Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado
A school must be doing something right when its students consistently choose to return there for careers.
Kylan Kottenstette, Sam Bartlett and Cory Benson all graduated from Eagle Valley High School and currently work there as teachers and coaches.
“Supportive community” is a phrase repeated among them when asked why EVHS appeals to them.
“I’m excited to come back and give to a school that gave me so much,” said Kottenstette, a 2006 EVHS graduate who is now in his second year of teaching physical education and coaching football. This year, he is also teaching mechanical classes and will coach wrestling.
“I remember playing football and feeling like the community was just as involved as the coaches and parents were,” he said. “I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself.”
Bartlett is a 2002 EVHS graduate, and the school was his first choice as a career job prospect. He is now in his fourth year teaching English and coaching girls basketball.
“Small mountain towns are a great place to grow up,” he said. “I’m rooted here and jumped at the opportunity to come back. I’ve always enjoyed the Eagle/Gypsum community.”
Benson teaches PE. She graduated from EVHS in 1998. Her mother, Cathy Strickler, is a registrar at the school. Strickler worked there when Benson was a student and now enjoys seeing her daughter as a colleague.
“I love being back as a teacher,” Benson said. “I’ve seen some good changes.”
Kindra Stiles is another EVHS alumna who works at EVHS. She graduated in 1983 and ended up working as a part-time secretary for the counseling office while her three children were students in 2004. Her parents are also Devils.
“My dad graduated in ’65 and my mom in ’63,” she said. “I kind of always had my hand in here. I was a preschool teacher and volunteered at my children’s schools during my off days, and I basically worked my way into a job.”
Assistant Principal Eric Mandeville has been at the school 15 years and in his current position for seven years. He knew Kottenstette, Bartlett and Benson when they were students.
“It’s been interesting to be part of the hiring committee,” he said. “It’s been very satisfying.”
Kottenstette fondly remembers being a student of John Ramunno, a PE teacher and head football coach, and enjoys working next to him.
“I did my student teaching here under Ramunno and Susan Scott,” Kottenstette said. “They both have 30 years of experience. It’s been neat to be a teammate and learn from them and get to know them better as individuals.”
Kottenstette said he hopes to see his own students come full cycle some day.
“I’m looking forward to seeing kids grow up during their time here,” he said. “I hope I get to teach my students’ future children.”
Mandeville said teaching is in Kottenstette’s blood – both of Kottenstette’s parents are teachers in the school district. Not only that, but Kottenstette is a natural teacher.
“He loves kids and believes in EVHS,” Mandeville said. “He used to be a camp counselor for the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District and had my oldest daughter as a camper.”
Mandeville had Kottenstette as a history student and also coached him in football.
“I could tell right away he was a leader in class and on the field,” Mandeville said. “He was articulate and confident, a young man I could immediately trust.”
Kottenstette said he knew he wanted to be a PE teacher since fifth grade.
“There’s a tile on the wall somewhere in this school that I made then about my wanting to be a PE teacher,” he said.
The biggest thing he wants to instill in students is a sense of character.
“I want to give kids a sense of pride in what they do and a strong sense of character – someone who does the right thing regardless if someone else is watching,” he said.
Bartlett’s name came up last minute during a conversation with Mandeville about the school’s alumni teachers, which is why the Enterprise missed an opportunity to include photos of him.
Mandeville immediately started dialing numbers and put Bartlett on speaker phone for a quick interview.
“He’s very passionate about the kids and giving them a quality high school experience that extends beyond the classroom,” Mandeville said. “He was very involved as a student here and is a valuable member of our team.”
Bartlett said he returned to the valley in 2006 after earning an English degree at Colorado State University.
“My parents own a construction company, and I was working there and as a part-time substitute teacher at our rival school, Battle Mountain High,” he said. “I felt like I wanted to move in a direction of teaching and coaching. That’s when I was notified of a permanent substitute position at EVHS in 2008.”
That turned into a permanent teaching job and soon after he was asked to coach girls basketball.
“I had never coached girls and had grown up with brothers, so I was unsure at first,” he said.
Bartlett said the climate at the school is a good one.
“Eagle Valley is so open and friendly,” he said. “I think there is a lot of transparency.”
Like Kottenstette, Benson earned her teaching degree from the University of Northern Colorado. She originally pursued a career as a physical therapist, then realized how much she loved working with kids.
“I always loved athletics, and then I discovered how much I enjoyed working with kids while coaching and doing youth programs,” she said.
Benson and her younger sister moved back to the valley around the same time. In 2007, her mom and sister had jobs at the school when Benson started teaching cognitive needs and PE part time.
“I moved back not knowing if I’d get a job right away,” she said.
She started teaching PE full time the following year. She also met her future husband that year, and he happens to be a permanent sub at EVHS.
“Cory works to offer a similar experience that she had as a student to our students,” Mandeville said. “She believes in academics, athletics and activities as a means to educate the ‘whole child.’ She, and her husband, Eric, have recently stepped up to work with our student leadership to further guide our school.”
The main thing Benson aims to impart to her students is appreciating their health.
“I want them to value being healthy and get them excited to live a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “There are some students I see, especially some girls, who don’t like to sweat. If they become parents someday, though, they need to be healthy.”
Benson’s sister eventually quit her job at the school to be a full-time mom, but Benson still sees her mom, Strickler, every day.
“I pop in her office all the time,” Benson said.
Strickler said it’s fun.
“When we get together for meals, we end up talking a lot about school stuff,” she said. “My poor husband!”
Strickler is a 1976 graduate of Battle Mountain High School.
“The rival,” she said with a grin.
Benson said her favorite thing about working with teenagers is seeing them emerge as adults.
“It’s great to help them with big life decisions and build a relationship that can come full circle,” she said.