Zephyr Cove Sprouting connected learners

Zephyr Cove Elementary School first graders harvested 150 potatoes from the school garden and made "smashed potato pizzas" with the help from Whittell High School's culinary teacher, Katie Martin recently.

Zephyr Cove Elementary School first graders harvested 150 potatoes from the school garden and made "smashed potato pizzas" with the help from Whittell High School's culinary teacher, Katie Martin recently.

From tubers to “smashed potato pizzas,” Zephyr Cove Elementary School students learned the connection between planting, growing, harvesting and cooking their own food recently.

Hailey Metzler’s first grade class harvested 150 potatoes from the school garden in early October which was a product of the students’ initial planting as kindergarteners.

After the potatoes were gathered, Whittell High School’s Culinary Teacher Katie Martin orchestrated a cooking demonstration for the first graders.

Students smashed their potatoes into pizza pies and dressed them with marinara and cheese.

The experience between the high school and first graders showcased their ability to develop relationships beyond the school environment and nurtured interests and passions, utilizing technology and working together.  

Likewise, the Douglas County School District has been exploring other outside options to increase enrollment and academic interests at the Lake Tahoe schools.

Student enrollment at the Lake Tahoe schools has been declining for the better part of the 21st Century leading to the closure of Kingsbury Middle School in 2008.

George Whittell High School principal Sean Ryan and vice principal Jim Pace gave a brief overview on recent enrollment counts and activities for Whittell, Whittell Middle and Zephyr Cove Elementary schools, where local population trends in general have been slightly declining in the past three school years. Since 2021-22, Zephyr Cove’s numbers have been 168, 152 and 151, Whittell Middle’s have been 75, 78 and 68 and Whittell High’s have been 81, 68 and 60.

Jim Pace, the high school’s vice principal, said students in the ninth through 12th grade range have realized there aren’t many opportunities for electives and sports teams and said school administrators would begin addressing the issue.

“Families truly appreciate the small size we offer, but then once they hit that 9-12 area, they’re looking for more opportunities,” Pace said, alluding to established sports programs such as its championship volleyball team that went undefeated last year.

To help spruce up academic pathways for Douglas County’s opportunities, Ryan and Pace described a feasibility study with WNC that target Whittell’s efforts to integrate an early or middle college program for the lake schools with an objective to evaluate the campus as a viable possibility of increasing college and career preparatory offerings for students. Ryan told board members a committee of stakeholders, including WNC and district staff members such as administrators, parent representatives and facilitators, all took part in the conversations for five months with a goal for implementation in the 2024-25 school year.

Ryan said the committee concluded that access to any dual credit program or implementation to an early college or middle college program “could provide George Whittell students more options or autonomy in their educational journey” but added opportunity for dual credit already is available through WNC’s JumpStart program.

“The committee determined this implementation would not be a unique opportunity since it was already available to all students,” he said.

Trustee Doug Englekirk was interested in opening the conversation to further research on other programs or trade school offerings such as emergency medical training, a fire explorer program or an auto shop if the interest exists in South Lake Tahoe.

“Students at Douglas High (School) might want a smaller environment,” Englekirk said. “Another person expressed a comment that they were a little worried they were going to shut the school down. I don’t think anybody on the board here is interested in doing that. We’re all fighting to keep the schools viable.”

Superintendent Keith Lewis said while gauging interest is important, transportation also is a consideration, with the district having to perform hub stops as more academic and extracurricular activities grow later into the evenings.

“It wouldn’t behoove us to have a fire science program if no one’s interested in fire science,” Lewis said. “So, what are those interests? Can we do a nursing program up here? They’re beyond that study to forming another committee to see viability. It’s a broader district.”

Lewis said years ago, the school board decided not to fund a dual enrollment program, and now its numbers in JumpStart look “paltry” compared to other districts even as grant funds have run out, encouraging board members to take up a discussion on the matter again.

As a follow-up to his interest with the presentation and potential programs regarding fire science or other educational options, during future agenda items, Englekirk directed staff to return with an item on the interlocal agreements with surrounding agencies. Lewis said he also envisioned a conversation with Superintendent Todd Cutler of neighboring school district Lake Tahoe Unified School District in El Dorado, Calif., as well as reaching out to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert of the Nevada Department of Education to assist.



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