Six weeks after his arrival, a Haitian student is thriving in Summit County
Jonas, Maxem and Eleeana at their hot cocoa stand in front of the Belle V Bistro in Breckenridge. The three raised $315 dollars for the International Rescue Committee over two days to help feed starving children in Yemen.

Jonas, Maxem and Eleeana at their hot cocoa stand in front of the Belle V Bistro in Breckenridge. The three raised $315 dollars for the International Rescue Committee over two days to help feed starving children in Yemen.

Originally published in the Summit Daily. You can read the original article here.

"The scene was chaotic inside the Belle V Bistro in Breckenridge on Monday as Jaci and Stephan Ohayon, along with their staff, braced for the New Year's Eve crowd on one of their busiest nights of the year.

Outside the restaurant, centered among the hustle and bustle of passersby strolling along South Main Street, a small hot cocoa stand was erected. The Ohayons' kids, Maxem and Eleeana, along with Jonas Julian, the Oyahons' unofficial third child who recently migrated to the United States from Haiti, flagged down the people walking by, hoping to raise a few dollars to help feed children in Yemen, where a civil war has unraveled into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The children would point to a globe to show people where Yemen is located, give a brief explanation of the conflict and the present famine, provide some background on their charity and ask for small donations. In all, the kids raised $315 for the International Rescue Committee in just five hours of standing in the cold. For Jonas, perhaps it was a chance to give back to others in need in some small way after seeing first hand the generosity from the Summit County community during the fight for his student visa and his subsequent arrival in Colorado.

Since Jonas' arrival in the United States on Nov. 15 — following a long and arduous effort to secure his student visa — the Ohayons have been overwhelmed with support from the community, with friends and strangers alike helping them financially and offering to purchase Jonas new clothes and school supplies. Jaci says that their kindness has not been lost on Jonas or the family.

"It's really humbling," said Jaci. "When something like this happens, for people to read about it and decide to come together and help in whatever way they can is really special. It's been really cool to share that with Jonas, and for him to see that generosity. And then to put on something like this, where he's out there talking to people in his broken English trying to explain what's going on in Yemen, and why they're raising money … it's such a cool thing to watch him blossom."

Despite a difficult upbringing, by almost any standard, you'd almost never know that Jonas had faced trouble in his life. He'll meet you with a bright, wide smile, and is quick to reach out his hand for a greeting. Braving the elements in a Russell sweatshirt and a bright red beanie, he almost passes for a Coloradan instead of an island native. And while there will always be growing pains for a young man trying to learn a new language and assimilate to an entirely new culture, Jonas says he's enjoying his time in Colorado.

"He says it's very different here because kids live with their moms and their dads in their houses, and everybody has a lot to eat," said Jaci, helping to translate Jonas' French in an interview with the Summit Daily. "In the Dominican Republic and Haiti it's not the same because other kids are eating out on the streets, and don't often get to live with their mom and their dad. He said he prefers it here, and he loves it here very much."

Jonas recounted his struggle to obtain a passport and visa in Haiti. He said that he was often scared during the process, because he knew how few people in Haiti are able to secure passports or visas to the United States. After his first attempt at a visa was denied by the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, he said that he was sad, but not "super sad," because he had been praying for his visa and had faith that it would eventually come through.

On his second try, Jonas said that officials at the embassy asked him only two questions: Why do you want to go to the United States, and what are you going to do when you get there?

Jonas told them, "I want to come to the United States so I can study, so that I can have more choices, and so that when I'm big I can be educated." He continued to tell them he wanted to be an engineer when he grows up, and that he wants to return to Haiti to help make things better.

On Nov. 9, Jonas' visa was officially approved and within a week he was on a plane to Colorado. Jaci said that for the first couple weeks after Jonas' arrival he struggled with the adjustment — missing his family in Haiti, shutting down around crowds and dealing with the cold for the first time — but that he rebounded quickly. Now, Jonas says he's fitting in well and getting used to life in the mountains.

