Meet Ms. Lisa!
Lisa was born in California and grew up in the LA area, then moved to Thousand Oaks in 4th grade with her four younger siblings, one sister and three brothers. Thousand Oaks was an area much like Douglas County. It is near the foothills which allowed Lisa to enjoy the outdoors. She spent most of her time as a kid taking her girl scout canteen, some pb&j sandwiches, her brother, and heading out to explore the hills and climb in caves. After high school, Lisa attended college at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She started her first two years as a math major but after becoming an RA at the school, she learned about counseling and educating freshmen. This helped her realize she was more interested in Social Sciences. She went on to graduate from UCSB with a Degree in Psychology. After college Lisa taught in South Central LA for one year as a student teacher, then two years teaching 4th grade. The school was in a highly impacted community. There were 30 different languages spoken at the school and many of the students had one parent in the country on a work visa. Lisa would often walk her students to the ocean along with a mentor teacher who knew of an informal archeological site. There they would search for signs of Native American civilizations and study the tides. This was where Lisa first learned about fieldwork. In both the years Lisa taught at the school she had 33 students in her class. She did whole group teaching and covered all the subjects including Art, Music, PE, Library, and Recess.
Lisa moved to Colorado in 1993. She taught in the mountain area schools in Jefferson County for three years, during that time she had two beautiful babies, and enjoyed staying home with them for some time. She came across Renaissance for her oldest son while it was at its Parker location. Lisa loved the school and was always involved in something. She helped with their book club, science club, and was Ms. Kathy’s EA for a short time. When her youngest was about to begin Kindergarten she applied to teach 4th grade but after her interview, the school asked her to teach 6th. Lisa told them, “Are you crazy? I am afraid of them, they are adolescents!” But they easily convinced her she would be a great fit. Lisa said, “you dont get to be picky when you are given the chance to work at the same school your kids go to! After starting, I quickly knew I would never want to teach any other grade. I love this age group, they are wonderful!” Lisa is now finishing up her 13th year teaching 6th grade. Over the years she has watched the Adventure Ed grow into the amazing program it is now. Lisa said “ The camaraderie here is great, I love being at a school where we are a family when we get back from voyages. I always try to be the first Crew out, because I can't wait to really get to know them out there. We always return sharing common stories and experiences. I had a past student come back and say this funny thing: Once you poop in the woods together, you can do anything in front of each other!” The experiences students learn on voyages often carry over into the classroom. Lisa said, “When students want to share writing or say in front of their classmates that they do not understand their math, it’s not a big deal, and it’s not a risk for them. They have done hard things, and they now know to ask for help. I can't imagine teaching without Adventure Ed and having this type of self-building program.”
When asked what her favorite thing is about 6th graders Lisa said, “I love 6th graders so much because they are critical thinkers. They are starting to understand that not everything is right in the world, that there are injustices, and they feel the need to fix these. They think for themselves, they like to question the norms and the status quo. I love that. I feel that is good. Don’t just go out and be easily manipulated. I tell them every year I am here for two reasons: First, I believe deeply in having a community where people have a sense of belonging. To make sure we help ourselves know this and help others feel it. This is a big part of our Adventure Ed program. Second, I want to help them learn to think for themselves, they are at the perfect age to know that”. Having to finish out their last year at Renaissance through Remote Learning has been difficult for sure but Lisa says that her students are very resilient and flexible. “The culture we built before Remote Learning, I am leaning on really hard right now. Being social at this age is very important to them and to lose that is difficult. My main goal right now is to make sure they still feel part of the community and not lose their sense of belonging. I will do whatever needs to be done to keep them engaged. Our best experiences so far have been our small group cooking classes. I recently taught them to make gourmet grilled cheese, it was a big hit. Recently students have started volunteering to lead cooking on Wednesdays. They have cooked pancakes, cookies, and even pizza. The Crew has also enjoyed doing an authentic project every week, one of them was to create a learning space where you just burrow right in. I even offered extra credit if they could come up with a food delivery system! They did an upcycle project, a self-learning project, and a creativity project. We definitely have had to get creative with things. To end the year the 6th graders have been working on a video with Mr. Josh that will be passed around on social media. They did a survey with 6th-grade families to determine what would capture the essence of our rituals and rights of passage, then recreate something that works for this setting. They have created an Adventure Ed book that will fulfill the same things shared in the closing circle. The words of wisdom and all school drum circles will be replaced with the video. Lisa said, Sometimes we can't do things halfway. If we cannot actually be at the school with 400 kids drumming it just will be sad and not the same. We needed to come up with new ideas for them to celebrate.
At the end of this school year, Lisa will be leaving REMS and heading over to Rennaisance Secondary to take a job as Assistant Principal. She carries many emotions with this, she is both excited and nervous. Lisa said “I feel very fortunate to be taking on the role of an administrator at RSS. In 6th grade, we get the kids to a point where they are ready to be more independent and take on causes that are special to them then they leave. Now I get to see where some of them go, and help them continue to use those leadership skills and out of the box thinking.” Students that go on from REMS to RSS get a unique perspective, because of what they have learned in the elementary years. You will often see them become leaders and continue to spread the REMS vision and support other kids from different schools. Lisa said, “I am excited to connect the two schools more. Over the past few years I started noticing I was not just thinking about my class. My visions and my ideas were school-wide. Because of this, I began to take on more leadership type roles at the school, I did some professional development, and started mentoring other teachers. I then decided to go and obtain my Administrator License. When RSS approached me to work there, I felt the vision was right. I may not have experience as an administrator but I have lived the vision of the school over the past 13 years. I am excited to work with all of the teachers and students there.”
Ms. Lisa does have a life outside of school! She recently got engaged to a man named Scott who is the principal of a K-12 school much like Renaissance in Jefferson County. They both love the mountains and the outdoors. Scott used to be a river guide, they both love swimming, riding their mountain bikes, skiing, backpacking, reading, cooking, and playing guitar. They recently took a trip to Alaska and backpacked in Denali, and also rented a VW Bus to sightsee. During the trip Scott proposed to Lisa while they were in Kenai Fjords National Park on a black sand beach in front of a tidal glacier. The two will be getting married this summer and although they have had to change their plans a bit due to the current situation they will still be getting married on a day that is special to them in June.
Renaissance is going to greatly miss Lisa and the huge impact she has made on our school and its students. We are very excited for her new beginning at the Secondary School and that she will be close by when we want to go and say ‘hi.’ Good luck, Ms. Lisa!
Meet 5th Grade Teacher, Ms. Laura!
Laura Gray grew up living in multiple states until the age of 12. Because of her Dad’s job they lived in Seattle, Arizona & Iowa. They finally settled in Highlands Ranch back when it was still a very small town, it only had one stop sign and not a single grocery store! Laura graduated from ThunderRidge High School when it was still surrounded by nothing but prairie and the antelope still roamed near the school.
After high school, she headed off to Chapman University to pursue an Arts Degree, but learned mostly that she loved the ocean and did not want to be an Art Major! She then transferred to CU Boulder to receive her BA in Psychology. Laura has always been fascinated with the human brain and human interaction, and still very much is. She planned on going to graduate school to hopefully work with teens but got burnt out. She decided to take some time off of school and got a job at Pottery Barn part-time while also working in a design studio for a couple of years running their interior design program. Laura started to work on a Bachelor’s Degree from Rocky Mountain College of Art Design, leaving just shy of a few credits to get the degree. She went to work for another design company but at the end of the day, she still could not find the THING that would fill her career bucket. Later down the road after she became a mom she knew she wanted to be a better role model by choosing a career that was meaningful. She did some deep soul searching for a year before she made the choice to begin her Masters in Elementary Education from Regis University. What a crazy time that was! She worked full time while studying for her Master’s and was also pregnant with one of her sons. She worked hard and was able to graduate one year after her son was born.
