Pam Boyd

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October 17, 2012
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Bill and Melinda Gates visit EVHS

You can't blame Sam Lounsberry's parents for initial skepticism when their son informed them he'd shared lunch with Bill and Melinda Gates on Monday.

"I told my dad and he was like 'What?' Then he said maybe you can put that on your resume or college thesis somehow," said Lounsberry.

His dad may have a good idea there. It's not like every day a local teen gets face time with the creator of Microsoft who just happens to be one of the wealthiest people on earth.

The Gateses headed a delegation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that visited Eagle Valley High School Monday. They spent one period observing and interacting with kids in Mary Ann Stavney's language arts class. They also spoke with a group of teachers and enjoyed lunch with a group of students. During that student lunch, there were no teachers, administrators or other Eagle County School District personnel in the room - just the Gateses and the kids. What did the Gateses want to know?

"They asked a lot about our experiences at EVHS," said Lounsberry.

The couple was interested in how students were coping with the college application process and how they felt about the changes in instruction at the school.

"Honestly, they seemed like humble people," said Lounsberry. "They didn't come in here to say how important they are, that's for sure."

"Their objective was to see what kids are learning, how they're learning it, and what we can all do to help them learn more," said EVHS teacher Mary Ann Stavney. "I used the teacher tool - Literacy Design Collaborative Module - they funded to design the lesson that they came to observe."

As background for why the Gateses came to EVHS this week, the state of Colorado needed financial assistance to pilot its new educational reform agenda in preparation for a statewide rollout. The Colorado Legacy Foundation sought, and gained, a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help. The Colorado Legacy Foundation, working with the Colorado Department of Education and member schools, selected 13 districts to run the pilot. One is the Eagle County School District.

The Colorado Legacy Foundation is not directly affiliated with the Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation donates to the Colorado Legacy Foundation in support of a statewide initiative to help implement the state's new educational plan.

The Gateses visited EVHS Monday to understand the processes and challenges facing administrators, teachers and students as the plans are implemented.

High Stakes lesson

Stavney learned she would be teaching a high stakes lesson Friday when representatives from the Gates Foundation told her Bill and Melinda would be visiting her classroom.

"Keeping that quiet was agonizing, of course," she said. She then formulated a lesson plan to teach kids how to build complex claims in pairs and trios using the LDC model. That format provided the option for the Gateses to sit in with small groups and actually interact with kids.

"I got to sit down with them (Bill, Melinda and the other Gates Foundation representatives) for 25 minutes before my class and explain what we were doing," said Stavney. She presented an outline of what students had been working on in the days leading up to the lesson and how Monday's work fit into the overall class goal.

When class started, the magnitude of the visit was lost on most of the kids. Stavney noted a group from the foundation had visited a few weeks earlier for a class observation. After they left, the kids jokingly labeled them "The Suits."

"The kids knew The Suits were coming back, but they just didn't know who would be inside the suits," said Stavney. For a good part of the class period, that knowledge still escaped them.

"Honestly, I didn't realize who it was right away," said Lounsberry. "Bill Gates was talking with me and Dylan Trudeau for about 10 to 15 minutes and then he went to another group. Dylan figured it out and said, 'That's Bill Gates!' and I said 'I thought that dude looked familiar!'"

"Bill and Melinda were literally sitting in the table tops with kids collaborating on potential statements," said Stavney. "They rotated to every group before the kids figured out who they were."

For the most part, Stavney said the class was just normal.

"They were looking for authentic experience with kids," said Stavney. "When they came into my class, I want it to be just like anyone else who observes my class."

"I felt like we were able to provide a genuine experience for them."

As for the student lunch group, Stavney said eight EVHS students enjoyed the meal with the Gateses.

"There was a criteria of freshman, sophomore, juniors, seniors; some who had LCD instruction, some who didn't. It wasn't easy to choose just eight kids, but it was amazing to see them walk into that lunch," she said. "They were excited on Friday because they were able to order their own sandwich from Red Canyon Cafe for a meeting with some outside visitors. They were ecstatic when they found out who they would be eating it with."

When the day ended, Bill and Melinda Gates both spoke to the entire EVHS students and staff over the intercom. They thanked them for the visit and noted EVHS was among a group of only six schools they have visited nationwide. It was a proud day for the Devils.

"Our kids were amazing, they interacted wonderfully, and it was like any other observation," said Stavney. "This is a part of our culture and it was so cool to see it appreciated by outside folks that have experienced much in business and in schools."

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The VailDaily Updated Oct 17, 2012 01:15PM Published Oct 17, 2012 01:11PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.