His bedroom, the first he's ever had, is decorated with welcome signs from family friends who greeted him in the airport after his arrival, and with the sleeves off hardcover books he enjoys. He's already taken to the slopes and is proving to be a natural. He made it down the Schoolmarm trail at Keystone Resort on just his second day, and he and Maxem built a small jump in the Ohayons' front yard to practice snowboarding.

"It's been fun," said Maxem of finally having Jonas around again. "We play Battlefront all the time, and we mostly spend time downstairs playing together on our tablets, or playing foosball or snowboarding."

"I just feel like … thank you God for making this glorious thing happen, even though we could have lost the fight," added Eleeana.

Jonas is also progressing quickly in his schoolwork at The Peak School in Frisco. The school allowed Max to accompany Jonas on his first few days in the sixth grade, and he has some help from a Spanish teacher when he's struggling with his English. But as his English improves, so does his schoolwork. He said that his favorite subjects are math and geography (he doesn't have any that he dislikes), and that he likes getting to change classrooms for each subject.

Jonas also said that his classmates are kind and all want to be his friend, and that he already has three close friends who sometimes help him with his homework.

"He's doing so well," said Jaci. "He showed me his geography homework, and he had to fill out a map of the United States. He's just so proud. I think he's a kid that rises to the challenge. The Peak School is slowly getting him acclimated to being in an academic environment, but they're also holding him accountable for things. It's been cool to see him get home and work on his math.

"It's been wonderful to see how they've been treating him, and to see him rise to the challenge with how hard he's been trying. I'm shocked by his English. I'm shocked when he pulls out a saying in English that I didn't expect or didn't know he knew. Or I'll talk to the kids in English and Jonas will answer me. And that's never happened before. He's a sponge."

But there's still a lot that Colorado has to offer that Jonas still hasn't gotten to experience. He said that he's looking forward to biking and riding his skateboard (he got a new one for Christmas), and was enthusiastic about the prospect of joining soccer and basketball teams.

Jonas also expressed an appreciation for the people of Summit County, who he says have shown him nothing but kindness since his arrival.

"I love all the people here because they're so very nice," said Jonas.

It has been a busy year for Jonas and the Ohayon family, tackling Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve in the short time that he's been here. Now, with the crowds of patrons having shuffled out of Belle V and the hot cocoa stand retired for the time being, it's time for the family to usher in the new year with some well deserved calm and quiet.

"I feel like we haven't had a chance to just take it in," said Jaci. "It's been go-go-go since Jonas got here. Tomorrow is our first day off in weeks. We're building a big fort in the living room and watching movies, and we're just going to be together."

Monica Mills
Silverthorne family wins fight to bring Haitian boy to the Peak School
Jonas poses for a photo with Jaci and his mother, Nelta Mondesir, in front of their house.

Jonas poses for a photo with Jaci and his mother, Nelta Mondesir, in front of their house.

SUMMIT DAILY NEWS: After months of wading through the turbulent waters of immigration policies and wondering if he'd ever get the chance to reconnect with his second family, a decision has finally been made.

Jonas is on his way to Summit County.

Last year Jaci and Stephan Ohayon, along with their children Maxem and Eleeana, took a family trip down to the Dominican Republic. On the beaches of Las Terrenas they encountered Jonas Julian, a young Haitian "street kid" who had taken to shining tourists' shoes for money. It wasn't long until Jonas became an honorary member of the Ohayon clan, taking on a strong friendship with Max and Eleeana, and eventually moving in with the family.

When it was time to head back to Summit County, the Ohayons made Jonas a promise — one that seemed impossible at the time — that they would come back for him.

“There have been so many people involved. You know that saying that it takes a village? Our village has extended to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, France, here … It’s like this amazing Haitian Cinderella story. Just giving him this opportunity is incredible.”Jaci Ohayon

On Friday, they made good on that promise. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has officially approved Jonas' student visa, which means he'll soon be on his way to the mountains to rejoin the Ohayons, attend The Peak School and sleep in his own bedroom for the first time.