Laura may not have started out wanting to be a teacher, but after pursuing other things, she realized that her true calling was in education. There she would be able to have a career that was built on making a difference in helping others, and that would allow her many interests and obsessions to become a reality. Laura knew she would like teaching, and according to a characteristics profile she took she was destined to be a “lifelong learner.” When Laura began working with kids she knew instantly that this was her passion and that she had finally found a way to help others foster a love for learning. Three years ago while student teaching she was trying to find a job and heard that Renaissance was looking for a long term sub. She was so excited about the school she right away printed off her resume and dropped it off at the front office that day. She could tell that REMS was doing something different. She didn’t know what it was but had to find out! After interviewing for the position, Deborah told her she had hired someone else for the substitute job, but wanted to know if she could come on board as a part-time Educational Assistant. This was a tough choice for Laura because she was worried being a part-time EA was not going to pay her bills. She decided to go with her gut and that taking the job to get her foot through the door was worth it. She soon received a text from Deborah saying that the long term sub in 5th grade had to leave and she was offered Laura the job! Laura was both ecstatic and terrified, she would be the third teacher coming into the Crew that year and only a weekend to plan for it! Laura said, “It was one of the scariest and most rewarding things I have ever done.” 2 weeks ago Laura had a zoom call with 3 of her students from that Crew, one who now lives in Florida. She still gets visits from her past students on a regular basis. They all still relive the craziness of that first year. During Laura’s first year she started to know the “something different” she felt when she first arrived. Laura said, “It’s hard to articulate it because I just feel it. It is what my first group of students instilled in me, that Crew is not just something we say but a way to live supporting one another through it all.”
One of Laura’s favorite parts of 5th grade is the time spent on voyages. Laura said, “One of the things I like best is when I get to talk with a colleague following a voyage. We ride the bus down the mountain and the whole time we are reflecting on how we just transcended with our kids. We talk about how hard the voyage was and what a sacred place it is. We take on all the challenges WITH our kids. We learn ALONGSIDE our kids. We have a parallel and shared experience that develops the kids and us. Renaissance has redefined for me what it means to do hard things and what it means to be one’s true self. This travels into the classroom as well, allowing a special place where we all are learning together.” By just stepping inside Laura’s classroom you can tell that she has bonded with her students and that they love and respect her. Her classroom is a cozy environment where her students feel very comfortable. And it sounds like it is a very fun place to be too! What Laura says she loves about her students is that they laugh ALOT! She definitely makes learning fun and exciting for her Crew.
Laura enjoys watching her students grow socially and emotionally in 5th grade. One of her favorite parts is what she sees happen on just about every voyage. Laura said “Some students will bring along a stuffy or a baby blanket and tuck it in their daypack, bed, or duffle bag, wherever it will fit and be unseen. They joke with friends, they make mildly (and wildly) inappropriate jokes and constantly try to one-up each other. In their hearts, they are still just children but on the outside, they are beginning to navigate growing up. Students enter 5th grade as children and leave the building as adolescents. It never ceases to amaze me how much they grow and develop in just 9 months. 5th grade is a precious time, not to be taken lightly because it is when social pressures start to seep in deeper and these children need autonomy more than ever to withstand it all. They need guidance far beyond academics so that they can learn to combat the pressures that come along with early adolescence. 5th grade was pivotal in my own life and one that I often wonder could have gone better if I’d had more people around me to help me stay true to myself”. Remote Learning has gone well for the Crew, with all things considered. Laura says she misses her Crew terribly. She misses being in the classroom and engaging with the kids. She does have a few students not returning next year and it is hard to know those are goodbyes she will not get.
In Laura’s free time, she loves being with her two boys ages 3 and 5. They enjoy being outside, playing legos, having movie nights, and reading. They all like to bake cookies together and stargaze. Her oldest loves trains and they have a goal to ride all of the steam engines that are still operating in Colorado. They have plans to visit many state parks as the boys get older and hopefully go somewhere they can really get a good look at the stars. After Laura’s boys go to bed she enjoys reading and binge-watching Netflix, like all us parents do when in need of a break! Laura is naturally a homebody, so give her a pair of slippers and a good book and she is content. This summer she is looking forward to time with her boys and hopes that things will become safer for them to visit but if not, she is looking forward to uninterrupted time with them. Laura is always so grateful for the time to reconnect with them over breaks.
Laura is a wonderful part of our school and we are so lucky to have her leading the way for our 5th graders. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your passion for education with us all.
So many times growing up our dreams of what we “want to be when we grow up” changes and shifts with the tide, but for first-year teacher, Ms. Rachel, she always knew that she would one day become a teacher. Renaissance is extremely fortunate to be the very first school for Rachel to teach at and what a fantastic fit it has been for Rachel’s talents and passions, and the needs of the REMS community!
If you have spent time with Rachel, you know that mountain adventures are everything to her which could be because she is a Colorado native raised with a deep love and gratitude for nature. Rachel was born in Montrose, Colorado, and spent her first eight years exploring the mountains with her family, her mom and dad, and her two sisters. While Rachel’s dad moved the family to Texas during grade school through high school, Rachel’s family always made their way back to Colorado to ski and enjoy the mountains throughout the year on their family vacations. “Hiking and skiing was always a big part of growing up; I learned to ski in Telluride!” Rachel has always considered Colorado “home” and after having spent four years and graduating college from Benedictine College in Kansas, she knew she wanted to make it back home to Colorado. Rachel’s family moved to Telluride while her older sister moved to Denver. “After college when I was looking for jobs anywhere in Colorado, practicality wise I liked that Castle Rock was closer to my older sister in Denver. I’m not really a city person but Castle Rock was close enough to the city while being close enough to head to the mountains for a hike!”
Rachel grew up in a family full of teachers- mom, grandmas and aunts, and cousins! “I grew up seeing what teachers did and loved the idea of helping others; I always saw myself doing this. During my senior year in high school, I got to do a practicum where I spent time in a third-grade classroom observing and even teaching, and that experience really solidified that becoming a teacher was for me! No matter when I wanted to be other things, I always came back to teaching.” In college, Rachel spent time working at various outdoor education camps, the Telluride Academy, and the Catholic Youth Expeditions in Wisconsin. Rachel spent time away from school always hiking, camping, and kayaking, so when Rachel was looking for a job out in Colorado and stumbled upon Renaissance, she was immediately drawn to Castle Rock. “When I read more about Renaissance it was like a dream come to life … this is my school! At that point it didn’t matter where Renaissance was, this was the place for me.” Having had so much experience teaching outdoor education programs during college, the Outward Bound component of Renaissance was a perfect fit for Rachel. Rachel flew out to Denver over her senior year spring break and was hooked. “Renaissance was unlike any other school I had ever visited. I talked to Deborah for a few minutes and she then encouraged me to go out and talk with students and teachers and to sit in classrooms and observe. It was absolutely eye-opening learning about the community that REMS had. There was art everywhere in the school and I could see that Renaissance was a place where kids had big ideas and were allowed to run with them! Even though the Adventure Education program was the initial draw to the school, the mission of the school and the community solidified my decision to move here and teach at Renaissance.”
