‘Making Her-story:’ Zealous Schools opens first all-girls’ school in Eagle County
The local micro-school officially opened the doors of its second campus location Tuesday
EDWARDS — Buzzing with energy and excitement, 16 middle school students alongside parents and Zealous Schools’ staff gathered outside the micro-school’s second location to officially open the school, ushering in a new future full of possibilities for the school and its students.
Rather than cut the ceremonial ribbon — or in this case, the ceremonial streamer — at the Edwards campus, the inaugural group of students tore the streamer together.
“We decided, because we’re building this ship together and we’re all going to crew it — we are making her-story today — that we would all like to rip the ribbon at the same time instead of use the scissors,” said Kelsey Head, the director of the Zealous Schools’ Edwards campus.
Or, as Kate Pohl, one of the school’s new students, put it: “We’re opening the doors to a new future.”
The all-girls’ campus — which is following in the micro-school footsteps of the Zealous Schools’ Eagle campus — officially welcomed its first group of students for orientation on Tuesday at the new campus, located at the Riverwalk in Edwards.
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“We are here to see them make this school, so thank you for giving us your trust and the opportunity to do this cool thing. We feel so lucky to be here,” Head said. “Really it’s theirs and we’re just going to help them guide the runner as they create this new experience — the first ever girls school in the county.”
Zealous Schools was co-founded in 2018 by Geoff Grimmer, former headmaster of the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, and Brent Drever, an international educational consultant, founder and CEO of Acuity Institute. The school sought to bring a new type of learning experience to middle school students.
And opening a second location was always part of the roadmap.
“When we first started this school, the title was Zealous Schools and I remember the person who made the stickers kept checking, ‘Was it Zealous School or Zealous Schools?” Grimmer said Tuesday. “So finally, today is a good day because we have a reason to have that extra s.”
For staff, making the second campus for female-identifying students was a way to connect and empower female students and help close the gender gap.
“I think empowering women is incredibly important, and one thing that I realized today is that we are not just a group of women, we are a tribe of sisters dancing under the same sun,” said Adrienne Haydu, the Language Arts academic coach at Zealous Edwards. “That’s really what I hope they take away from all this is, we have each other.”
Haydu is one of three academic coaches in the campus’ all-female staff. For her, being a part of this Zealous School is a way to make history.
“This is a big deal. On a local level, we’re paving this path but bigger than that, we just showed a group of women that we can start something from the ground and build it up,” she said.
According to Head, what took the school from the idea of an all-girls school to its opening, was the community around it.
“The real difference that got us from an idea to the reality is the families that have been here trailblazing with us and creating this whole new beginning for kids,” Head said.”
Samantha Hodgkins is the mother in just one of these trailblazing families. Her daughter, Tamra Vermeer, is starting the school as a sixth grader.
“We were super excited about the passion-based and project-based learning, and super excited to have a middle school group of girls forming a culture and a team and a community together where they can feel positive and encouraged and confident,” Hodgkins said. “And it’s fun to be a part of pioneering something new and for the girls to be able to make the school what they want it to be.”
Hodgkins and her family moved to Eagle County from Atlanta two years ago. In Atlanta both of her daughters attended a “very progressive, very similar school.” And seeing what is possible from this school model made enrolling Vermeer a no-brainer for Hodgkins.
Hodgkins has seen both of her daughters learn self-advocacy, critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as the ability to be self-empowered, which for her is just one of the benefits of having an all-girls school.
“We have so far still to go in the world to make it a level playing field for girls and for girls to have the opportunity to bring their whole self every day — their mind, their voice, their spirit, their energy, their personalities — and to not have that be diminished or narrowed at all,” Hodgkins said. “And middle school is quintessentially the time when that happens the most with girls, so I think it’s just an incredible opportunity for the girls to come together at this time.”
A model that works
At Zealous, students still learn their core subjects — math, social studies, science and language arts — but are encouraged to look beyond that and explore their passions and serve the community.
“In a passion-based place like this, you’re encouraged to be your most authentic self and when you’re your most authentic self, the fears, the walls — they come down and that’s when you can be your true you,” Haydu said.
For parents, building off an existing model was just part of what drew them to the school.
“I love that while we’re pioneering at Edwards, we’re spring-boarding off of a proven model through the Zealous Eagle model and through Geoff’s experience from VSSA as well,” Hodgkins said.
While the new campus will still maintain much of what Zealous’ Eagle campus teaches, as an all-girls school, certain aspects of the Zealous Schools’ Edwards campus will stray from the first campus.
With the capacity to admit 24 female-identifying and/or non-binary middle school students, the school will have some gender-specific curriculum. This includes encouraging intentional conversations about empowerment, micro-aggressions and recognizing biases.
Not only do the coaches at the Edwards’ campus hope to show the students the power of coming together as women, but they believe it will lead to further academic success.
“I think that everybody innately wants to learn and when you’re surrounded by people who are so passionate about learning and want to see you succeed in learning, it just skyrockets the progression,” said Krista Norris, the science academic coach at Zealous Schools’ Edwards.
For the Edwards’ campus inaugural class, this model, both as it sticks to and diverges from the original Zealous model, promises to bring new experiences and opportunities for growth to each student.
“I’m so excited for the students to realize their potential and know that this school is whatever they want to make it and we’re here to support them,” Head said. “The sky is the limit.”
To learn more about Zealous Schools, its scholarship opportunities or to enroll your student, visit ZealousSchools.org.