True Grit: A Visiting Educator’s Impressions of Eagle Rock

Editor’s Note: The author of today’s post, Erika Lowe, is an educator in Burlington, Vermont. This year she is serving as the Community Based Learning Fellow for Partnership for Change, an initiative to transform Burlington and Winooski High Schools to better serve the needs of all learners. Learn more at the Partnership for Change website or follow the Partnership on Twitter at @partnershipvt.

By Erika Lowe, Community Based Learning Fellow – Partnership for Change

Ten years ago I abandoned California public education to teach in Vermont. I could no longer justify teaching in overcrowded classrooms where students spilled into hallways, at schools where arts and physical education programs no longer existed, in a state that spends more on incarcerated prisoners than on educating students. I did not have the grit to sustain teaching in a system where I had little control.

So it came as no surprise to me when I met a high school student from Los Angeles at the Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado. Leslie grew up just 10 minutes from where I was raised in Los Angeles. Like me, the L.A. public school system did not work for her. Eagle Rock offered her a second chance. What I did not expect was that she intended to return to her public school system with the knowledge and tools to create change.

Eagle_Rock_Professional_DevelopmentLeslie told me she volunteered at a Waldorf preschool two days a week. Not only did she volunteer, but she used her experience for action research. Leslie was intrigued that Waldorf Schools were originally established to serve the children of factory workers, the irony being that today, only the privileged can take advantage of a Waldorf education. She recognized the inequity of this situation, yet she knew she could apply Waldorf practices and values to public education.

She noted, “I know I can’t change the whole system, but I want to learn what I can from Waldorf education and bring that back to my community. Maybe I can share what I’ve learned and help get a program off the ground in a school that will help make a difference.” Leslie learned values I never had the opportunity to learn as a new teacher in California: grit, persistence and Continue reading…

Meet The Team: Eagle Rock’s Director of Operations, Susan M. Luna

Eagle Rock's Susan Luna (with husband David Hoskins)
Susan Luna (with husband David Hoskins)

In case you don’t know her, we’d like to introduce you to Susan Luna, who comes from a big family of educators, artists, tennis players and social activists, and serves as our director of operations.

Susan was born in Pueblo, a steel mill town in Southern Colorado, and was raised in Denver. She’s a graduate of East High School and the University of Colorado, where she earned her undergraduate degree in sociology (Boulder) and her master’s degree in urban and regional planning (Denver).

And it’s probably important that you know Susan has five older brothers. That would explain all the energy she expends on a daily basis. But don’t take our word for it; please read on.

Eagle Rock: What do you do here at Eagle Rock?

Susan: Currently, I’m the director of operations, which means I’m in charge of managing Eagle Rock’s business office, facilities and the kitchen. I am also responsible for a lot of the behind-the-scenes work in areas like human resources, safety, finances, auxiliary services, facilities, and plant and capital projects.  I am also a member of the Ponderosa House team.

Eagle Rock: What did you do prior to coming to work for Eagle Rock?

Susan: I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years and have worked for a variety of human service organizations in and around Denver including the Enterprise Foundation, NEWSED, Jewish Community Center, Mile High United Way, Intermountain Tennis Association, Girl Scouts Mile Hi Council, Servicios de la Raza, and YMCA. Before coming to Eagle Rock, I was the executive director of the Denver Inner City Parish.

Eagle Rock: What attracted you to Eagle Rock?

Susan: My husband Dave Hoskins. He was an instructional specialist at Eagle Rock in 2000 when we started dating, so I heard a lot about the place from him and I visited the school once or twice while I was completing my master’s degree in Denver. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was engaged and living in Estes Park with David. A year or so later we moved on campus and I became a House Parent for Spruce House. My friends thought that I had lost my mind — and they may have been right — but I was up for the adventure and I jumped in with both feet. Luckily, Spruce had some incredible veteran students who helped make the experience enjoyable for me and I soon came to love the Eagle Rock community, the students, the mission, and the idea of being a part of something bigger than myself.

Eagle Rock: When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Susan: For me, time away from Eagle Rock is all about rest, recovery, and family responsibility. My 81-year-old father is living in my house down in Denver, and I am his primary caregiver, so I make weekly trips to the city to look after him, catch up on sleep, watch a movie or two and play some tennis. If I have more than a weekend of spare time, then I like to go relax in a natural hot spring, get massages, and, of course, play some more tennis.