As anyone who has been new to a profession knows, surrounding yourself with colleagues who you can learn from is invaluable. “Something I love about Renaissance is the fact that there are so many people to learn from. Each person in the building has their own style and Deborah allows people the freedom to run with that! The motto that has been shown to me has always been to try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else. Deborah wants us to find our groove and the school supports us in that!” Our Adventure Education program drew Rachel into the REMS community and the program has lived up to her hopes and expectations. “The Adventure Ed program is not only fun, but when you can take what you’ve been learning in the classroom and apply that learning in a new experience in nature and then bring those experiences back into the classroom, that’s something really unique! It is awesome to see how REMS has brought to life what I researched about Adventure Ed in college.”
Rachel spends her day at Renaissance excelling as a fifth-grade teacher. Her favorite aspects of her day were always working on community building with her students in a variety of ways. “For our morning meetings, I really enjoyed getting the kids outside and either playing games or doing team-building activities together. It was always a great way to wake up and start the day and on those days when time and weather helped us get outside it always felt special.” Rachel also spent time focusing on getting to know students on a more individual level by doing a lunch bunch where she’d invite a student and one or two of their friends. “I’m really bummed that I wasn't able to do that with all of my students but for those who I was able to do it with it was so much fun and I learned so much about them during lunch, it was a great way to get to know them better!” While remote learning has curbed the traditions and rituals her crew had built this year they’ve still been maintaining the community building by having morning meetings and read-alouds together along with small group and one-on-one meetings.
Outside of school you can often find Ms. Rachel enjoying the great outdoors on a hike, a ski slope, or just out for a walk. Rachel values time with family and friends and her dog, Telluride, or “T-Ride”. A fun fact about Rachel is that she has never drunk a caffeinated soda! “I had so much energy when I was little so my parents wouldn’t let me!” In case you’re wondering, Sprite and Root Beer are her “go-to” drinks!
We are so thankful that Ms. Rachel landed here at Renaissance to grow roots into our community and to enrich our students with her love for adventure education! We are excited for what the future holds for Ms. Rachel and her career at REMS!
Growing up, Tyler Stroh did not like school. Like, at all.
“Honestly, I disliked school. It didn't feel authentic, and I struggled with learning the way that it was taught,” Tyler recalls.
But those early struggles are one of the reasons Tyler’s students thrive in his classroom.
Tyler grew up in Arvada, Colorado with his two older sisters and mother. Also, his dad, who works in telecommunications lives in Denver, so they’d visit him fairly often. His mom was a public speaker, teacher, and professor. However, Tyler’s grandparents also lived close by, and he has fond memories of always hanging out at their house.
Even after high school, Tyler’s original plan was to stay away from any more learning institutions. “It wasn't until I took a year off and worked for Kenworth Trucks as a parts delivery driver that I knew I needed to further my education. I moved to Steamboat Springs and attend Colorado Mountain College. I then moved to Kalamazoo Michigan and attend school there. Finally, I moved back to Denver and graduated from Metro State College.”
Tyler also credits his mother with pushing him to pursue a career in education. “She knew that I was good with kids and that I could provide them with a different perspective on learning. I also really enjoy learning, so education made sense. Every day I am challenged to learn something new about myself, students, families, content, or educational practices.”
After graduating from Metro, Tyler’s first teaching job was actually at an online school where he taught for four years. Even though he loved the experience, he knew that his passion was to be in a classroom. So when one of his coworkers mentioned a friend’s daughter went to this amazing school called Renaissance that he should totally work at, Tyler didn’t hesitate to check it out. It was a perfect fit with everything he hoped for and believed teaching could be. And just like that, he found his teaching home and has been here for the past nine years, first teaching 3rd grade for three years, and then shifting to 4th grade where he's taught ever since.
Tyler still says the best thing about Renaissance is the way the school culture embraces all kinds of learners. “We can be ourselves here, which is the foundation for learning. I feel comfortable being open with others, honest about my feelings, and willing to try new things. The culture allows the students the opportunity to be themselves, which I love.”
Tyler has even embraced the opportunity to become an even more supportive teacher. “Currently, I'm getting my graduate degree from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. I've learned to love school because I learned how I learn.”
He also points out how his experience with online school was very different from the remote learning environment:
“Parents who signed up for virtual learning were interested in homeschooling their children with the support of a teacher. They signed up and received the curriculum and a computer at home.
However, the current situation is way different because parents did not sign up for this style of learning, and families do not have a curriculum in hand other than what I provide. We are all trying to take care of ourselves, family, work, and school. It's a crazy balancing act.
The biggest difference is that I know my students extremely well since I spent three-fourths of a year with them in person. We laughed, learned, and worked through anger and sadness together. That is something that you cannot get from a virtual environment, so I am thankful that we have that connection.”
Any family that has been fortunate enough to have Mr. Tyler knows he’s deeply passionate about helping his students learn, and making it fun! One parent said, “We have been lucky enough to be in Mr. Tyler’s crew twice. Our family loves him. He really knows his kids and treats them as individuals, highlighting and celebrating their strengths and helping them with their struggles. He’s the perfect balance of fun and ‘let’s get down to work.’ I feel like words can’t express how highly we think of him. He truly is one of the best.”
His coworkers totally agree. “Working with Tyler is such a joy; he lights up the room. He is creative and always willing to reinvent his plans, and himself, to do what is best for kids. Tyler is a lifelong learner and models what it means to have a growth mindset. He is fun, flexible, brave and above all else, kind!” gushes Ms. Jenny.
Even at home, Tyler’s family adores and supports his love of learning for himself and his students. His wife, Stephanie said, “Tyler is a passionate learner, and one of the things I love most about him is his authentic approach to wanting to pass that passion on to his students. He truly believes in all of them. Because he struggled in school, he knows how to empathize and get to the level of any of his learners who are experiencing challenges. He loves the diversity of his kids at REMS and tries to meet them where they are at as individuals while also valuing and supporting the community as a whole. This school was made for teachers like Tyler - it’s where he belongs and we are thrilled for our kiddo Warren to attend kindergarten next year.”
One thing that most people will not find surprising is how much Tyler values adventure and learning new things. For example, he used to take long-distance bike tours every year! This was B.C. (before children) of course: “Bike touring started for me once I graduated from college. My plan was to buy a motorcycle and ride around the United States. However, I was a broke college student, so that plan fell apart pretty quickly. My aunt, who owned a bike touring company in the '70s, said she would send me her 1976 touring bike. I then decided that I'd ride down the coast! So, I bought a bike touring book to learn about possible routes and learn about what I needed to pack. Then, I bought a ticket to Vancouver, Canada. Reality hit when I arrived at the airport in Canada and all I had was a bike (in pieces) and panniers (bike bags full of stuff). I learned a lot! I didn't even bring a jacket! But, this is where learning takes place... you gotta throw yourself into a situation and learn from the experience. I rode alone from Vancouver, Canada to Eureka, California. Since then, I have ridden the San Juan Skyway twice, Yellowstone, rode across Belgium, and other fun rides! I miss being able to take off on adventures where I'd meet interesting people, visit fascinating places, and have time to clear my head. I would love to go on another bike tour when my boys get bigger! For now, I do short camping trips with buddies where we can go mountain biking.”
Tyler has never shied away from trying new things and picking up many hobbies, too. “I love to ride bikes, play guitar, and I am always trying out new hobbies. For example, I now play the banjo!”
