Vail Valley schools: More Red Canyon grads than ever |

Vail Valley schools: More Red Canyon grads than ever

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photoVail Valley schools: Mary Rodriguez wipes a tear from her eye during the Red Canyon High School graduation ceremony at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott last year. Red Canyon graduated 29 seniors at the 2008 ceremony. The school expects 38 seniors to graduate this year.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Red Canyon High School Principal Wade Hill is proud of the fact that more seniors will graduate from Red Canyon in Colorado’s Vail Valley this year than ever before.

Hill said 38 students are expected to graduate this year, up from the previous record class size of 32. What it shows is that the alternative high school is proving to be a great choice for some students, he said.

Red Canyon High School opened in 2000 with a mission to “educate every student for success, one student at a time.” The school’s mission is exactly what senior Natalie Martinez found to be true when she transferred there last year.

“At Red Canyon, they’re just more of a community,” said Martinez, who graduates May 29. “You get to know each and every teacher very well. They know you; they know if you’re having a bad day.”

Martinez went to Battle Mountain High School through her junior year. She didn’t like her environment there and wanted a change. She said she found what she needed at Red Canyon ” no division, no cliques, just a tight-knit group of teachers and students who could help her maintain her focus.

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“Anything that comes up (Red Canyon teachers and staff) can take care of right away,” she said.

Students often transfer into Red Canyon from Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley High schools. If students, for whatever reason, aren’t getting it done at the traditional high school, Red Canyon can tailor to those students’ needs better, said Mike Gass, Eagle County School District’s director of secondary education.

“The staff at Red Canyon really motivates those kids,” he said.

The students at the school range from kids who just need more personal, individual time with teachers, to students who have been in trouble, to teen mothers ,to former drop-outs.

What’s important is that whatever hardships they’ve had in the past, they’re at Red Canyon because they want to overcome them, said Tom Gladitsch, the school-to-career advisor at Red Canyon.

“Some graduates are teen moms; some (graduates) are people who are 18 or 19 that are saying, ‘Hey, if I want to get a job out there, I can’t be a drop-out and I need to graduate,” he said.

Regardless of why they chose Red Canyon, the student come there for three main reasons, Hill said, and the small class size is a big one. “There’s no back of the room at Red Canyon High School,” he said. “They can’t hide out and not be a participant.”

The other two reasons are the school’s focus on relationships and the curriculum, which is known as an “expeditionary learning curriculum,” which is more hands-on, he said.

“They feel they’re a part of our school,” he said. “There’s a real sense of belonging.”

While the large graduating class this year is exciting for the school and the school district, Hill said the class size is more of a result of a natural cycle in the enrollment. The average number of graduates is around 21 or 22, he said.

Those graduates go on to do variety of things, Gladitsch said. This year many graduates are going to two or four-year schools, and many are going straight to work. Gladitsch said it’s been an especially tough year to have such a large graduating class because jobs are much harder to find.

“We’re preparing them for that,” he said. “We teach them how to look for the opportunity.”

Martinez has decided to stay close to her family while she pursues a nursing degree. She’s heading to Colorado Mountain College in Edwards and Glenwood Springs.

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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