Atlas Personal Projects Powerful End to SLCs


Blake McClain

Students lift Atlas up as the high school waves goodbye to the SLCs for the 2016-2017 school year.

Hannah Earley / Lilah Slaughter , Reporter / Copy Editor

The Durango High School Atlas sophomore class of 2015 was the first class to attempt the Atlas personal project. The Atlas personal project consists of students engaging in a variety of topics they are interested in and conducting a project based off of the information taken away from studying their chosen topic. Many of the these students had not wanted to do the project. As a result, the sophomore class did not complete their project because the personal project was canceled by the teachers.

This year, students were given their mentors, from different academic departments within the Atlas program, to work on completing their personal project by the end of the 2016 school year. Students who have met with their mentors have been working towards their final project over the course of the semester.

“The students who decided to meet with their mentors and took even a little bit of ownership over the project are doing some really cool stuff,” said Atlas English teacher Terri Kopack.

So far, students have written an essay on what they have accomplished, brainstorming thoughts for their final project, and checking in with their mentors to keep updated on what is to happen further in the semester.

The personal project encourages students to research and learn about the things that interest them. Students can study anything from five different areas of interaction.  These range from community and service to environmental studies. This concept is what drives most students to really engage in the personal project.

“I like that we were able to choose our own topic because I have a lot of things that interest me,” said So. Olivia Guerra.

Those who have began working on their personal projects have enjoyed many aspects of it. “I liked researching. I watched a lot of informational videos on my topic which really helped me move forward with my project on sports health,” said So. Anastasia Hermesman.

Atlas has only been doing personal projects for two years, and as such, the SLC has ran into many problems with the project. Some of the problems that have occurred include: students neglecting their project, teachers struggling with the organization of the project, and recurrent issues of students not meeting with their mentors.

“I wasn’t able to find much information online, which was inconvenient,” said So. Chase Summers.

Some students feel as though there is a lack of guidance within the project. On the other hand, Atlas teachers feel as though there is a lack of effort coming from the students. Last year’s sophomores apathetic attitude toward the project may have had a heavy effect on some of this year’s Atlas sophomores. Students have tried to start petitions against the project, but later realized that such movements won’t be effective because the projects are an integrated part of some classes curriculum.

Because small learning communities are coming to an end this year, teachers wanted Atlas Sophomores to strive for quality and meaning at the end of the personal projects.



The transition to an underclassmen program lacking small learning communities has elicited varying responses from the students at DHS. Also varied were the actual and suggested reasons that the transition if being made.

The Durango Herald claimed that a significant cause for getting rid of the SLCs is budgetary, however Principal Leanne Garcia claims that that is not at all the case.

“One of the biggest reason is that our SLC’s in their current form really don’t look too different in terms of day-to-day instruction. So when the day-to-day instruction didn’t look all that different, it became a question of whether all these constraints and barriers worth it. I ultimately answered,” said Garcia.

The barriers and constraints that Garcia discussed included the Crew and Foundations classes in Basecamp and Davinci as well as the Atlas-specific graduation requirements, such as Creative Arts Comprehensive. Students do not currently have the option to take other classes in place of these. These serve as constraints to the students and barriers between SLCs.

“[SLCs] served to separate good teachers, so students could not have uniformly good teachers. They also tried to have a separate learning style, but it’s just as easy to get the right electives to create a more personal learning style,” said Jr. Stanton Ott.

Ott is in favor of the transition for similar reasons that led Garcia to the decision. Students in the program will have more options to personalize their academic careers to cater to their needs without the requirements that SLC’s enforce.

With that ability of the students, they will also be exposed to many other students of varying and similar learning interests that they could have otherwise been separated from by the rifts between Atlas, Davinci and Basecamp.

“I think there won’t be so much separation between groups of people, and [the transition] could make the grades closer as a whole,” said So. Ruby Epstein.

Unification and a melding of students with differing interests are givens to the new system, but while Epstein has an optimistic outlook, other students feel differently.

“I’ve always thought that there’s a definite difference in the learning styles of each SLC. And once most people figure out which SLC works best for them, they’re surrounded by similar students who learn in the same style. I thought it made the transition into high school much easier,” said Sr. Joaquin Valdez.

As a senior, Valdez has experienced both underclassmen years with SLC’s and his upperclassmen years without. While schedules are more individualized by the time students become upperclassmen, underclassmen take many of the same classes with no choice regarding the rigor of the setting or drive of their peers.

In the opposite end of her high school career, Freshman Bekah Moenning is happy to leave small learning communities behind.

“Personally I’m excited to have no SLC’s. I think it’ll give a better high school experience; the separation between students had a major social impact,” said Moenning.

Despite the opposition of some students, the transition will likely still pair students with similar interests through class choices alone, and Garcia aims to allow students and education that caters as much as possible to individual needs and interests.

Garcia believes that removing the system of small learning communities will remove the constraints, barriers and improperly individualized learning from the education of students.

“ I have to have a lot of flexibility in our schedule in the next few years so that I can really target what students’ needs are,” said Garcia.