Finally, Tyler hopes his students take all the lessons from this past year to heart and follow the example he lives each day. “Be kind to yourself and others! Ask many questions and find the answers. Try MANY different hobbies (drawing, biking, eating weird food, cooking, running, gardening). Most importantly... laugh a lot. Life is too short to be serious all the time. Play around and have fun!”
Mr. Tyler, our students are so deeply enriched by your love of learning and your passion for celebrating differences. Thank you for embodying the Renaissance spirit! We can't wait to see you (and Warren!) in person next school year.
“Where your talents and the world’s needs cross, there lies your vocation.” -Aristotle. Our teachers and staff here at Renaissance have all traveled different paths but their values and their passions have, thankfully, led them all here to the Renaissance community. This couldn’t be more true for our fourth grade teacher, Ms. Jenny. Jenny knew from an early age that she wanted to be an advocate for children, and while she believed that would be through the legal system, Jenny discovered that her passions and her talents best served children in the classroom, specifically, in our classrooms at Renaissance. We are so thankful for the path that led Ms. Jenny to our school and value the talents, worldwide wonder, and determination she brings to our students day in and day out … in the physical classroom and even now in her virtual classroom.
Ms. Jenny is a Colorado native, born in Denver. The daughter of a doctor and a nurse with a brother and a sister, Jenny attended the Graland Country Day School in Cherry Creek. As a child and teenager, Jenny was always busy with sports whether it was gymnastics, diving, soccer, or lacrosse. Her summers were spent going away to gymnastics camps and competing when she could. During her childhood Jenny’s parents got divorced and she moved to Montana with her mom. Jenny commented that it was really difficult leaving the big city to live in a more rural area in Montana, so Jenny went to boarding school and graduated from the American School in Switzerland. While at the American School, Jenny started their peer counseling program and was awarded the service award from her graduating class. Jenny’s time abroad allowed her to travel all over the world with extended trips to Africa, Spain, Greece, and England. From a young age, Jenny always knew she wanted to work with kids and be an advocate for them; she initially thought that advocacy would come from Psychology and Law. At Pepperdine, her initial educational focus was in Psychology and Pre-Law but after her Psychology professor saw something special in her and encouraged her to take an education course she switched majors and graduated early with her teaching credentials. Jenny started teaching right away, initially in California and then came back to teach in Colorado. Jenny went back to her roots and taught a year at Graland Elementary then came to Douglas County where she opened and taught at Copper Mesa. Jenny is in her twentieth year of teaching with the majority of that time spent in Douglas County. Jenny received her Masters in Education Administration in 2007 with the hopes to one day lead an entire school.
We are thankful that Jenny’s Psychology professor led her to an education course that allowed her to volunteer in a classroom. “As soon as I was in a classroom, as a volunteer, I felt like I could make a really big impact, it definitely felt right. I have just always had the belief that kids can do more than we think they can. Whatever area I would have worked in I knew I was going to be a voice for children.” Working in the district at a few different schools Jenny learned more about the philosophy of Renaissance and knew that she would want to land here. Jenny focused on innovative teaching practices and teaching students world experiences and these values aligned perfectly with the values at REMS. When her daughter, Hayden (now a third grader at REMS), was born, Jenny contacted Ms. Deborah to put Hayden on the school waitlist. Of course Ms. Deborah informed her that we don’t have a waitlist, but it was the start of her pursuit to become a part of the REMS teaching community. Jenny was an awarded teacher before she came to Renaissance as a 2014 World Class Educator and had experience in the classroom as well as in professional development positions. When a position opened up at the school when Hayden was in Kindergarten Jenny jumped at the opportunity to apply, interview for it, and accept the position!
Ms. Jenny’s favorite aspect of Renaissance are the experiences we give students. “Growing up as a kid raised with worldly experiences and looking at the world through different eyes, we teach kids that they can make a difference, that they matter, and we give them authentic experiences … they can win or they can fail and we’re along the way with them. We motivate them to change the world!” In addition to the experiences we give students here at REMS, Ms. Jenny really enjoys teaching with Mr. Tyler. “I love working with Mr. Tyler! We’re funny and goofy together and get along really well. We share many experiences together, our personalities really compliment each other.” Jenny and Tyler at the fourth grade level are certainly an awesome team and their partnership really rounds out the fourth grade experience for our students.
If you’ve ever walked into the building you have most likely seen Ms. Jenny’s classroom. Jenny loves that her classroom is at the very front of the building because the location allows her to see so many current and former students each and every day, and the ensuing visits and hugs that go along with that. “It’s so great to start my day with their visits!” In addition to rocking teaching fourth grade, Jenny has worked tirelessly at Renaissance on school sustainability as the leader of the Eco Warriors. Jenny has made it her personal mission to get Renaissance a hydration station as well as working, as a school, on recycling, composting, and worm gardening. “I love to find unique ways that kids can reach out and be a part of something bigger than themselves.” Even during the quarantine Jenny is finding ways to connect students with the community in creative ways. “We’re partnering with the Luvin Arms Sanctuary where students are reading to different-abled chickens! These specific chickens can’t be in the general population but still need stimulation and attention, so the kids are providing that for them. That speaks to who I am … I want kids to apply their learning in authentic situations, whether that is using sewing machines to make reusable snack bags or reading to chickens. The big picture is for kids to feel like what they do matters. All learning can be integrated with purposeful products.” If your child has ever come home with a smile on their face after an inspiring or exciting Workshop Wednesday you can thank Ms. Jenny for being the driving force behind the implementation of a day, each week, where our children can explore their interests outside of the classroom.
Ms. Jenny lives in alignment with the values she shares in her classroom … life is about experiences. Jenny and Hayden do a lot of traveling whenever possible whether that’s to Mount Rushmore or Mesa Verde or Honduras, Jenny is always looking to broaden her worldview and gain the appreciation that comes from traveling the world. Recently, Jenny and Hayden went on a cruise to Belize and Honduras and swam with dolphins and manatees. When they’re not traveling the world, Jenny and Hayden love to spend time at the theater.
The Renaissance community is certainly richer for having Jenny on board. Jenny’s passion for thinking beyond the individual and dreaming big has brought so many wonderful opportunities to our students whether that’s through the passions being sparked by Workshop Wednesdays or Eco Warriors or the inspiration created in her classroom; we are so thankful for all Ms. Jenny has done for our community and can’t wait to see how she continues to enrich our school community!
Meet Ms. Mikaela!
Mikaela was born in Minnesota and lived there until she was about five. Her parents went through a divorce and when her mom remarried they moved to California while her step-dad did training for his job as regional manager for a company. His job moved them from there to Missouri, then onto southern Maryland where Mikaela began her first year of high school. Growing up, Mikaela always enjoyed being around children, she was the first to pick up a baby at a party and carry it around; she always seemed to have a motherly instinct. She often babysat and was able to save up for her first car with the money she earned. During high school, she did a work-study program that allowed her to work at a daycare. Her senior year, she really started to think about what she wanted to do for her future. Mikaela found great support from two amazing teachers that were a positive influence on her learning. She credits them with getting her through high school, they made school fun and gave her real-life applications. Also because of them, she knew that was something she wanted to do for other kids and make that difference as well. After high school, she attended Towson University in Baltimore. She took a few detours along the way and pursued restaurant management for a while. But she soon realized sometimes managing adults can be much harder than managing kids! That pushed her back to school to do what she really wanted, to become a teacher.
