Cutting and cobbling strips of vinyl flooring is one renovation toward transforming the bygone eight-room motel into the remote mountain town’s sole public school.
“People here have wanted this for years,” said Connie Day, founder and soon-to-be teacher at Island Park Charter School. “It’s all about access.”
Island Park Charter School will later this month open its doors to local students from pre-kindergarten to third grade. The opening follows thousands of dollars in donations, dozens of hours from volunteers and a local push to improve access to public education for kids in the highly rural community.
For decades, families in the tourist town on the road to Yellowstone National Park have faced a primary choice: Embrace homeschool or bus youngsters some 30 miles down the mountain to the Fremont County School District’s Ashton Elementary School.
Bus rides to Ashton can take almost two hours.
“My son would get so hungry because you can’t eat on the bus,” said Greer Sutton, whose second-grader, Sullivan, will attend the charter school this fall.
Sporting a belly shirt and blond dreadlocks, Greer Sutton helped other volunteers hoist stripped carpet from the motel onto a truck bed bound for the local landfill. Unlike thousands of tourists who each summer descend on Island Park’s array of rivers, lakes and campsites, the Suttons are among fewer than 300 year-round residents willing to brave the town’s brutal winters. The family owns a local restaurant down the road from the new school.
It’s a great lifestyle, Greer Sutton said, but the lack of a nearby school has been hard for the family. In addition to long bus rides, the distance between Island Park and Ashton has made it difficult for Sullivan to attend after-school extracurricular activities.
“That’s been pretty hard for him,” Greer Sutton said.
Day, a former teacher at White Pine Charter School in Idaho Falls, heard the lament of Island Park families such as the Suttons while vacationing in the area. Last year, she floated the idea of opening a local charter school.