"It's been one step forward and 30 steps back at each stage trying to get this to happen," said an emotional Jaci. "There have been so many people involved. You know that saying that it takes a village? Our village has extended to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, France, here … It's like this amazing Haitian Cinderella story. Just giving him this opportunity is incredible."

Jonas initially applied for a visa in September, though his application was quickly denied on the basis that he couldn't sufficiently prove strong enough ties to Haiti — immigration officials look for proof in income, housing and jobs among other ties — fearing that Jonas would never return to his home country.

On Oct. 29, Jonas tried again, but it seemed that his application was once again doomed to fail. The Ohayons received emails from the offices of Senator Michael Bennet and Gov.-elect Jared Polis informing them that Jonas' visa was denied. A representative from Polis' office, Jorge Loweree, told the Ohayons that they intended to set up a teleconference between Polis and the Port-au-Prince embassy to find a solution. But on Friday morning, everything changed.

"This morning I got another email from Jorge, and it's just a million exclamation points on his end," said Jaci. "It was a response from the U.S. Embassy saying that they'd be happy to set up a teleconference with Congressman Polis, but that there was a mistake. The visa wasn't denied, it's actually been approved."

The Ohayons are hoping to fly to Haiti by the end of next week to bring Jonas back with them. Jonas will move back in with the Ohayons and attend the rest of the school year at The Peak School in Frisco.

While Jonas' visa only lasts until the end of the school year, it will be possible to extend his stay depending on how he does in school and how much he likes living in the United States.

The family expects that certain aspects of moving from Haiti to Summit County will be overwhelming at first — from attending school regularly for the first time as a non-native speaker to seeing snow for the first time — they expect that he will adjust well and fit in with the community.

"The cool part is he's already lived with us," said Stephan. "So he's just changing location in a way. He felt protected as soon as he walked into our house down in the Dominican Republic. Life was simpler between those four walls. I think he will have all these new experiences outside. It's a different atmosphere, different country, different everything. But once he gets into those four walls, he'll be home."

But Jonas' arrival doesn't mean all fun and games for the family. Along with the already considerable resources the Ohayon family has used to get to this point, they now have to purchase new clothes, a new car that can fit the whole family and most importantly, they need to find a way to afford to send Jonas to school.

Luckily for Jonas and the Ohayons, there was one more surprise waiting for them on Friday morning. As they arrived at The Peak School to deliver the news, head of school Travis Aldrich broke some news of his own: Jonas was the recipient of the first ever Fulkerson Family Scholarship.

Fred and Ellen Fulkerson, the parents of two Peak School alumni, decided to create a scholarship for Jonas after hearing his story, offering to pay for the entirety of his tuition along with his books and a laptop to work on during his stay at the school.

"We knew after our kids graduated that we would continue to be involved," said Ellen. "So when Travis told us the story, he said maybe this is a way to start our scholarship. Fred and I talked to the kids, and they were excited about Jonas' story and wanted to give him a chance. If the Ohayon family believes in him so much that they're going out of their way to take care of this boy and his family, then we're happy to help as well."

"That a family is going to sponsor Jonas to go to school … I just feel so much love for everybody," said Jaci. "This has been so incredible."

Jonas will likely get some time to adjust to his new setting before he begins school, but the tentative plan is to have him start sometime around Thanksgiving. He'll be placed into sixth grade, and his classmates are already eagerly awaiting his arrival.

"Our sixth-graders were in class and their teacher got the notification that Jonas had been approved, and shared it with the class," said Aldrich. "They erupted in cheers. That's the best indicator of how Jonas is going to be received here. They read about his story in the paper, and such an open-hearted reaction to someone they've never met speaks volumes to what we think his experience will be like here."

The process has been a long and difficult one for both Jonas and the Ohayon family. But Jonas' approval to come to the United States isn't the only change to come out of their efforts.

