The Latest News From the Rock — December 2014

Having just wrapped up our 64th trimester, a blanket of quiet has settled over our campus. And looking back, it proved to be a busy and productive trimester for all of us here at Eagle Rock.

We kicked ER 64 off by welcoming eight new full-time Eagle Rock staff members, 10 new Eagle Rock Public Allies fellows, and one wilderness intern — Jack Bresnahan — to our mountainside community. Add it up and that’s just about 40 percent of our staff. Considering all the newness, we’ve done pretty well.

As expected, our students continued to deepen their understanding of our five expectations — making healthy life choices, communicating effectively, practicing leadership for justice, being an engaged global citizen and developing an expanding knowledge base. Much of this was absorbed through engaging classroom discussion.

And, of course we’re proud to have sent our three newest Eagle Rock School graduates — Gigi Hagopian, Isaac Holmes and Cat Leger — out into the world.

In addition to classroom activities, we’ve been working hard to improve the quality of student life elsewhere at Eagle Rock, and this trimester we had a lot going on, thanks to a large extent to The Magnificent 7 — an elite group of veteran students who help out with evening duty.

This trimester, the M7 put on an exciting house versus house Olympics, and when the dust settled, Aspen and Lodgepole were tied for first place. To break the tie, student Ziyad Johnstone, representing Aspen, and Isiah Gonzales, representing Lodgepole, played a nail-biting game of egg roulette for the tiebreaker.

If you’ve never seen it, egg roulette has each person work back and forth through a Continue reading…

Meet The Team: Outdoor Education Instructional Specialist Jesse Beightol

Beightol_Jesse-Eagle-RockIf it’s an activity that doesn’t take place underneath a ceiling, Jesse Beightol  probably has something to do with its success. Jesse is the outdoor education instructional specialist here, and his classroom consists of the hundreds of acres of forests, streams and meadows surrounding our mountainside campus. Does that mean he wears a lot of sunscreen? You’ll have to ask him that question yourself.

This backcountry fanatic oversees our 24-day wilderness orientation course, Explore Week trips and adventure activities that take place outside of the classroom. Jesse also organizes the Leadership for Justice Curriculum, teaching classes like Outdoor Leadership and Science of Strength. And he co-chairs our risk management committee, teaches CrossFit, attends Aikido, supports Spruce House and serves on Eagle Rock’s discipline committee.

We brought Jesse indoors long enough to ask him a few questions about himself:

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

Jesse: Most immediately I was attending graduate school at the University of New Hampshire, earning a Master of Science degree in outdoor education. Before that I spent about eight years working as a wilderness instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, Wilderness Inquiry, Kent Mountain Adventure Center, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Eagle Rock.

Eagle Rock: What first attracted you to Eagle Rock?

Jesse: I led my first wilderness course at Eagle Rock School (ERS) in 2000 and really enjoyed the experience. It was an incredibly challenging course for me and I Continue reading…

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from the staff, students and instructors here at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center. Whatever it is that you’re up to this holiday season, we hope you’re safe and surrounded by people and things you love and adore.

As you might have imagined, we’ve sent our students and everyone else home for the trimester/holiday break. Our offices are officially closed through the 4th of January — staff will begin to arrive back on campus on Monday, January 5. If you do try to reach one of us by phone, it’s likely your call won’t be returned until the first week of January. For that reason, it might be better to connect with us by email (some staff and instructors check email during breaks).

Since this trimester’s break coincides with major gift giving and gift-receiving holidays, it feels timely to note that the best gifts cannot be found packaged up in a box and sealed with ribbon or a bow. The laughter and the tears we experience as educators, along with all of the insightful and rewarding one-on-one and group conversations — especially the ones with students — that we’re blessed to be a part of… those are some of the best and enduring gifts we give and receive. Here’s to more of that occurring for you and us well into 2015 and beyond.

Happy Holidays!