After graduating from college, she began teaching in the Baltimore County School District. There she bounced around teaching 1st, 4th & 5th grade. Not long after, Mikaela and her husband welcomed their son Mason into the family. After becoming a mom, she was not sure public school was what she wanted for her son. It was a time that testing was really being pushed and there was a lot of politics going on with that, so she looked at moving into a private school. She got a job teaching at Friends School of Baltimore in 2008 where she taught 1st and 5th grades. During this time, she and her husband had talked about moving, and since her husband worked remotely this gave them some flexibility. They had visited Colorado over the years and loved the climate and also had friends there. In the end, their love for the outdoors drew them to Colorado. Their son Mason was in 2nd grade when they moved to Castle Rock. Renaissance was not really on their radar and they felt comfortable in their neighborhood school. School Choice was not something you hear about on the east coast, but the more she read about it, she thought maybe she should have looked into schools more. That is how she found Renaissance, and boy was she bummed that she did not find this school sooner! It seemed like a great segway from the school they were coming from. After trying for a while they were able to get Mason in for his 5th-grade year. Mikaela said, “My son’s experience affirmed everything we had read and heard about the school, they live and breathe everything they say which is wonderful, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of this at some point.” Mikaela was teaching 4th grade at another school in Castle Rock but also volunteered at REMS as Ms. Billie’s Crew Parent. After Mikaela’s son finished the 6th-grade and moved over to RSS she took the job of teaching 3rd-grade at Renaissance. Also, Ms. Billie had moved from 5th to 3rd which was great for Mikaela since they had already developed a relationship while Mikaela was her Crew Parent. Mikaela said, “It was great, I had known Billie for several years, her expertise has been very helpful. She is great to bounce ideas off of, and collaborate with.” The transition from being a parent at the school to being a teacher has been easy for Mikaela, and upon talking with her, you can tell how passionate she is about the values of the school. This is her 16th year teaching but her first time in the third grade. Mikaela said, “Third grade is really fun to teach. Actually every grade is fun to teach! But in 3rd, all of the kids come in very independent, they appreciate anything and everything you do. There is a mutual respect among all of us, AND they still think my jokes are funny!!” This year has been very special because of the great community she has built with her students and parents. “We are extremely close-knit. It is a nice balance of mutual respect and just an understanding of what we want the culture of our classroom to look like, and what we need to do to get there.”
You would think that going into Remote Learning would have made this tough for her first year, but Mikaela has stayed very positive and has made sure to keep hold of the Crew’s sense of community. Mikaela said, “The shared experiences we have had throughout the year before remote learning have been a solid foundation for our crew and help remind us that we can do hard things, and we can get through this, we just need different ways of thinking. Our kids and parents have been able to adapt, and there is a mutual understanding that whatever happens things will be ok. I have been emphasizing to parents what Ms. Deborah and Ms. Jill have said, which is, ‘you do you.’ I tell my students that we do the best that we can, and that there is more in the process than the final product. They will learn so much from this experience and process, and even if we have a few failures along the way, we keep going.”
Mikaela’s Crew has been getting very creative with their Zoom meetings. The whole Crew came up with the idea of Theme Thursday. Each Thursday they have had fun showing up with crazy hair, crazy hats, and even silly socks. They even celebrated a classmate’s birthday with a dance party! When asked what she likes most about working at REMS she said, “There are so many things! This job is very fulfilling and I appreciate the supportive community of kids, parents, and staff. As teachers, we have all been supportive of one another too. We just had a Primary meeting for Kindergarten through 3rd teachers. It was nice to hear from others about how, as moms, everyone was handling what we are all going through. We were able to discuss different ways we could support one another. It was powerful, just a two-hour meeting, but one of the best things I have done while doing remote learning. On the administrative side, I love the autonomy we are given. We are encouraged to take risks, and there is a trust in us that we will all do what is best for the kids. I have been at schools where the trust was not there, it was more like, ‘Here is your script and curriculum; please follow it.’ That does not feel good as a teacher; we need to give students more than just curriculum. I love the Adventure Ed piece, and the bonding that takes place within the crew. Learning through Adventure Ed is important and valuable, and learning we can apply the things we learn in the classroom. All of the staff at the school are passionate and dedicated to what they do, these pieces have been key to me.”
Outside of school, Mikaela enjoys reading a mix of professional development books, adult fiction, as well as the books her students are reading. Before Remote Learning began, Mikaela had told her husband she wanted a “She Shed” except for the shed part! They had talked about transforming one of the rooms in their house into her space. Finding out she would be teaching from home really sped this process up! She quickly made a space for herself with a desk and a couch where she could escape to teach or enjoy some time alone. Their family enjoys spending time together playing games, cooking, camping, hiking, and relaxing on their new deck along with their two dogs, Disco & Olive.
Ms. Billie had this to say about Mikaela, “She is very knowledgeable, organized, and has a wealth of knowledge to share with our staff. And, she is the mother of one of my former students. I feel we were so lucky to add her to our staff last year! It has been fun to work with her this year. “
It is always wonderful seeing a parent move into a teaching role at our school! Thank you, Mikaela, for sharing your passion for teaching with our 3rd graders.
“My name is Billie Pope, and I am so honored to be teaching here at Renaissance. My journey here at REMS has been personally expansive. I have enjoyed growing and learning right alongside my students. Each day, I am grateful to be in the classroom discovering amazing things about the world around us with my 'kids.' I love my work and have found a community and a home here at REMS. My years here have truly been life changing.”
While she was born in Oklahoma, at the age of 8 she and her family moved to Georgetown, CO, where she lived the life of mountain adventure with her brother. I think that almost qualifies her as a native. “My folks are still with us and live in Castle Pines. My parents owned their own art framing business in servicing Vail and Breckenridge, and my mom was the Town Treasurer for the City of Georgetown for many years. Both of my folks are very active service members in their various communities. My brother has 2 children and 6 grandchildren. I have two sons Peyton and Dylan who have left the nest and my furry son Sancho! We are a very close family!”
Ms. Billie attended Georgetown Elementary and Clear Creek High School before attending UNC, CSU, and Metropolitan State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Research Psychology and her master’s degree in Arts in Teaching. She comes to us as the full package with extensive training in special needs, occupational therapy, art, behavioral research, and the Montessori method.
When I asked her what brought her to REMS, Billie shared, “I have been in various positions in the district since 2001. I started as a moderate needs Special Education Paraprofessional, Occupational Therapy assistant, and even a classroom assistant. In 2010 I had a friend who was teaching yoga classes for a teacher at REMS. I was a teacher at DCS Montessori at the time. I came to her class and just loved what I saw in the classrooms. I was curious about the drums and the overall culture at REMS, so when the opportunity opened, I went for it and have been here since 2013. Billie started as a Discovery assistant, providing one-on-one support, but also traveled to all classrooms to help where help was needed. She completed lots of substitute teaching work and even took on the full classroom assistant position before teaching her own class here at Renaissance.
“What do I love about REMS? Everything! When I interviewed here, I told the panel I was looking for another community to serve. I think the sense of community, adventure education, expeditionary model, and just being a part of amazing work for kids are among my favorite things. I love watching children recognize their strengths, overcome challenges and lead their own learning. The staff at REMS is also amazing, I have never worked with a more committed, brilliant group of teachers. I am passionate about my craft and becoming the best teacher possible for my students. I enjoy collaborating and being mentored by some of the most talented professionals in the field.”
So what does Ms. Billie do for fun? Biking, hiking, camping, reading, decoration, painting, gardening, yoga, meditation, being outside as much as possible and of course skiing at Loveland Ski Area! I asked Ms. Billie what one of her passions was and she shared that she loves behavioral research. "I love looking at studies and data, and I constantly think of things that I would like to research long-range and short range. I love looking at patterns and correlations. Clearly “Research Psychology” really fits with teaching and it reinforces my practice."
