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The art of giving back

Connie Steiert

When a parent hears, ‘I can’t wait to get out of this valley,’ it can be discouraging, even heartbreaking. When a school district hears a prospective teacher has made a decision to take a job elsewhere, it can also be frustrating.Small town living may be nurturing to some, but it can be claustrophobic for others. By the time they receive their caps and gowns, many graduates are yearning to stretch their wings and discover other parts of the world. Additionally, a small valley offers limited occupational opportunities to draw young people back to the nest once they’ve flown.The good news? That attitude may be changing.There are some Eagle County graduates who have not only returned to the valley of their childhood, but who have also found rewarding careers here with local schools. The choice can be a boon to parents, the Eagle County School District and the community.Innes Isom, a Battle Mountain High School graduate, grew up loving the outdoors. He always knew he’d eventually end up back in the mountains somewhere, but was also pragmatic enough to realize that he would go where career opportunities led him. Then a job with Meet the Wilderness opened up in the Vail Valley and Isom was happy to seize the opportunity to return home.”Having the opportunities here with Meet the Wilderness kept me here,” Isom said. “I knew once I started working with Meet the Wilderness, this is where I wanted to be.”Of course, having a wife (Lisa Dyck, now Lisa Isom) who also grew up in the valley and graduated from Eagle Valley High School, didn’t hurt either. Isom, who moved to Vail when he was nine-months-old, and Eagle not long after, has known his wife since he was in the third grade.Eventually, Isom’s stint with Meet the Wilderness led to a teaching career with the Eagle County School District. Now, in his third year of teaching science at Minturn Middle School, Isom uses his knowledge of biology and the valley ecology, as well as his love of the outdoors, to help him enhance lessons in the classroom.Ben Kleiber, a 1994 Eagle Valley High School graduate, was actually planning to find a teaching job in Greeley, when a chance meeting with Jerry Santoro, principal at Eagle Valley Middle School, brought him home again.”I wasn’t looking to come back,” Kleiber explained, although he added that growing up in Eagle was a good experience. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, he was attending a job fair at UNC, when, “I recognized this guy sitting there,” he said. Santoro talked him into interviewing with Eagle Valley Middle School, where he was promptly hired.”It was a little weird at first,” said Kleiber, “teaching with some of the people who were my teachers.” In fact, he said he still has difficulty calling his former teachers by their first names.Now, a music teacher at Gypsum Creek Middle School for the past three years, who also coaches football, basketball and wrestling for the school, Kleiber said he is enjoying coaching with some of his old high school friends and making a lot of great new friends as well.For years, the Eagle County School District has been fighting the innate problem of a resort town, when recruiting teachers: the high cost of living. The cost of living raise that was approved by Eagle County voters through the 3-D ballot question in 2001, which is being implemented this summer, has helped mitigate cost of living factors somewhat. Yet, the district still fights an uphill battle.In fact, Kleiber, who is single and does not yet have a family to worry about, said he has to reevaluate his financial situation every year to see if he can afford to stay.”I take it year by year. It’s hard to survive on the pay,” he said. But, he added, “the parents and the kids make it hard to go.”Isom admits the high cost of living in Eagle County is challenging, although he said he actually received a raise when he left the non-profit Meet the Wilderness and went to work for the Eagle County School District.Still, he added, “It’s not easy.” Now, with a three-year-old daughter, he said finances are “always a balancing act. I’m sure it will be a balancing act until she (his daughter) goes to college. But we’re making it work.”Despite the high cost of living, Isom said there are rewards to living in the Eagle Valley, and has no plans to leave. Although he sometimes rues all the growth in the valley, he said, “it’s still an amazing community. There are exceptionally good people here. The people in the valley are one of its strongest points.”Isom also enjoys his work as a teacher. “I love it,” he said, “especially here at Minturn Middle School. It’s a nice transition from Meet the Wilderness. Since it’s a smaller middle school, I have more freedom in how I teach the curriculum, and I’ve brought a strong experiential knowledge that I draw on, and the outside.”Interestingly enough, neither of these dedicated teachers headed to college with teaching in mind.Kleiber, who moved to Eagle County when he was two years old, changed majors twice before turning to the teaching profession. He went from a computer major at Western State to a law major, before finally turning to his first love: music. Kleiber had been around music all his life; his father, (now, an assistant superintendent in the Brush school district), taught music at elementary and middle schools in Eagle for 18 years. In school, Kleiber gravitated toward band and choir, and was in musicals and band in high school, and played in college. Today, he plays in a Christian music band, “Eyes Wide Open.”Growing up with music, said Kleiber, “was probably the biggest influence there was” in becoming a music teacher. “One career goal I have is to be as good as he (his father) was,” he said.When Isom graduated from Battle Mountain in 1990 and headed to the University of Colorado at Boulder, he majored in biology, but had no plans to become a teacher. Although Isom’s mother, Rosalie, teaches French at Colorado Mountain College today, he said his high school science teacher, Mike King, had far more influence on his current career.”One of my biggest influences was Mike King,” he said. “He got me going on the track of science.” But, he added, it was Meet the Wilderness that showed him the joys of working with kids.Both men said the surrounding mountains are part of the reason they continue to enjoy living in Eagle County.”It’s amazing all the trailheads you can get to in just 10 minutes,” said Isom. “The physical features are incredible.”Kleiber, too, gets out in the wilderness whenever he can. “That is why you’re here. You have to get out and experience it at least a little bit.” VTStudents who have come home to teachRich DeaneGraduated from EVHS 19645th grade teacher at Gypsum ElementaryMarcie GassGraduated from EVHS in 19844th grade teacher at Gypsum ElementaryInnes IsomGraduated from BMHS in 1990Science teacher at Minturn MiddleDana HarrisonGraduated from BMHS in 1994Kindergarten/1st grade Native Language teacher at Avon ElementaryBen KleiberGraduated from EVHS in 1994Band teacher at Gypsum Creek Middle SchoolRhonda TathamGraduated from EVHS in 1996Cognitive needs teacher at Berry Creek MiddleBecky CuevesGraduated EVHS in late 1990s1st grade at Gypsum ElementaryRobert CuevesGraduated EVHS in the late 1990sSpanish teacher at EVHSKelly Gardner Graduated from BMHS in 1995 Teaches at Berry CreekKelly GrayGraduate from EVHSArt teacher at Gypsum ElementarySusan ForsythGraduate from BMHSKindergarten/mentor teacher at Eagle Valley ElementaryVali Pulis-WilcoxGraduated from VMS in 1976Administrative assistant for the development office of VMSLuke CrossGraduate from BMHSNewly hired social studies teacher at EVHSBrook FitzsimmonsGraduated EVHS 1995Teaches at Gypsum Creek MiddleMike MoserGraduated from BMHS in 1990Teaches at Berry Creek MiddleStephanie WardGraduated from BMHS in 1987Teaches at Battle Mountain HighMichelle FisherGraduated from BMHS in 1994Teaches at Battle Mountain HighJoey PeplinskiGraduated from BMHS in 1995Teaches at Red Sandstone Elementary


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