Niko Viglione and The Run Rabbit Run 100-Mile Race

Rabbit-Run-OneEditor’s Note: In case you don’t already know him, meet Niko Viglione, Eagle Rock’s Human Performance Center Public Allies Fellow who hails from Purdy N.Y. Niko taught physical education at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, N.Y., where he worked as a track coach as well as with project-based adventure after-school programs.

Niko is a runner with a passion for going that extra mile — actually, a hundred miles in this case. He says life is too short to waste on living in comfort. People ask him all the time why he smiles during races, and he says he can’t help it. What this avid runner needs is a bumper sticker on the back of his athletic shirt that reads “Pain is good and extreme pain is extremely good.”

So let’s allow Niko to describe those pains — and his personal gains — during the second annual Run Rabbit Run 100-mile endurance race in Steamboat Springs, Colo., this past September. Here’s his story:

While there are many 100-mile courses out there, Run Rabbit Run offers the opportunity to race against the best ultra-marathoners (runners who race more than 26.2 miles) in the country and to do so in an absolutely stunning setting.

My six months of training for the 2014 event in Steamboat Springs, Colo.,  included many weekends of running 10 hours over the course of two days. I raced the 50-kilometer distance four times, the 50-mile distance twice, a 43-mile race, and a vertical kilometer race — which is the shortest race possible, gaining 3,200 feet in a kilometer. In all, I ran a total of 1,600 miles in over 200 hours.

The course itself totaled 107 miles, with more than 23,000 feet of climbing (and the same for descending), while spending most of the time at an average elevation of over 9,000 feet. My  strategy was to not hold back like many first timers do. My best thinking was to run with a do or die mentality. I didn’t want to simply finish, but instead, to race, to run with the best in the country for as long as I could, and to see if maybe, just maybe, I could be the last one standing when the dust cleared.

The first 50 miles went according to plan, running well and moving up steadily through the field, on pace for a sub-20 hour finish with the legs feeling strong and spirits mostly high.


The highs and lows during an ultra however, are staggering to experience. You reach the lowest points — falling to the darkest depths and certain you can’t take another step and that to do so would be the utter end of you and that finish line is an utter impossibility. Then, as if a switch was flipped, the pendulum swings and you are reborn, legs refreshed and spirit renewed, as if a great weight has been Continue reading…

Eagle Rock’s PDC Has a Busy Calendar for the Cold Winter Months

If you know anything about the goings-on at Eagle Rock, you’re probably aware that our Professional Development Center (PDC) works hand-in-hand with educators from across the nation.

Educators and others come to us for insights on how to successfully re-engage, retain and graduate students. They come to us because we’re experienced and really good at what we do. There’s a bit of a boast in that statement, but it’s the truth.

And what we don’t do is tout ourselves as the only solution available. In fact, solutions aren’t what we offer. What our PDC offers is a process that enables schools to re-engage with their students within their own particular campus environment based on what resources are available to them and how the educators and students themselves define success in such endeavors.

As a result of our efforts, we continue to attract schools from all corners of the country. Take educators in Iowa, for example. Sometime early next year, we’ll be conducting observations of competency-based systems for the Iowa State Department of Education. We’ll be visiting a pair of school districts in Collins-Maxwell and Van Meter — both situated near Des Moines.

Also, you might recall back in September we told you about how we were helping six schools in New Mexico develop metrics for success. Come next month, we’ll also be conducting observations at those six schools. They include ACE Leadership, Health Leadership, Amy Biehl High School, South Valley Academy, Native American Community Academy and American Sign Language Academy. Our plan is to follow up our observations by meeting up with leaders of these schools — along with Tony Monfiletto, executive director of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership (NMCSL) — and the good folks at the McCune Charitable Foundation.

Also in New Mexico, the NMCSL will soon be launching the chartering process for a new Entrepreneurship-focused school. As we have with their previous three charters (ACE, Health, Tech), we will facilitate the initial curriculum vision for the school, which involves engaging industry partners.