Jaci, once an immigration attorney, gave up her practice over a year ago after a particularly heartbreaking loss on an asylum case. But the experience with Jonas has helped to reaffirm her passion for helping those without a voice find better opportunities in the United States.

"I've had a really good break from it," said Jaci. "But I want to go back and fight for people, because this has been a horrible process. I didn't go to law school to make a lot of money. I went because I wanted to change the world. Then you get there and you get beat down so much that you stop believing that's possible. Maybe it's not. But you can definitely change lives. Jonas is going to get this opportunity to change his whole life and his whole family's life. That feels good."

You can read the original story here.

Monica Mills
Silverthorne family leads fight to bring Haitian boy to the Peak School
On Stephan's last trip to Haiti, he brought Jonas a t-shirt from The Peak School in Frisco.

On Stephan's last trip to Haiti, he brought Jonas a t-shirt from The Peak School in Frisco.

SUMMIT DAILY NEWS: When Jaci and Stephan Ohayon ventured to the Dominican Republic last year they were hoping for a change of perspective. The Silverthorne couple saw a chance to remove their children for a time from the Summit County "bubble," and introduce them to an alien world filled with both outstanding beauty and widespread poverty.

But what they found there, or rather who, made more of an impact than they could have ever imagined. On their trip they met a young Haitian boy named Jonas, who in the time since has become an unofficial member of the family. As the second youngest of eight children in an exceptionally impoverished family, Jonas grew up as a "street kid," shining tourists' shoes to feed himself, and taking what little he could back to his mother.

But earlier this year, thanks to the generosity of the Ohayon family, Jonas was given something that had eluded him throughout his early years: a chance at a better life. The Ohayons, with the blessings of Jonas' mother, began working to bring Jonas to the United States, where a spot is currently waiting for him at The Peak School in Frisco. He'd have a chance to educate himself, and after his schooling is over to return to Haiti and help raise his family out of poverty.

But immigration into the United States, especially for a poor boy from a poor country, is an uphill battle. In September — despite a valid passport, along with a bedroom and spot in school waiting — his student visa was denied. But the fight isn't over yet.

"I'm an immigration attorney, and I know how impossible this seems," said Jaci. "But we've got faith, and I was hoping for a miracle. The problem is the U.S. Embassy treats every applicant as an intending immigrant. Jonas' family has nothing. They can't show that they have jobs and a house, things that would show he'd go back. … we just sent money for a new visa application fee, and we're hoping to get another interview by the end of the week. I still know it's not a super great application. We can't show ties to Haiti when there aren't any. But I believe in miracles, and I still think he could get here."

FAMILY VACATION

In April 2017, on an otherwise unremarkable day, the Ohayon family was spending a day at the beach in Las Terrenas, a small town on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. As they sat there they noticed a small boy tossing his flip-flops into the ocean and diving in after them with his clothes on. Curious, they called him over and invited him to have lunch with them. That was their first interaction with Jonas.

Communication was difficult at first. He didn't speak English, and his French and Spanish were still a work in progress. But he made an instant impression on the family.

"He has the brightest, most vibrant smile ever," said Jaci. "He was just amazing. He would just play with Maxim and Eleeana (the Ohayons' children). He was obviously older than them, but he was interested in them. We invited him to have lunch with us, and that's when we found out that he shined shoes for a job. When Maxim realized that Jonas was a kid with a job it really hit him hard. He took the money out of his pocket and tried to give it to Jonas.

"It was just a huge thing for our kids, and we wanted to develop that relationship more," Jaci explained. "We thought they could really learn a lot from each other. So we asked him the next day if he wanted to meet us in the park, and we just started meeting with him throughout the rest of our vacation."

Despite numerous warnings from individuals in the area not to trust "street kids," the Ohayons saw something different in Jonas.

"He was very respectful," said Stephan. "He was obviously hungry, but he would never ask for food. These kids are here to make money from people from developed countries. They try to get as much as possible. But with him, he never asked for anything."