For her students this year, “My deep hope for my kids this year is that they will stay connected to one another as crew and above all stay healthy. I also hope that they will have some discovery around themselves as learners and an even deeper level of connection to their families and discover what is truly important. My dream is that they would expand and grow in their knowledge and become even more observant. I hope that they notice all the little things that passed by them before this happened and be more connected to nature."
"To my families coming to me next year, I cannot wait to get back into the classroom and create a new way of approaching learning. This time has given me some real challenges, but I have learned a lot and can't wait to share this learning with the kids and families. Mostly, I just can't wait to be back with our community. And study certain parts of the pandemic and how it happened (too soon?) It would make such an amazing expedition study. So many great data points and response models to compare! (I'm a geek, what can I say?)."
As Ms. Deborah shared last week, Ms. Billie will be moving back to 5th grade this next school year. I asked Ms. Billie what prompted the move and she shared “As a school we believe in the best people for the positions available (so we all tend to move around a lot). I believe in doing what’s in service of the community and kids and this seemed like the right move to support those goals of service to our community.” 5th-grade has been her home before and she is eager to step back into that classroom and help her students grow in this chapter of their lives!
When we think of what a wonderful addition Billie is to the Renaissance community, no one says it better than her current families and colleagues:
"Ms. Billie has a huge heart! She is a dedicated and compassionate teacher who strives to be better every day. She leads by putting kids first and is always willing to do whatever it takes to help all REMS students feel successful, recognized and special. Her relationships with students and staff demonstrate her generous and compassionate spirit. Ms. Billie thrives on design learning units where students have voice, wonder and drive their own learning. She loves being in trenches and models what it means to have a growth mindset."
"Ms. Billie is so great at seeing what makes the kids thrive, and encourages them every step of the way. She connects with her crew and makes them feel special – such a gift to have her as a teacher!"
"Ms Billie has taken a big leap this year going from 5th grade to 3rd grade and she's done it awesomely. Ms Billie teaches with her whole heart and soul putting all her effort into each and every child. She has so much passion for what she does and it shows. Ms Billie doesn't just 'teach' reading and writing. She engages children to be creative, be passionate, be themselves. She encourages a desire to share kindness and humanity. She is so loved by her crew, her parents and her co workers. Ms Billie is the definition of what REMS is all about!!"
"Ms. Billie is one of those people that brings light into any room she is in. She is an amazing and beautiful person, inside and out!"
"Ms. Billie while our time with you in the classroom was cut short this year, we were thrilled to know that we have a chance to have you as our teacher again in 5th grade. You have been a blessing to our family and a great teacher for our child this year! Thank you for all you give and all you do! We appreciate you!"
As you can see – there is plenty of love and appreciation for all that you do and give! Thank you, Ms. Billie, for being you and being a part of our Crew!
What a treat it was to sit down and interview this guy! He is warm, kind, and you won’t believe what he does in his free time! He is a good man and I hope this week you all will get to see what a blessing he is to our school and community.
Troy, along with his sister, was born and raised in Colorado by his parents . His dad was a police officer with the Commerce City Police Department until he retired in 1989. His mother stayed at home with the kids until they were old enough to go to school. After a short stint in restaurant management, she worked for the Aurora Public School System. She, herself recently retired and is enjoying retirement.
He is married to a wonderful woman and together they have a daughter who is in her Junior year of high school at Ponderosa High in Parker. “My daughter is an awesome basketball player, we love to watch her play,” He shared with pride.
For the past 5 years, he and his family have been heavily involved in a program called Royal Family Kids. It is a nonprofit organization in Parker that supports kids in the foster program. There are 3 components to this program. “From September to May, every Saturday we hold what are called Clubs. The kids come to a local church and participate in different activities each month. Then, attached to that, is our mentoring program. I myself have a couple of little guys that I work with, my wife has a little girl she mentors and works with and then, of course, my daughter has a little girl as well. My daughter has built a sweet and neat relationship with her and can’t wait for Saturday so that they can spend time together. The third component is our summer camps program. As adults, you are paired with a partner to take 3-4 kids under your care at this camp. We kayak, rock climb, swim, play games, and provide opportunities that most of these kids won’t otherwise get. We celebrate birthdays on one day at camp because a lot of these kids have never experienced that. It is a great time, a wonderful way to give back and something I am really proud of,” Troy said.
From there Troy realized that once the program ended at 12 years old, there was not another program for these hard “teen years” and he wanted to have something that would support those kids, so, they created Kings Teens, another support, mentoring and club program for the older kids. Their camp is in July and it is very similar to what happens with the younger kids. Birthday parties, opportunities to ride horses, rock climb, and many other events during that week. “As a product of a divorced family at the age of 12, I realize how hard those years can be, and if we can help these kids through that by providing the support that they need, then we have created something good. Camps are tough for us though. With the younger kids, we have enough women volunteers and not enough men, for the older kids, it is the opposite. We are in need of people who can give some time in either of these programs to help these kiddos out,” he stated.
If you are interested in finding out more, please visit royalfamilykids.org and kingsteencamp.org or reach out to Troy directly.
So, what is a School Marshal, and is that the same as a School Resource Officer? Although they do have some similarities, no, they are two different positions. A School Resource Officer, or “SRO” for short, is dedicated to one location all the time throughout the school year. A School Marshal is a position that was created after the Sandy Hook Incident when officials realized that our elementary schools were not protected like the middle and high schools. The dynamic surrounding school shootings in the country was and is a big deal. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and the Town of Castle Rock developed the School Marshal’s program. In the beginning, it was just whoever signed up to be that person for the day, got to be that person for the day. It was called an overtime assignment, such as the movie theaters, churches, or other locations in town that wanted a law enforcement presence. Officers signed up for it, were paid overtime for it, and so forth. However, the Town of Castle Rock realized the importance of this program and dedicated officers just to it. Castle Rock has one SRO with each of the high schools, and two School Marshals, one dedicated to the East Side and one dedicated to the West side of I-25. These are now positions that you have to apply for, and no longer are considered part of the overtime assignment categories. Troy has worked for Castle Rock for 21 years now and the last three years, at his request, has been assigned and qualified as a School Marshal. He explained that the Marshals do not wear police uniforms or drive marked cars but are readily recognizable and suitably trained to respond to any potential difficulties. This softer approach allows children to relate better to the Marshals as they become acquainted. The Marshals have parking spots that are not open to the public so their equipment is readily available if needed.
The Marshals are required to be in each of their assigned schools every day. In Troy’s case, there are 9 elementary schools he rotates through each day. He says the best part of his job is being able to eat and play and get to know the staff and the students and establishing relationships and trust. His primary goal is to be involved in the schools: to make a connection with every student, staff, and family member he can!
When asked if he had concerns about any of the schools, he said that some of the older schools were built when there was no thought of securing the buildings or locking them down. Different schools are handled differently due to the actual available space. He wished we could build new schools with all the safety facilities possible for all students, recognizing the impossibility of that. His other concern is that the life situations that students face can be alleviated at school, and many times the positive results can be lost when they return to the stressful situations at home. Making positive connections and establishing a safe place for these kids, and all our kids at our schools, is important. Obviously, the overall function of the SRO and School Marshal programs is to protect the students, staff, and families from threats inside or outside of the school, but there is also a unique opportunity to bring in a positive side to this whole relationship. There is a mentoring opportunity, a community-building opportunity, and more. “I will sit and eat lunch with kids, read with kids, play games on the playground with the kids, or anything to provide positive connections and support,” Troy stated. Further, he stated, “This is a different level of community service that is being established inside and outside of the school. That is the most essential piece of this program. With the ugly side at the forefront, this brings in a beautiful side, this wonderful opportunity that has not been seen inside the schools before, even with the SRO programs.”