Eagle Rock Professional Development Center WorkingAbout four years ago we assisted in the launch of the Mid-Atlantic Critical Friends Group (CFG) for Big Picture Learning. In 2015, those CFG gatherings will continue in Philadelphia, Pa. (Wed, Jan 14 at El Centro), Newark, N.J. (Fri Mar 13 at Big Picture Academy), and in March and April (dates TBD) at Fannie Lou Hamer High School in Bronx, N.Y.

Speaking of Fannie Lou Hamer, we have two visits in the pipeline to continue supporting the Bronx school. Previously, we’ve helped them launch their peer observation system, which is built around Fred Newmann’s Authentic Intellectual Work framework.

And we plan to continue our support of transforming public education in the state of Washington to better meet the learning needs of all students — particularly those least effectively served by existing programs — by supporting the work of the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation (a Big Picture Learning initiative).

Below is a listing of our Professional Development Center’s activities scheduled from now through the end of March. If you would like to know more about our work or how your school or community program can work with our Professional Development Center, please contact our associate director of professional development, Dan Condon, by emailing DCondon at EagleRockSchool dot org.

Jan 7 and Mar 11, 2015

We’ll be in Winooski, Vt., where PDC Associate Sarah Bertucci continues consulting with the Winooski School District as they move toward proficiency-based graduation systems.

Jan 8, 2015

We return to Albuquerque, N.M., where Dan Condon, associate director of professional development, will be Continue reading…

3 Eagle Rock Students Join the Ranks of ER Grads

In terms of size, the graduating class of ER 64 didn’t produce a large congregation of students, but what the group lacks in mass, it more than makes up for in talent and potential.

Gigi Hagopian, Isaac Holmes and Cat Leger are all heading out into the world after today’s graduation ceremony here in Estes Park, Colo. — each having experienced enough personal growth and development opportunities to last most people their age a lifetime. If you’d like to watch the graduation ceremony live online, simply click Eagle Rock School Graduation starting at around 6pm Eastern Time / 3pm Pacific Time.

Eagle Rock School Trimester 64 Graduates Gigi Hagopian, Issac Holmes and Cat Leger
Eagle Rock School Trimester 64 Graduates Gigi Hagopian, Isaac Holmes and Cat Leger

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of this trimester’s graduates:

Gigi Hagopian joined us in ER 56 (the 56th trimester in the history of our school). She lived in the Spruce House here on campus, and immediately immersed herself deeply in our music and theater department. She performed in annual musicals and participated in our musical improv group, and even picked up some tips on playing drums and became particularly talented at “bucket drumming.” In fact, for the past few years, you might have seen Gigi on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder or on the downtown streets in Milwaukee displaying her talents during breaks from school.

Gigi is returning to Wisconsin after this week and plans to continue her theater studies in college.

Also from ER 56 is Isaac Holmes, a native New Yorker who became a resident of Ponderosa House, and who also displayed a passion for music. In fact, during his tenure at Eagle Rock, Isaac could often be found in the Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Students Learn Valuable Coaching Lessons And Skills

Earlier this week we told you about some of this trimester’s more unique class offerings. Today we’re diving deep into one class that didn’t make the list: Coaching.

Eagle Rock Coaching Class StudenttYou can talk about on-the-job training all you want, but here at Eagle Rock, our five-week coaching-focused class puts our students on the front lines, planting them firmly on the soccer field with a bunch of rambunctious, overactive kids who are eager to learn the sport, courtesy of the Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District.

The focus of the class offering is to teach and facilitate the difference between good coaching and bad coaching, and our fledgling practitioners soon learn the virtues of patience, and that while there is indeed power in being a mentor to youngsters, it’s important to know how to interact with kids — even when they’re annoying.

Our students participating in the coaching class have the additional benefit of giving back to the local community by not only coaching the youngsters, but also by helping the parents out as well as the kids’ regular coaches. And it’s a demonstration that Eagle Rock School is a good neighbor and an important part of the Estes Park community.