Over the following months they became close with Jonas. They learned that he was originally from a town called Cap-Haitien on the northern coast of Haiti, and that he walked alone to different towns across the Hispaniola Island to try to make money before reaching Las Terrenas. The journey took more than two months and included walking literally hundreds of miles. They learned that he shined shoes throughout the trip, recycling old Coke bottles to hold his polish, and that he was somewhere between 12-14 years old. They learned that he went by Jonas Julian, a made-up last name, because he never knew his father. But most importantly, they learned that Jonas' lifestyle was neither safe nor sustainable.

One night the Ohayons were out on the town, enjoying pizza at a local restaurant when they saw Jonas run by in the street. They'd never seen him at night before, but they could tell something was wrong. He told them that he had missed his bus home, and was planning on spending the night on a bench. But it soon became clear that something even darker was going on.

"It was evident he was being chased by a man," said Jaci. "The man was grown and very big. He came over and pushed Jonas, and Jonas gave him money. He said he had to pay for his protection. Basically he pays these men, and they don't hurt him. My husband got into it with the man, and he put his arms around Jonas and said he's with us. It was a really scary situation."

The Ohayons drove Jonas home to a dilapidated building that Stephan described as similar to the outhouse in "Shrek," where they first met Jonas' mother, Nelta Mondesir.

"This whole time I was thinking about how my son isn't much younger than Jonas, and about him being on the streets and what he would see," said Jaci. "I thought so much about where his mother is, and how she could let her kid do this. But when I saw her sobbing with relief when he showed up, it was huge for me. This might not be an ideal life, but he's loved. It's just such a different world than Summit County."

From that point on Jonas became a part of the Ohayons' family. They took him in, gave him his first night's sleep in a real bed, allowed him to take the first shower of his life and paid to send him to a Haitian school in the area. The adjustment to a more comfortable life was difficult at first. Jonas would wrap himself from head-to-toe in blankets before bed, not understanding that insects were no longer a concern, and spent his days seemingly trying to pay back the Ohayons.

"He would clean all day long," said Stephan. "At some point we had to tell him to stop. We had to tell him 'you don't work for us. You're part of us.'"

In school, despite never learning to read or write, Jonas showed a dedication to learning. He attended classes five days a week, along with meeting a French tutor twice a week. He took to studying aloud in his room with Maxim and Eleeana, and even began taking karate lessons. According to the Ohayons, his Spanish has grown strong, and he's made great strides in English and French.

In his free time, he would consume American media with the family, in awe of the luxurious American lifestyle.

"Watching American movies he'd ask if it's really like that," said Jaci. "He'd ask 'are your cars really that big? Your houses are really that big?' Everything blows his mind."

HOMECOMING

When the Ohayons came back to Summit County, they decided to find a way to let Jonas come with them. They reached out to The Peak School, which immediately took on the cause, agreeing to sponsor Jonas with a scholarship.

"We knew it was the right thing to do," said Travis Aldrich, head of the school. "When Jaci came in and told us about Jonas and his story, we wanted to do everything we could to help him on this journey. The school itself made an effort to make it work financially, and we've issued his visa."

But the process, even this far, has been staggeringly difficult. Jonas and his mother first had to make the trip back to Haiti and get Jonas a passport, a difficult task in Haiti given that Jonas doesn't have a father to sign his documents. It also involved bringing together documents from The Peak School, financial records, applications fees and more.

At the end of September, Jonas and his mother finally made the trip to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince for his interview. His application was swiftly denied.

According to Jaci, Jonas' visa was denied under section 214 B of The Immigration and Nationality Act, essentially stating that Jonas could not sufficiently demonstrate strong enough ties to his home country. In other words, officials believed that Jonas would refuse to return to Haiti after finishing school. She noted that it was the most common denial for individuals seeking temporary visas to the United States.

