonito Home School currently has 12 students, who are exposed to the many facets of life, with excursions to many places that blend education and adventure. Nine families work side-by-side and meet every Wednesday night for “Cooking Matters,” where they learn how to make good choices for foodstuffs, and then prepare interesting dishes.

Recycling is included in that curriculum, as well as at the school, where students are taught about the environment while placing aluminum cans in recycling bags. Of course, there are other lessons in reusing, reducing and recycling the things of life.

Each child brings his or her lunch to school every day and they have learned to make good choices for those meals, as well.

The school operates in classroom spaces belonging to St. Augustine Catholic Church, which is very supportive and the finance committee includes the parish council committee.

There are so many people to thank, Trujillo adds, such as the board of Society Hall for allowing the “Freedom Concert” to take place, along with community members who have something to teach or share.

“Don’t just be good at something, be good for something,” Trujillo states as a goal of the school. For information, log onto the Antonito Homeschool Coalition page on Facebook.

Caption: Led by Dr. Michele Trujillo, far left, students at the Antonito Home School Consortium rehearse for their upcoming Freedom Concert at Alamosa's Society Hall.