Longtime Eagle County teacher, Mr. Kurronen, retires after 27 years
From his first job in 1994 at Meadow Mountain Elementary to his final job at Stone Creek Charter School, Jussi Kurronen has maintained his fun, hands-on approach to learning
After 27 years of teaching in Eagle County, Jussi Kurronen is retiring.
Kurronen, also known as Mr. K by his students, first moved to the county in the early 1970s, leaving to get a degree in early childhood development from Colorado State University. He returned in the 1980s where he helped restart Vail’s Boy Scout Troop.
“I did not know at that time that teaching was in the future,” he said. “I had a great time with kids then and [Boy Scout’s] just kind of began to plant a seed in those days.”
With the seed planted, Kurronen left the county just one more time to get his teaching certificate and master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. And after he got his first teaching job in 1994 — teaching third grade at Meadow Mountain Elementary, now Homestake Peak — he would never move out of the county again.
A legacy of learning
During his career, Kurronen taught a mix of third, fourth and fifth grade at Meadow Mountain, Brush Creek Elementary and ultimately, Stone Creek Charter School. And in 27 years, he’s experienced a lot of change.
“In the early days, when I first lived here, my brothers were going to school in what was the bottom of the police station in Vail, that’s where the elementary school was,” Kurronen said. “The county has certainly grown; we’ve added many elementary schools in the past 20 years.”
But as much as some things have changed over the course of his career, what Kurronen loves most about teaching has never wavered.
“Like any job you have your ups and downs, your good days and your tough days,” he said. “The thing I love most about teaching though is when you’re working on something and a child just suddenly makes that connection. It goes through them like a wave and you can see that they have this excitement, this joy and just a sense of achievement. That’s the kind of moment, as a teacher, that you relish.”
These moments will stay with students and parents and be remembered as Kurronen’s legacy. For the parents of his students, they notice a big shift in their students after learning with Mr. K for a year.
“He inspired her to love school,” said Shelley Sanzo, of her daughter, Mia, who is currently in Mr. K’s fourth grade class at Stone Creek. “She never used to read, but she loves reading now. Every day now when she comes home, she reads a book. It’s just such an amazing thing to see her totally blossom this year.”
And in these developmental, elementary grades, creating a passion for learning is important. “In such a changing and challenging world, educators are sometimes looked at as childcare providers rather than builders of our future. Mr. K built a strong foundation for our child’s learning and challenged her to be independent and responsible,” said Tristan Cada, whose daughter Lilly is also currently in Mr. K’s fourth grade class at Stone Creek.
Even in a challenging year, Kurronen maintained his principals of teaching. “Due to COVID, my student needed to find a different learning environment that was personalized and all in-person,” Cada said. “In a year when teachers were asking for reduced class sizes, Mr. K openly accepted Lilly and two other students in the middle of the school year into his class. Mr. K made her feel special, getting to know her both academically and personally.”
And while Kurronen has helped educate nearly three decades of Eagle County students, he has also learned a bit along the way. One particular experience — becoming and staying involved in the schools’ musicals and plays — gave him a greater appreciation for arts, music and performance education as he saw how it impacted certain students.
“It really opened my eyes that children have different needs and they need to be exposed to a very wide variety of experiences and opportunities so that they themselves can grow,” Kurronen said.
This experience also impacted the advice he gives to first-year teachers: “It really does not matter what your style of teaching is or how you’re going to approach kids, as teachers we all need to be different because not one teacher is going to meet the needs of all kids. Children need to be exposed to all kinds of teachers.”
As a teacher, Kurronen describes his philosophy as fun, hands-on and minds-on, something that he first saw the value in while working with the Boy Scouts.
“You have to create things, you have to build things, you have to explore how things are put together or how they work in order to understand it,” he said. “Once you get to that point, where you start developing a concept of how things work, then you can continue to read, write and explore deeper into those ideas and concepts that you’re learning and building.”
One way that he has embedded this into the curriculum is with his globe project. In this unit, students create a paper mache globe and learn concepts like mapping, geography, latitude, longitude, math, angels and more.
“The kids have been so fascinated with what they’re learning that they’ve gotten out the world map and they are just really into looking at everything on a map that they can think about,” Kurronen said “It’s a motivational thing, it builds excitement and it’s just been a wonderful thing that I’ve done over the years.”
For Mia, the globe project was just one highlight in her fourth grade year at Stone Creek. According to Sanzo, she came home after one day working on the globe and proclaimed, “Mr. K is the best teacher on the globe.”
Educating in retirement
Kurronen’s reason for retiring — “I’m 868 years old in teacher years” — will not stop him from continuing to educate.
He expects that retirement will take him to some new hikes and on vacations with his wife to visit their three daughters, but he also intends to spend it working on writing children and young adult books.
“I want to pursue [writing] because that’s come out of my time in education too; a passion for teaching children to read and bringing the enjoyment of reading to them,” he said.
And although he will miss both the students and the community with his fellow teachers, Kurronen is looking forward to the next chapter. “I’m going to just take life, see how it is, what comes and just move along,” he said.