"It's unlikely for anybody to get to the United States," said Jaci. "Even for people in developed countries. We have programs with other countries like France where people can come over for a few months. But we don't have those programs with poorer countries. The fear is people who are in these countries don't want to stay there, and they don't want to go back at the end of their stay.

"Jonas is from Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. I do believe it was our own president who called it a 's***hole country.' So just being from Haiti, the chances of getting to America are very slim. And being from a very poor family makes it almost impossible. The way you show ties is by showing your family has jobs, a car, a nice house. His family doesn't have those things."

But the fight to get Jonas into the country is ongoing. The Ohayons and representatives from The Peak School decided to go political. They began reaching out to officials around the state before finally breaking through with Congressman Jared Polis.

"Jonas is being given an extraordinary opportunity by a family from my district and by The Peak School in Summit," said Polis. "What they are doing is truly beautiful and inspirational. It will change Jonas' life. I have always believed that education is the most effective pathway to opportunity. When my office is contacted by a constituent, we always try to provide the highest level of service possible. We are supporting their renewed application for a student visa before the Department of State in an effort to increase the likelihood of success."

Polis and his team drafted a letter asking officials at the embassy to consider Jonas' case more carefully, with hopes that a second application could get Jonas into the country. Jaci noted that Jonas' next interview could happen as early as Thursday, though even with a letter from Polis, approval may be a long shot. If Jonas' visa is approved, it would only remain valid through the school year, though there is a chance it could be extended after that.

"We're waiting to see," said Jaci. "You can apply for this application over and over again. But I can't make Jonas' family have money and good jobs."

Stephan emphasized that Jonas has every intention of returning to Haiti if his visa is granted.

"He wants to go back," said Stephan. "He wants to help his people. He wants to be an engineer, he always tells me that. He'll spend hours drawing and building."

THE FUTURE

It's uncertain whether Jonas' visa will be approved this time or not. If it's declined again, the Ohayons say they intend on continuing the efforts, they're just not sure how. One possibility is trying to get an athletic club to sponsor his visa (he's apparently a skilled soccer player). But the ideal scenario involves his visa simply being approved this time around.

Those involved in Jonas' story believe that the stakes are much higher than one boy getting to come to the United States or not. Not only would Jonas have a once unimaginable opportunity to educate himself, but his education could have far reaching effects on both the students at The Peak School, as well as his community in Haiti.

"Our mission is to graduate compassionate, confident, capable students who will embrace their roles as local and global citizens," said Aldrich. "Jonas helps us complete that picture. He's living proof of what it means to be a global citizen, and would help our students with that conversation the whole time he's here. We're very excited about that possibility."

The opportunity could also mean the elevation of his entire family.

"Jonas' big brother told us that since the beginning of time their family has been the lowest of the low in Haiti," said Jaci. "That this was the first opportunity any of them have ever had to pull themselves out of that class. They're all rallying behind him, because if this happens for Jonas it can change the future of their family. He could change so many people's futures."

But Jonas' arrival would also mean, in a sense, the completion of the Ohayon family.

"We love him, and he loves us," said Jaci. "He's a part of us. That's one of the cool things about his mom. We just both love him, and we're sharing this huge privilege of raising him. … I know the chances aren't good, but I really hope that he's on his way here soon. We already have his bedroom ready."

You can read the original article here.

Monica Mills
Where the wild things teach: The Peak School in Frisco imparts life skills through outdoor learning
A look at one of The Peak School's outdoor education orientation trips, inviting students to canoe the Colorado River in the days leading up to the start of school.

A look at one of The Peak School's outdoor education orientation trips, inviting students to canoe the Colorado River in the days leading up to the start of school.

SUMMIT DAILY NEWS: The weather is cooling down, the summer is coming to a close and the school year is about to begin. For most, that means back-to-school shopping, catching up on summer reading and trying to squeeze in the last bit of summer adventure they can. But for students at The Peak School in Frisco, the adventure still awaits.