Eagle Rock: What reality TV should you be on and why would you win or be kicked off?

Susan: I’m not into reality shows, but that’s not to say I don’t like TV. My favorite show is Continue reading…

Understanding Eagle Rock’s Presentations of Learning (POLs)

Three times during each school year, students enrolled at the Eagle Rock School participate in a self-appraisal of their educational successes during the previous trimester, and they do it in public, before a live audience that is searching for evidence of learning from the student.

Presentation of Learning
Presentation of Learning

It’s Share and Tell on steroids, and for Eagle Rock students it’s an opportunity to present themselves as learners. The process is called Presentation of Learning (POL), and it serves as a rite of passage for all Eagle Rockers. POLs enable our students to make a case that they have soaked in an abundance of learning in the preceding months on campus.

This process isn’t at all about getting credit in courses, because students either have or have not documented learning to a level of mastery in their courses. POLs are an overarching tool for our students, allowing them to pause in learning, reflect, synthesize and analyze. They are tasked with considering both personal and academic growth, linking their learning to past learning, and projecting future learning goals. All within a 15-minute presentation.

The panel observing these deliveries consists of teachers, administrators, community members and others who are interested in alternative assessment, education renewal, and the progress of our students.

Before sitting down for these live sessions, panelists have in hand a packet of information produced by the student. This includes a Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Graduates Four More Good Citizens

Editor’s Note: In today’s post, our own Public Allies Fellow for the Eagle Rock Professional Development Center – Mary Reid Munford – introduces you to Eagle Rock’s latest graduates: Diego Matamoros, Grace Huang, Tiana Matos, and Tehya Brown.

Growing up in Miami, Diego Matamoros switched schools often. When he finally settled on a local public high school, he didn’t do well. “I was never one of those straight A students,” Diego said. “I was always getting Cs and constantly getting in fights with my mom about it.”

Diego was making music, skateboarding, hanging out with friends, and progressively doing more drugs. “The more I used drugs recreationally,” Diego explained, “the more anxiety I would have in school, and the more I would rationalize not being a good student and blame it on the school.”

His counselor recommended Diego enroll in an Outward Bound course, and although it provided a good break and school credit, he slipped back into his old habits when he got home. After his mom caught him skipping school during his senior year, she pulled him out.

It was at that time that he considered attending Eagle Rock, an option first suggested by his Outward Bound instructors. He was already 18 years old and two weeks away from earning his GED, but after a “great conversation” with our own director of students, Philbert Smith, Diego began seriously considering a move across the country to enroll and complete his high school education.

The transition to life at Eagle Rock was far from seamless, Diego admitted. He suffered several setbacks, including leaving early one trimester due to medical issues and then skipping the next. In the end, he credits the supportive community and the help of key figures like his houseparent, Jesse Tovar, who also serves as Eagle Rock’s health and wellness counselor. “Jesse has always been the most supportive figure,” Diego said. “He’s helped guide me, helped me maneuver through the system — but he’s also helped me remain myself while going through this transformation.”

Eagle-Rock-School-ER61It was during an internship over breaks from Eagle Rock that Diego learned about aromatherapy and living a holistic lifestyle. And he says he might return to this work in the future. He also credits music as one way he’s learned greater life skills. “Living according to Eagle Rock’s ‘Eight Plus Five Equals Ten’ philosophy… it emphasizes the super important things,” Diego explained. “One of them for me is nurturing being an artist. I do that by playing music. It’s a whole kind of way to practice the techniques of life – carefulness, listening…”

Diego plans to combine these interests next year as he applies to colleges in New England and the Midwest to learn more about music therapy.

Grace Huang was 11 years old when an American family adopted her. After spending her childhood in La Paz, Bolivia, she flew across the globe to start a new life in Boston, Mass. She attended school there until two years ago, opting to make another move — this time across the country to boarding school in Colorado.

Grace transferred to Eagle Rock for a more individualized and less distracting learning environment than her home school could offer. “I came to Eagle Rock to have a place to be able to learn at my pace and really understand what I’m learning,” she explained, “And also to really focus on personal and academic growth instead of everything else.”

As with most students, the transition to communal living was the most challenging aspect of Grace’s move. “The hardest part was having to be in a community with people I’m not used to or want to be around,” she said.

After six trimesters spent attending courses and living on campus at Eagle Rock, Grace cites her academic learning as one of the most powerful ways she has grown here. “Teachers have forced me to Continue reading…