News From The Rock

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Greetings from Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center! While we’re currently well into our fourth week of ER 62, I’d like to take a look back at ER 61, our fall trimester that began the end of last August.

We kicked things off by welcoming a dozen new Public Allies teaching fellows to our campus, and a week later, we welcomed some rain. It was on a Monday, and we were all a bit giddy about the change in weather because, whenever it rains in Colorado, we feel blessed.

By that Wednesday, news reports promised we’d have at least a shot at receiving the average annual moisture total for the year, and that’s absolutely great news for a normally dry state.

True to the weather predictions, the rain kept coming. By Friday, Sept. 13, things began to turn weird. Wet and weird. Canyons were washed out. Estes Park was isolated. The Safeway market aisles were depleted. There was no gasoline in town. The public utilities were intermittent at best. We were in the midst of a 1,000-year rain and a 100-year flood. That, my friends, is how last trimester started for those of us who live or work here at Eagle Rock.

Somehow we made it through this damp deluge, and it was due in huge part to a lot of hard work on everybody’s part. And please believe me when I say that for some staff members, tremendous sacrifice was involved. Looking back, I have to say it was worth it. It was well worth it.

Eagle Rock students help with 2013 flood recovery efforts in Estes Park, Colo.
Eagle Rock students help with 2013 flood recovery efforts in Estes Park, Colo.

Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” 

That quote exemplifies our staff members who live off campus and were highly impacted by the flood. Our accountant Denise Dunn; chefs Ed Perry, Mark Dougherty, Jay Halladay, and Thad Quesada; math instructor Karen Ikegami; visual arts instructor Cindy Elkins; Public Allies Program Director Mark Palmer; Professional Development Center associate director Dan Condon; and operations staff Linda Bieker, Terry and Kerri Tierney and Patricia Jobst; all went way beyond the call of duty with a simple commute to work that became a daunting daily undertaking.

The flood affected all of us. Yet not one soul missed a beat in his or her commitment and dedication to our mission. There’s no way we could have served students without them.

That mission remains one of re-engaging young people in their education. And while the flood presented “challenges” on campus — to say the least — our work across the country continued without missing a beat. Staff members traveled to Washington, Vermont, California, New Mexico, Michigan, Washington D.C., and North Carolina to present at conferences, facilitate at meetings, and support teachers and coach principals — all in an effort to assist students who are disengaged.

Despite the floods, the creativity of our instructional staff on campus was on focus and on display. Students sharpened their research and writing skills, learned that ees do Build it Best, expressed intended meaning through Photography and Poetry, and figured out that You really Are What You Eat in Janet Johnson’s healthy life choices class.

We promote place-based education, and the flood was the perfect opportunity for River Watch — one of our ecology classes — to study river health. Societies and cultures instructor Berta Guillen and Public Allies Fellow Calvin King’s Challeng 20/20 class on global climate change also benefited from the flood as curriculum.

Here at Eagle Rock, we graduate students by our values, and in particular the Five Expectations. Many classes helped students move closer to making healthy life choices, communicat effectively, become engaged global citizens, expand their knowledge base and practice leadership for justice.

Among these classes are:

  • Leaders for Social Change
  • Fight Your Math Phobia
  • Latin Jazz
  • Brazilian Voice
  • Lifeskills
  • Soccer, Community, and Coaching
  • Face History, Face Yourself
  • Feeling Lucky – Casino Night
  • Teaching Spanish
  • Human Sexuality
  • The Science of Cooking
  • What is Education For?
  • Power of Groups

And, as a precursor of things to come, there was a theater production class rehearsing for In the Heights, our winter musical.

Because of the truncated trimester schedule, Explore Week was abbreviated to become Explore Days. Students went on a college tour, dabbled in Olympic weight lifting, baked with the chefs, sewed hacky sacks, worked on acting and singing, and improved their basketball skills.

We spent countless hours on flood recovery in the Estes Valley, ran restorative circles, faced issues in community meetings, put a new roof over the pool, and welcomed Jonna Book – our Spanish instructor and Ponderosa Houseparent – back from her leave of absence. Long time Piñon house parent, Jon Anderson, moved into Estes Park, while Professional Development Center Associate, Anastacia Galloway, and her partner Kevin Reed and their son Luca moved into Piñon. New students Zoe, Jenny, Kassie, Mikaela, Daisy, Desiree, Christian, Albert, Andy, Danny, Aaron, Alex, Melvin, and Andrew braved the heat and then cold of the Superstition wilderness for 25 days. We celebrated Gary Kessler, our long-serving and highly dedicated board of directors’ president as he moved on to retirement.

Chores, volleyball, somewhere around 500 hours of KP, house meetings, some world-class ultimate Frisbee on the field of dreams, singing for Mandela, and much, much more. Those are just a few examples of the many learning experiences our staff put together in ER 61.

Did we get wet? You bet we did. But I’ve yet to hear anyone complain that the fall trimester tragically dampened their spirits.

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About the Author: Jeff Liddle is the head of school at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center — a nationally recognized, tuition-free residential high school in Estes Park, Colo., that offers a second chance to students who have not been able to succeed in a traditional high school setting, and a professional development center that supports high schools nationally in re-engaging youth in their own education. As head of school, Jeff is responsible for leading Eagle Rock’s school community and its executive leadership team; interfacing with the organization’s board of directors; and, overseeing the vision and financial health of the organization.

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