Students at The Peak School, an independent college preparatory middle and high school, are gearing up to head out on their annual outdoor education orientation trips, taking students canoeing, mountain biking and climbing around Colorado and Utah. While the trips are meant to serve as a relaxing and fun way to dive back into the school year, they're also meant to teach students useful skills they can carry with them back to the classroom.

"One of the main pillars for Peak education is character, and we know that through outdoor education and bringing small groups out into the wilderness is a great way for them to connect with not only their peers, but adults as well," said Travis Aldrich, head of the school. "We put students in a position where they have to challenge themselves in a safe way, and we believe that's a really positive experience for young adults."

The entire school, about 65 students from grades 6-12, will embark on one of three different trips from Aug. 27-29 before the beginning of the school year on Aug. 30. Students are divided into mixed-aged groups of about 20, and groups rotate every year so that every student has a chance to try all the trips.

Trips include a canoeing adventure down the Colorado River in Utah, a mountain biking and hiking trip to Penitente Canyon in the San Luis Valley and a challenge course in Glenwood Springs. While their days will be filled with outdoor activities, students are also responsible for making their own food, putting up their own tents and more. Despite the work, students appreciate the opportunity to fend for themselves.

"One of our principles of the school is that the student is the worker, and the teacher is the coach," said Maggie Hoehn, a junior at The Peak School who took on the challenge course last year. "The teachers supervise and show us what to do. We're doing it all, but we have the coaching we need. It's the same thing in our classes. They help us learn, but it's not just having teachers talk at us."

For students it's also an opportunity for them to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, explore new ecosystems and even learn life lessons.

"The big goal is we want to be able to build community, teamwork, and foster young leaders," said Ben Butler, math teacher and head of the outdoor education program. "By creating different trips and having each student experience those, we're opening them up to new experiences that can push them to be leaders. … It's an opportunity to refine their teamwork and communication skills in a non-academic setting. It's learning by doing."

Leadership comes naturally to older students who have gone on trips before and are expected to act as mentors for younger kids who are struggling with tasks or social issues. That connection carries over to the school, creating an environment of comfort for students, sometimes six years apart, to engage with each other in the halls.

For teachers, it brings a chance to get to know students outside of the classroom as well.

"It's a lot of fun," said Butler. "You see different personalities come out. Being in a classroom, some students have a hard time getting outside of themselves. But in these trips we get to see different sides of them. We want to encourage that. Students often come back from this more open to participation and act as leaders in the classroom. It's an important piece to this trip."

This is only the second year that The Peak School has done multiple trips. Historically the entire school would go on a single trip before the school year, though the program was changed last year to give students more diverse experiences throughout their time at the school.

It's also possible that the program will continue to expand over the next few years, as the school looks to give students even more outdoor education opportunities.

"I think it's one of those things where because of our size we're sometimes limited," said Aldrich. "But we have the ability to send our whole school to get these kinds of experiences. It's one of those times our size can be used as a strength."

In the meantime, the students are perfectly happy with the offerings.

"It's great because you get to go to new places, see new things, learn new skills and be outside rather than being stuck in a classroom," said Hoehn. "We live in such a great place, we might as well take advantage of that."

You can read the original article here.

Monica Mills
9th Grader Ren Bittner is a National Champion
Ren Bittner_ USASA halfpipe skiing national championship

The Peak School's Ren Bittner (Class of '21) took first place this year in the USASA halfpipe skiing national championships.

We're honored to have top-notch student-athletes like Ren at The Peak School, and proud that we can support those students who wish to have the flexibility in their schedules to dedicate time to training and competing. 

Peak Alum Featured in Body Positivity Art Exhibit
Alumna Selah Kreeger '16 is a freshman at The New School in New York City. 

Alumna Selah Kreeger '16 is a freshman at The New School in New York City. 

NEW SCHOOL FREE PRESS — The New School’s Body Positivity Art Exhibit, sponsored by the Wellness and Health Promotion program at Student Health and Support services, will take place in Baldwin Rivera Boggs Social Justice Hub from Feb. 26 through March 16. It features selected works submitted by the students, faculty and staff, two of which received a financial reward of $100 and $50.