In closing Troy wanted his “parents” to know, “We are in this together. Safety is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is something I take very seriously. I recognize the importance of my job and how that impacts your families every day. I am here to keep everyone safe, but I want to be a friend, I want to be a mentor and I want to help these kids in any way possible. We need to plant seeds and help those seeds flourish! Taking steps to be a part of a village like the one here at REMS is important and I would encourage parents to step into that. Be supportive, be involved, and let’s be a team!”
Troy, we are grateful for your service! Next time we parents see him, let’s say ‘thank you.’ We are blessed to have him as part of our Crew!
As soon as my children heard I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Gina for this week’s staff spotlight they both (one who had Ms. Gina as a teacher and one who did not) started shouting out “Be sure to write about how much we love Ms. Gina! Tell the community how special Ms. Gina is!” I certainly agree with their enthusiasm about how special Ms. Gina is to our Renaissance community and how fortunate we are to have such a passionate visionary teaching our kiddos!
A passion of Gina’s has always been working with students of all abilities and teaching important lessons of inclusiveness and compassion to our students by partnering our students with students with disabilities at other school locations. Gina grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of four children, one older brother and two older sisters. Gina’s oldest sister, Jackie, has been the driving force for Gina’s passion and so many students’ lives have been positively impacted because of it. “My sister, Jackie, was born typical and was found in a coma in her crib at six months old. She was airlifted to the hospital where they discovered a brain bleed and had to remove over half of her brain. She died on the operating table and was revived. My mom was told that she would never be able to function like the rest of us or to even walk or talk. She is blind, has cerebral palsy, and is paralyzed on the left side of her body. Luckily, though, my mom is stubborn! My sister can walk and talk and though she has the mentality of a seven year old some days you wouldn’t know it, and it feels like you’re talking with another adult.” Gina’s parents divorced during her second grade year and she ended up living with her mom and two older sisters. It was just an expectation that they all would take care of one another. Even though her upbringing was different because of the heavier responsibilities she had, there was never any resentment; Gina knew that taking care of family was just something that had to be done. “Growing up with someone with a disability was just my norm. My life did seem different than others’ because I knew I had to help with my sister. The biggest thing I noticed growing up with a sister with a disability was the stares that we’d get. While some people showed kindness towards us, some people were beyond rude. I learned quickly how not to lose my mind on people when they were rude.” Gina saw her mom work hard for the family as a waitress and a seamstress and recognized the many talents that her mom had. “My mom was like superwoman! She was a very well-rounded person, just amazing in so many ways!”
From a young age Gina not only helped take care of her sister at home, but she sought out opportunities to work with other students with special needs in her school. As a senior in high school Gina had to decide between joining the Air Force and becoming a statistician or becoming a special education teacher. We are so glad that she chose to become a teacher! Gina spent a successful freshman year at a college in Michigan but came back to graduate from the University of Illinois-Champaign that had one of the top five special education programs in the nation. She spent one year back home as a hospice worker but decided to make the move out to Colorado to be closer to her dad who had suffered a heart attack and stroke her senior year of college (dad is doing great!)
“My first job out here in Douglas County was teaching students with significant needs, grades kindergarten through third grade, at Pine Lane Elementary with former Renaissance teachers. I taught students how to try new foods, use the bathroom, use communication devices, along with seizure monitoring for students, using simple social skills, and reading comprehension.” Gina spent two years at Pine Lane before moving to Roxborough Intermediate school where she spent another two years teaching similar life skills to students in third to sixth grade. There she was the special education team lead. It was in that position that Gina saw a system that needed to be shaken up, but she felt like the way to make the changes she so desperately wanted to see she would need to move into an administrative role. Gina went back to school to attain her Master’s in Administration. Eventually, Gina knew that in order to eventually secure an administrative role she would also need to have the experience as a general ed teacher. It was this forward, down-the-road thinking (and her friend and Renaissance teacher, Kim Beal) that eventually brought Gina to Renaissance to dive into the role of a general ed teacher.
While Gina loves our school community in so many ways, it’s the relationships with our students that has become her favorite part of teaching at Renaissance. “I like meeting their personalities! A lot of my background in special education was behavior-oriented and putting together behavior plans. So many of my students were non-verbal and this was a huge puzzle. Here my students talk so much! Hearing their thought processes and seeing their personalities shine is certainly the most interesting part for me!”
While Gina’s days have been busy as a classroom teacher, next year will be bringing exciting changes for Gina and our school community! Gina will be shifting positions next school year to become our very first Behavior Interventionist. This position was created to continue to fulfill the needs of our students and to assist teachers in a greater way inside and outside of the classroom. “This position really allows us to have a person that can help really identify the motivating factors behind student behavior. Our school Social Worker, Allison, works so hard creating student IEPS (among other things) while our School Counselor, Terri, meets the social and emotional needs of our general ed student … this position is to bridge the gap between the two.” Gina’s vision is to create a “homebase” program that she created back at her former school, Roxborough Intermediate. There they saw great success with a decrease in office referrals and students who were better able to manage their behaviors while in the classroom. “The idea is to create a place where students can come and calm down or have a quiet place to work, a room that meets their special needs. It’s a room that will always be staffed. If students needed to process something or to get something done, someone was always there for them. In Roxborough we began to see less disruptive behaviors because of the homebase room. We saw students learning how to better self regulate their emotions and they began to meet their own academic needs.” In addition to providing this type of support for students Gina will also be providing support and training to teachers so that they will be able to use these homebase skills in their own classrooms. “Trying to figure out the WHY behind behaviors is my very favorite thing to do!”
While her days will look different than her classroom teacher days, Gina will be able to reach more students by being all over the building. “My day will look like a mix of a few different things, going into classrooms and helping support teachers with behaviors and being there to pull students out of classrooms because of disruptive behaviors. Being there on call if someone is needed on a case-by-case basis. I'll be conducting behavioral assessments and working directly with students in the homebase room and being in the classrooms.” She’s excited to be able to work with new students but to also have the flexibility to maintain those special relationships with current and former students, too.
Outside of the school day Gina loves spending time with her “girls,” her dogs Zoe and Brinley! This year during a four day weekend Gina packed up the dogs and took a trip to the Grand Canyon. There she rented an RV on an old airstrip that was decked out in gypsy garb and just enjoyed the experience. “I love hanging out with my dogs and going wherever with them. Zoe was my “love-at-first-sight” dog when she was the last puppy remaining at an adoption event. I had been looking for weeks and as soon as our eyes met I knew that she was the one! Brinley is my “meant-to-be” dog. I adopted Brinley as a puppy and trained her to be a certified service dog who used to love coming to work with me in my special education classrooms.”
It is obvious how much passion and enthusiasm Gina has for our children… whether that’s in a general education classroom, a special education classroom, or somewhere in the middle with students who need additional support. Our entire Renaissance community is better because of Ms. Gina being a part of it and we can’t wait to see the positive impact the homebase program brings to our school next year!
Meet Ms. Dana!
