Rocky Mountain News – Auto Giant Boosts Education

An experiment in American education began Monday because of a Japanese auto giant’s philosophy and financing.

Officials of American Honda Education Corp., joined by Gov. Roy Romer and school and community leaders from northern Colorado, broke ground near Estes Park for an alternative, residential high school that will combine education with community service and environmentalism.

The Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center could welcome its first students by next summer, eventually drawing up to 100 students 15 to 18 years old, said school headmaster Robert Burkhardt.

The school, in cooperation with several universities, also will serve as a center for teacher training and curriculum development. The $40 million cost for construction and operation for the next decade will be paid by American Honda Education Corp., a branch of American Honda Motor Co.

American Honda wanted to invest in the educational system to “make a meaningful and significant contribution” to this country, said Koichi Amemiya, president of American Honda Motor Co.

“We know it is not enough to contribute economically. We must contribute socially,” said Amemiya, explaining that American workers have produced 2.5 million Honda motorcycles and automobiles at U.S. plants in the past decade.

“Education is a most urgent issue in this country, and we would like to work together to make a contribution. This is a big challenge for us,” Amemiya said, pledging that the Eagle Rock school‘s work “will never end.”

Honda, through an exchange with the state Land Board, acquired 652 acres outside Estes Park. The state will get at least $2 million to buy land elsewhere.

The school and its 23 buildings, which include classrooms and living areas for students and about 20 full-time faculty, will occupy about 150 acres of the site. The remaining 500 acres will be put into a conservation trust to protect it from future development, Burkhardt said.

Romer, while praising American Honda for its investment in Colorado and the nation, used the opportunity to pitch his proposed sales tax to fund education.

“Anytime you receive this kind of an asset, you have to say to yourself, ‘What can we do ourselves? What do we need to do to provide for education?’ ” Romer said.

Honda could spend about $14 million in construction alone. The school complex also will include a science laboratory, a gymnasium and a library. The teacher-to-student ratio will be about one-to-five, Burkhardt said.

“I’m impressed. They intend to do an innovative and intensive job at this school,” Romer said. “I’d like to have gone to a school like this.”

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