These Eagle Rock students have the opportunity to hone their people skills, learning to introduce themselves to strangers and connect with people from completely different backgrounds.

One of the objectives of the program is for our students to teach kids how to refine and improve their soccer skills and gain a depth of knowledge about the game. As a part of that process, our students learn how to create a coaching lesson plan and how to engage and help youngsters regardless of their skill levels.

Twice a week, students in the Coaching class visited Estes Park’s soccer fields for a practice session and then a game on Saturdays — all under the supervision of Anna Magle-Haberek, our Human Performance instructional specialist, and Niko Viglione, our Human Performance Fellow.

This trimester’s student coaches include Continue reading…

Some Unique Offerings Sprinkled Among Eagle Rock’s Fall 2014 Classes

JHP_0407There’s no doubt about it. Most of our students weren’t attracted to Eagle Rock School because of a stringent adherence to reading, writing and arithmetic. They were drawn to our mountainside campus — among other reasons — because of the diversity of classes available, and what that says about our interest in their interest in their own education.

That, and the prospect that living and learning here with us in Estes Park, Colo., is for the purpose of building one’s integrity, citizenship, knowledge base and ability to create and make healthy life choices.

If you take a look back at the class offerings we’ve made available to students since 2005, you’ll see topics ranging from to gambling to Guantanamera — a study of Cuba; from river watching to map-making; and from Internet research to American sign language.

But that was then and this is now. Here’s a short list of classes available at Eagle Rock for the second half of ER-64 (ER-64 = the 64th Trimester of Eagle Rock School since Eagle Rock’s been around):

Heartivisim: What do you believe in? What does culture have to do with it? What values should Eagle Rock have as a school and as a society? How do we change what we value? Given that before we stand up for something, we must understand where we stand, this course helps students examine ways of communicating messages that change the world. At the same time the class is exploring what it means to be an activist at Eagle Rock.

You Are What You Eat: By examining what they eat, students are learning how the foods they consume impact their daily and long-term health. Students track their food choices, discover how those food choices affect their bodies, and then make predictions about their future health based on their current choices.

La Telenovela: In this class, students are analyzing and create their own Spanish-language soap opera episodes. Students are gaining insights into telenovela structure, characters and themes by watching real telenovelas. They are also refining reading, writing, listening and speaking skills in Spanish by watching telenovela episodes and working on their Spanish in class. As a final project, they will script and film their own Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Participates in the CES Fall Forum: The Recap

The Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) Fall Forum was held last month at Mission High School in San Francisco, and Eagle Rock was well represented with a total of eight staff members and two students attending this annual event.

The theme of this year’s three-day forum was the 30-year Celebration of Common Principles and Uncommon Schools. CES remains at the forefront of creating and sustaining personalized, equitable and intellectually challenging schools. Essential schools are those where all students have the chance to reach their fullest potential. With a focus on the ten common principles, CES works with educators to support and promote innovative and effective teaching and learning.

The first day of the forum saw our six Professional Development Center team members co-hosting a school visit at MetWest High School, a Big Picture school that we support. MetWest is one of the first “new small autonomous schools” in Oakland, Calif., designed to foster student success through experiential learning and an extensive internship program.

Educators from Southern California and Ohio joined us on the visit and we had the opportunity to sit in on student exhibition presentations. Afterward, we facilitated a two-hour CES Affiliate Center directors meeting where we reconnected with other CES centers and shared what we face at our own locations. Later we broke up into small groups to discuss potential improvements.

In addition, a pair of our Eagle Rock students participated in a student leadership forum held at the Boys and Girls Club in the Mission District, where they met with 20 students from around the country for a discussion about, “What can students teach their teachers about what works when they are teaching them?” Meanwhile, two Eagle Rock School staff members participated at other school visits at Arise High School in Oakland, Calif., and Oceana High School in Pacifica, Calif.

Keynote speaker Pedro Noguera (the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University) kicked off Day 2 of the Forum, speaking to participants from Continue reading…