Aspen Valley High School was the brainchild of Dr. Ann Elrod. She had vision for a high school that met the needs of at-risk students through an alternative education.
AVHS is fully accredited, but that is one of the few things that this school has in common with other D20 high schools.
The first home for this school, in August of ’95, was housed in the Digital building in the Rockrimmon area. But from the start, Dr. Elrod had a plan in mind for a school building that would reflect her dream. She researched extensively the needs of at-risk students and knew that a lot of light and windows helped with classroom atmosphere. Pride in their surrounding was of utmost importance. However, she knew she had to be practical, too.
The building on Chapel Hills Drive was first and foremost designed to be AVHS. To be practical, Ann was told that the building needed to be “designed to sell” as there was a possibility that the school might not succeed. Therefore, during the construction, extra weight was added to the floors to support heavy files and other office equipment. The first plans called for brushed concrete floors, but Ann fought for carpet. At-risk students do not need the additional noise that concrete floors would cause. She won. Houston Construction was the contractors, and just before the move-in day, the basement flooded. The problem turned out to be “perched water” and many adjustments had to be made including redesigning the playing field next to the school – it was a virtual swamp!
Due to the delay, the staff had to move in over a week-end. They did all the moving themselves and were exhausted when the school opened in November of ’97. It was known as the pink, or Pepto Bismol building with Ann insisting all along that the color was lilac. Dr. Karon Colfield had the color changed to blue when she was principal here during 2000-2004. A unique feature in the building is a water statue featuring a young girl feeding birds. The bronze art piece was approved for purchase by the then superintendent Don Fielder for a whooping $16,500 from a studio in Breckenridge. It’s called “Welcome Friends”.
The statue has a story of its own. The young girl in the statue is life-size and is holding out her arms to the birds. Once when an alarm had sounded from the school’s security system, the police arrived and looked into the lobby. In the semi-darkness, they mistook the statue for an intruder pointing something. A bullhorn was produced and the “intruder” was ordered to put down his weapon. It took several minutes for the officers to figure out that this intruder was never going to speak to them!
Aspen Valley High School’s focus is the education and nurturing of at-risk students in the community. It is a place where students feel safe, cared for, and empowered to pursue dreams and realize goals. Diversity, learning styles, the value of real-life experiences are all honored here. Respect and integrity are cornerstones. Students are challenged to achieve success in graduation, employment, and higher education. To that end, we not only stress academics, but we require extra involvement in the community in order to graduate.
Extra graduation requirements include passing 2 college courses, 72 hours of community service, CPR certification, 18 consecutive weeks of employment, voter registration, and a multi-media project. As AVHS is a school of choice, each student is fully aware of the additional stipulations and is in agreement with the policy. It is believed these additions will help the student to be a vital member of the community and will expose him or her to both worlds of education and employment.
Other unique programs abound at AVHS. The school year is based on a hexter system with students earning .33 of a credit every six weeks. This allows a student to experience success quickly and often, something that most of them have not encountered. At the end of each six week period, there are 2 “grade days”. During these two days, students who are failing classes are given the opportunity for special help in order to pass. Students who are passing are given the choice not to attend those classes in which they are passing. No grade below a “B” is accepted. Class size is limited to 15, and this is strictly adhered to. Students carry a planner with them to every class. This planner is signed by the teacher at the end of every class and points are awarded. It is a form of a contract and the student is required to receive a minimum of 90% of the points allowed or a discipline or academic referral will ensue. A mentor reviews the planner with each student during a time called “puma” (the mascot of AVHS). This teacher/mentor meets with his/her group every day for 20 minutes for the duration of the student’s time at AVHS. Relationships are essential in reaching at-risk students, and during this special time many lasting bonds are created between teacher and student.
Parents are greatly involved at AVHS. Mandatory student-teacher conferences happen twice a year – with each and every student. Parent signatures are required – each day – in the planner the students carry to class and this is a daily means of communication with the parent. “Love and Logic” classes are offered and have been very successful.
Communication between parent and teacher is a constant, necessary aspect of the success of the students here. Newsletters, emails, phone contact, planners, and meetings are part of the every day connections between parents and staff at AVHS.
AVHS has had some tragic events in its past. A very popular teacher, a young man named Jack Mileski, was murdered by his ex-girlfriend during the school year. During that same year, a well-liked student died. The 6-trait writing assessment that year was an outpouring of grief, compassion and a sense of loss that each student expressed with keen insight. The parents’ of the student who died were so appreciative of the help and support given to their son and themselves, they established a scholarship for Aspen Valley students who have overcome great obstacles in their young lives in order to graduate.
Successes and honors have abounded here, too. In 2002, Aspen Valley was a winner of the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award. In 2003, Aspen Valley was declared a Colorado School of Excellence by the Colorado Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Then, in 2005, AVHS was named a Gainmaker school by the Department of Education for exceptional improvement on the math CSAP test. Our students receive numerous scholarships including a National Merit Scholarship finalist, a full scholarship to the Colorado School of Mines, numerous local scholarships, and several out-of-state recipients as well. Each year, AVHS students have been included in the mayor’s top 100 Teens program. Our students volunteer, mentor other students, and have been recognized locally and statewide for their extra efforts. This year, a young lady at Aspen Valley is the Girl of the West for the state of Colorado. Teachers, too, have been recognized including a finalist for teacher of the year in the state of Colorado, 2001. Another teacher applied for and received a grant in 2006 for thousands of dollars to be used for technology in this school.
Because we are an at-risk, alternative school, stories abound about our students. Each student comes here with his/her own history that would make you cry, break your heart, and make you wonder how they can even sit up in a class and focus at all. While we don’t want to believe that abuse, neglect, abandonment exists in our district, Aspen Valley students are proof that they do. Daily, it is in inspiration to see broken, bruised, and misguided teens come to school, willingly and with a light in their eyes that many had thought was extinguished. Aspen Valley’s first graduating class consisted of one young lady. In 2007, 30 seniors are expected to cross that stage.
Currently, George Stone is principal at Aspen Valley. Since his arrival, he has implemented a new discipline system, introduced “Project Wisdom”, a character education program, created parent committees that work within the school community, and has stood by his motto of “Whatever It Takes” to make students successful. With his guidance, CSAP scores have increased as have graduation rates.
From its inception in a rented building to the campus that stands today, Aspen Valley has provided a second, third, fourth – whatever it takes – chance of success to hundreds of students. Again and again, graduates return to the school to thank their teachers and other staff members at Aspen Valley. They thank them for believing in them, for holding them accountable, for never giving up on them, and for really and truly caring about them. It is because of these former students, the present ones and the future challenges that Aspen Valley High School will long hold a proud standing the D20 community.