Dana grew up in Toledo Ohio. She attended Bowling Green State University just 30 minutes outside Toledo and received an Undergraduate Degree in Fashion Merchandising. Dana was passionate about retail and loved making things pretty. Her first job was at a clothing company called Hit or Miss as a manager. From there she then went on to manage a Talbots Store. When she got married the evening and weekend retail hours made it tough to spend time with her husband, so she decided to go into sales and got a job with Verizon Wireless. Dana and her husband took a trip to Colorado to visit her brother who was stationed in Cheyenne. During the trip they fell in love with the state. Upon returning to Ohio she and her husband said to each other, “Alright whoever gets a job there first, we are moving!” Dana did a phone interview with the Verizon office near DTC and they hired her on the spot! They packed up and headed to Colorado. They found an apartment to rent in Lakewood that had the one thing on their list...mountain views! They lived there for about 2 years then bought a house in Highlands Ranch. It was there that they adopted their son Daniel. Dana became a stay at home Mom and their family grew when they adopted their daughter Olivia. Around that time, Dana’s mom moved from Ohio to Castle Rock to be closer to her grandkids. Dana and her husband really liked the small-town feel of Castle Rock so they moved their family there as well. When Daniel was getting ready for Kindergarten, Dana was not sure where to send him. She asked Daniel’s Speech Pathologist to go on a tour of Renaissance with her. As they were leaving the school the Speech Pathologist who did not have kids at the time said, “Well I don't know what you are gonna do, but when I have kids they are coming here!” That affirmed what Dana was already thinking and she enrolled Daniel for Kindergarten. Over the next few years, Dana enjoyed being a stay home mom to her kids and became very involved at the school volunteering where she could. When Olivia was in 2nd grade, Dana decided to join the workforce again, but she did not want to go back into sales. She was really inspired by how much she had seen educators pour into her son Daniel. She thought to herself, “How can I pay this forward?” That led her to take a job as an EA at the school in one of the 1st-grade crews. Over the next three years working as an EA, Dana went back to school to receive a Masters in Education and her teaching license. Dana looks back on that time and says, “I still have no idea how I juggled all of that! Working full, time, raising kids, so many late nights, but all worth it. I felt greatly supported by the school community.” After finishing her schooling, Ms. Deborah offered Dana a job as a 2nd-grade teacher.
Dana is now in her 5th year of teaching 2nd grade. Her position at the school has a unique perspective because she not only is a teacher but she has also been a parent at the school. This has allowed her to see both sides of the building, and this has helped foster great relationships with parents because she has been in their shoes and can easily see their side of things. When asked what she loves about teaching Dana said, “So many things!! It is so much fun. But what I really love is that 2nd graders are old enough to really be developing into the little people they are going to be but still young enough to write me love notes and believe in the tooth fairy. 2nd grade is a fabulous year! First-grade teachers do such a great job of teaching them to read and by the time they come to 2nd grade, they are really ready to delve into books and get to know characters.”
One of Dana’s favorite memories was the first time reading Charlotte’s Web to her Crew. Dana said, “We were getting to the part when Charlotte was about to die and I looked up at one of the girls in my class who was crying and crying, she looked at me and said, ‘It’s ok Ms. Dana, these are happy tears!’ These kids are so sweet!”
This year was the first time 2nd graders had ever done a two night voyage. Dana and Gina knew that the kids could do more, so they decided to ramp things up! Deborah mentioned, why not try taking them two nights on voyage? Dana and Gina said, ‘Let’s do it!’ So off they went to Camp Elim in the Fall and then became the youngest Crew to ever go to Keystone in the Winter. Both of the voyages were a huge success. Dana and Gina firmly believe in the value of sharing the kids in their Crews. Dana and Gina want to differentiate for their students. Starting last year, they began mixing the kids up in their Math and Reading groups. This allowed students to travel back and forth between the classrooms, something the students really have enjoyed. Dana and Gina were then able to build relationships with all of the 2nd graders, not just those in their Crew. This was great for when it came time to do remote teaching. The two have been able to teach all of the students together. Dana says this about Gina, “She is a delight to work with, we complement each other well, she is left-brained and I am right-brained and together we just fit. She is wonderful to work with.” Three weeks into remote teaching and Dana says, “Things seem to be working really well overall. Of course, there are hiccups every now and then and that is ok! I think Zoom calls are hilarious: 24 second-graders bouncing around wanting to show every stuffed animal in their house to me. Last time I had a Crew meeting I played a game with them, this week was a scavenger hunt, the kids got on and I said everyone go find a spoon! And off they went. That was fun, I am trying to find more ideas like that to keep them engaged. Yesterday we ended a zoom call with a dance party, so much fun! We all are doing the best we can, we have to give everyone grace because this is new for all of us.”
Dana’s Crew has a class 'pet' named Gus, a stuffed dragon who Dana says is a part of the crew. Gus is a part of their phonics program and during the school year, every Friday students take turns bringing him home for a few days. When school was let out because of the stay-at-home order, Dana made sure to bring Gus with her. She wanted to give the kids a sense of normalcy. So Dana has been delivering him to families every Friday, then picking him up the following week to give him a wash and sanitize before sending him off to the next family. Dana said, “The amount of joy that the silly little dragon is bringing these kids is incredible. Today when I picked up Gus from a home, he was holding a gift for me, and that was really sweet. It’s little things like this that are really appreciated. When I get a note or text from a parent saying, ‘wow that video you did was really cool,’ that goes a long way. The parents at school do a great job of letting us know we are appreciated.” Dana said her favorite part about Renaissance is that the school really embodies We Are Crew.
“When I went through a divorce several years ago, that was proven to me over and over again not just to my kids but also to me. It was incredible how the school supported my kids through that tough time. They were in the perfect place for it to happen. We are Crew is real, we felt it. During that time we realized our family was much bigger than we thought. I still feel that way today; there is not a teacher in the school that I couldn’t go to for help. It is not a place where people are competing, everyone on the staff really embraces each other and pushes one another to do the best we can. Sure, sometimes we don’t always see things eye to eye, and that is fine, but we respect each other's opinions. There is a great sense of Crew among us.”
Outside of school, Dana enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, and crafting (when she can find the time!). With both her kids in high school and one of them graduating this Spring, she knows her time with them is limited. For that reason, she wants to spend as much time with them as she can. Her son Daniel, will be leaving for Metro State University in the fall to become a pilot. Dana has spent 13 years at our school, from parent to teacher she has made a positive and meaningful impact on our students. We are so grateful for her dedication!
Ms. Gina had this to say about working with Dana: “Dana is the yin to my yang! Her strengths are my growth areas and vice versa. I like to think of Dana as our ‘Chief Idea Officer’ on the team and me as the ‘Chief Logistics Officer.’ Oftentimes, Dana will come to me with an idea and say, ‘can you organize this?’ or ‘can you make this look pretty?’ Of course, I say yes, because her ideas are impressive! My only complaint about working with Dana is that she still wears a fanny pack full of bandaids at recess time, no matter how much grief I have given her about it!”
From a parent of Dana’s: “Our family adores Ms. Dana. She goes above and beyond the normal duties of a teacher. She takes the time to get to know her students and identify their strengths and weaknesses to help them become confident learners.”
From a parent at REMS: “I liked Dana the moment I met her, she has a contagious laugh and smile that puts people at ease around her. I have seen what a wonderful mom she is to her children and was thrilled when she decided to become a teacher at the school. She is creative, passionate about teaching, and has a huge heart. I am so thankful she gets to share these things with our community.”
Thanks for all you do, Ms. Dana!
We are crew
We love to celebrate all of the ways our Parent & Staff Crews make Renaissance a great place to grow and learn!