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This is what a charter school should be

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DENVER -- Denver's charter school, P.S. 1, 5 years old and soon to graduate its first senior class, exemplifies what the charter movement is all about.

You wouldn't want an entire school district constructed on this model, with a half-day of formal classes and the afternoons devoted to electives, internships and projects. At least, with all due deference to the wonderfully enthusiastic staff and students I met on a visit last week, it's not one I would have chosen when looking for a school for my son.But some students thrive in that atmosphere, and it's good that they have the option. More generally, the existence of a very different but clearly workable model helps keep the rest of the district open to good ideas they could borrow and adapt to a more traditional setting.

P.S.1 moved last fall into its new quarters in the former Rocky Mountain Bank Note Co. building. The central area is a two-story atrium, with offices and classrooms around the perimeter. Noisy, because of all the exposed brick and concrete, but nobody seemed to mind.

When I was there, there were signs everywhere asking, "Are you prepared for POLs?" That's "presentations of learning" at the end of each trimester the project teams report on what they have been doing, and Friday was the big day.

Some critics think the P.S.1 curriculum isn't rigorous enough, because it doesn't have grades. But the POLs are judged, and having to prepare for a major public oral exam three times a year is demanding enough, if students take it seriously.

In fact, I've known people who as adults would slit their throats rather than have to do that.

P.S.1, like many distinctive schools, is the individual vision of its founder and executive director, Rexford Brown. I didn't meet him, because he's recovering from bypass surgery, but he wrote in the school newsletter that his experience had made him think that hearts and health would be a natural interdisciplinary project for the school.

Seniors work all year on a graduation project; among the first ones this year, according to the newsletter, are an opening at an art gallery, a solo flight for a pilot's license, a health fair for the school, a human-powered helicopter design and improved acoustics for the new building. That last is definitely practical, too.

Every student in the "upper house," grades 9-12, and some in the middle grades, spends a full or a half-day each Wednesday in the community as an intern or apprentice.

P.S.1 usually ranks high among Denver schools, Beatty said, though its student body is highly diverse and representative of the district as a whole.

The school's mission is "to enrich the urban core of Denver."

It seems to me to have a good chance of success.

Linda Seebach is an editorial writer for the Denver Rocky Mountain News in Colorado.