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Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass.--noted for eschewing grades, homework assignments, class rankings, and even a curriculum--has a new baby sister.

Alpine Valley School in Edgewater, Colo., plans to open its doors within the next week to at least a dozen K-12 students. Modeled after the 27-year-old New England maverick, Alpine Valley is based on the idea that learning is a natural process. "Children don't need to be forced to learn," said Larry Welshon, a staff member and the president of the school.

Students will structure their day according to their interests, whether that means spinning a pottery wheel, playing chess, or reading Shakespeare.

The school's teachers, called staff members, will be on hand to assist students when they ask for help.

Students will have the bulk of the power and responsibility to hire--and fire--these helpers. Once a year, the entire student body and the staff will vote on which teachers should have their one-year contracts renewed.

The school expects to grow to 150 students and 10 full-time staff members within the next couple of years. It will charge $4,800 a year for tuition.

The endeavor marks a growing trend. Over the past several years, almost a dozen schools modeled after Sudbury Valley have opened across the country, and at least another nine, including Alpine Valley, are starting up this year.

"It may be a reaction to the current trend of standards," said Mr. Welshon, who opened Alpine Valley for his 2-year-old son and future student.

Whatever the reason, the new schools aim to match or exceed the success of Sudbury Valley, where more than 80 percent of students--this year totaling about 190--go on to college.

For more information on the Sudbury Valley model, write: Sudbury Valley School Press, 2 Winch St., Framingham, Mass. 01701; or fax (508) 788-0674.

Enrollment at independent schools rose 2.6 percent in the 1994-95 school year, according to figures from the National Association of Independent Schools. The increase is the largest in recent years.

Over the past decade, the student numbers at such schools have increased 9.3 percent.

Diversity among students and staff members also went up in the past decade. In 1994-95, students of color made up 16.6 percent of the total enrollment, up from 10.1 percent in 1984-85.

The data come from a survey of 694 NAIS-member schools, but the group considers the enrollment gains representative of all the nation's independent schools.

--Laura Miller

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