Eagle Co. students find success a little differently | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co. students find success a little differently

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailySophomore Fabian Archuleta works on a survey at Red Canyon High School in Edwards on Thursday. As part of its focus on building good relationships, the school was having its monthly "crew day", a day devoted to character development.

EDWARDS, Colorado ” As usual, the students at Red Canyon High School aren’t sitting at desks ” they’re gathered around a large table, laughing, talking, challenging each other as if they were in a think-tank.

They’re surrounded by butcher paper, covered in notes and hanging on the wall. It’s the remnants of exhaustive brainstorming and class discussions on World War II and the global ramifications of nuclear power.

Today though, the topic is “personal boundaries.” They’re talking openly about how to say no to sex or drugs, how to end abusive relationships, and how to earn respect from boyfriends and girlfriends.

This mix of critical thinking, high-wire discussions and character building makes sense to the 100 students at the school who didn’t do so well in traditional high schools like Eagle Valley or Battle Mountain. And when you start looking Red Canyon’s test scores, the formula seems to be working, says principal Wade Hill.

Compared to 74 other “alternative” high schools in Colorado who took the Colorado Student Assessment Program, known as CSAP, Red Canyon had the highest scores in reading, the third best in writing, and scored in the top 10 in math and science. Red Canyon usually lags behind Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley ” but Red Canyon has a different mission in mind.

The scores are significant and something to be proud of, says teacher Ann Constien, especially for a school that many people in the community don’t know much about and don’t always understand.

Who goes to Red Canyon? Mostly students who, for whatever reason, aren’t finding success in the traditional high schools.

This could mean they’re uncomfortable with the big and cliquish social settings of high school, maybe the classes don’t interest them, maybe their job is getting in the way, maybe they have a difficult family situation ” could be a myriad of things. All of the students have their reasons.

And to engage these students ” the school does things a lot differently.

Red Canyon is an “expeditionary learning” school, which means they center their classes around focused, in-depth topics, and spend weeks researching and debating every facet of those topics.

The social studies class, for instance, is teaming up with the science class for a long study on the nuclear age. They start by learning about the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima that effectively ended World War II, the nuclear arms race, the cold war , and implications of nuclear technology today.

In science, they learn the physics of nuclear technology, how it works, why it’s dangerous and how it can be used for good things like creating power.

Then they ask the big questions: should we have dropped the bomb? Are the dangers of nuclear technology worth it?

Teacher Tom Gladitsch is doing a study with his kids called “Know Your Rights,” where they’ve been studying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and even spent some time with District Judge Tom Moorhead in his chambers.

“It’s supposed to be compelling, and it’s supposed to get their attention,” Hill said.

Red Canyon incorporates a heavy dose of reading and writing into every class, and that’s one reason why they’re doing so well in English. That’s why in the nuclear age class, they begin every morning reading the book “Hiroshima.”

“Constantly, I hear students say they’ve never read a full novel before. They’ll read a lot of novels here,” Hill said. “They are working on reading and writing every day in all the classes.”

Every student will leave Red Canyon having developed a close relationship with an adult, Hill said. Every teacher takes a group of students under his or her wing, mentors them and gets to know them.

Having that connection not only shows student thats someone cares, but having those role models helps them feel close to the school and helps them see the importance of education. The resullt: Students generally try harder, focus more, and end up doing better in school, Hill said.

“Having a good connection with a kid helps them see the value of school, helps them connect to the school and see that learning is a valuable thing,” Hill said.

Constien said teachers only see students six hours a day ” but when you get to know them well, you know what’s going on those other 18 hours a day.

“I’ll know what those other factors are in their life,” she said.

Those relationships grow even more on “crew days,” when the entire school, from both the Edwards and Eagle campuses, gather to work on character-building activities ” could be something fun like going to the Denver zoo, or maybe learning about safety on the ski slopes.

“It builds the culture of the school,” Constien said.

Senior Mike Smith said many students wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for Red Canyon.

“It’s like a family here,” he said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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