Hanging out with the Head of School

by Jeff Leahy

CRMS is an intentionally small student community, and the reasons for this were clear on Halloween night when over 50 costumed teenagers gathered to celebrate the occasion down at the Head of School’s home.

There are not many high school students who can say that they celebrated Halloween with a costume party at the home of their school leader, but CRMS students will tell you that a bonfire, prizes, food, and music made for a packed house. This event marked the sixth student gathering at my home since the start of the school year, and these gatherings happen because we believe that a strong sense of community improves the learning culture. Colorado Rocky Mountain School maintains an intentionally small community as a way of maximizing connections between students and adults at the school. Teenagers are at a time in their lives when they naturally and paradoxically seek independence and relationships.

The first gathering I hosted welcomed all the new boarding students back to campus after the completion of our 10-day Wilderness Orientation; this orientation featured three days of community service and seven days of self-supported backpacking. All students who attend CRMS share this foundational experience as a way of ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the school’s values, traditions, and beliefs. Fresh from unpacking, students sat down to dinner on the lawn, and students and faculty took time to celebrate their achievements and to focus on the year to come. Following this gathering, in the first quarter of the school year, day and boarding students have also joined me for coffee and donuts.

Throughout the first semester, each dorm on campus has a choice of gathering at the head’s house for brownies, ice cream, and floats in the evening, a breakfast of donuts and coffee in the early morning or a make-your-own pizza option. These are in addition to the coffee shop that I run four times throughout the school year. During coffee shop, I serve lattes and chai lattes to students on Sunday mornings. There is no agenda to discuss at these meetings; it is about providing our students a place to gather, a home to feel welcome in, and to break the routine. Pasta dinners at advisor homes also serve as a change of pace and allow us time to spend together to play games and check in on how each student within the advisee group is doing during that academic quarter.

Formal dinners at CRMS go all the way back to when John and Anne Holden ran the school. In the early years, formal dinner was a Sunday evening affair, but with the increase in day student numbers, these meals have shifted to the mid-week. Attendance at each table changes, so that faculty members have a chance to spend time with different groups of students. Community building, integration of age groups and day and boarding, begin the first day when students bond in mixed groups working and traveling together through the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains.

At CRMS we want our students to know that each one is valued and welcome. We want them to be appreciated, understood and celebrated for their unique strengths and all that they bring to our diverse learning community. All people, but particularly teenagers, need to feel autonomous, connected, and relevant. Opening up my home gives the students an opportunity to experience all three of these essential emotions.

Tags from the story

Community, Head of School

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