For some students, the exhibition provides an opportunity to reclaim pride in their identity. “I made a film of kind of accepting who I am and appreciating the fact that I might be a little bit more androgynous than somebody else and making it a part of my own unique beauty,” said Selah Kreeger, a sophomore studying psychology at Lang.

Other artists see the exhibition as a way to oppose social stereotypes, celebrating the beauty of diversity. “I want to embrace the aging of women and I want to celebrate the wrinkles,” said Rui Zhou, an MFA fashion design and society student.

Many used the exhibit to take a stance on social issues. “I would love for it to be 100 percent celebration, but this topic is too loaded for it to not be considered a cry for action,” said Martina Travia, a senior photography student.

Often participants share a deeply personal experience, in attempt to help their peers, struggling with similar problems. “I like to depict female figures eating. It’s been really stigmatized,” said Athena Rigas, a fine arts senior. “I guess it’s kind of good to create stuff that you didn’t see growing up.”

Regardless of individual background and artistic intentions, the participants emphasized the urgency of collective dialogue. “We have to consciously celebrate body types that differ from the societal standards, and start to unlearn what we’ve been taught for years,” said Beatrice Helman, an MFA creative writing student.

The Spring 2017 National College Health Assessment surveyed 1,190 New School students. Of those surveyed, 34.1 percent reported that their personal appearance felt “traumatic or very difficult to handle” within the last 12 months. “There’s so much pressure to look the certain way, and there are rewards for looking the certain way, and there are penalties for not,” said Rachel Knopf, director of Wellness and Health Promotion.

Particularly at Parsons, students’ exposure to the demanding standards of the fashion industry affects their self-esteem. “How people present themselves is very different from any other school. You never see people in sweatpants,” said Ellory Camejo, a junior fashion design student and Peer Health Advocate at Student Health Services. “Trying to have a certain image is a big problem here.”

There is no single solution on how to amplify students’ confidence, but many saw the exhibit as a promising start. “Creating a space in the first place to be able to talk about things like this is just one step forward to achieving overall body positivity,” Kreeger said.

By Toma Volozhanina

See the original article here

Peak School Hosts Inaugural Alumni Breakfast & Panel Discussion
The class of 2017 gathers around their newly installed class photo (Santinelli/Peak).

The class of 2017 gathers around their newly installed class photo (Santinelli/Peak).

Last June, The Peak School waved goodbye to our first graduating class, sending students across the globe from Olympia, Washington to New York City to Edinburgh Scotland. 

So with open arms, fresh baked pancakes, and a lot of questions, we welcomed back those first pioneers on Thursday, December 21 for the first Peak School Alumni Breakfast and Panel Discussion. 

Our entire Middle and High School gathered in the Community Room to hear stories and seek advice from the class of 2017. 

We look forward to making this a tradition at The Peak School for many years to come!

Harvest Gathering Event Benefits The Peak School & Education Foundation

Harvest Gathering is This Week!

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Mark your calendars for the third annual Harvest Gathering on October 5 from 6-9pm at the Rio Grande Restaurant in Frisco, CO! This event combines delectable food from local restaurants paired with tastings of wine, beer and spirits, along with music and a large silent and live auction. All proceeds benefit The Peak School and the Education Foundation of the Summit.

As with last year, guests can meander throughout the upper and lower levels of Rio, tasting and nibbling. The silent auction items include things like gift certificates to Sauce on the Blue, original artwork, spa treatments and more. New this year is an entire group of sports memorabilia items, like an autographed Peyton Manning Super Bowl 50 ball, Peter Forsberg signed Avs logoed puck and more.  Of course, the live auction will feature some amazing treats, including a week’s stay at a luxurious Costa Rican property, a pair of skis, and a custom beer brewing experience. The wildly popular “Barrel of Wine” and “Buckets of Beer” will be raffled off, too. The Peak School is collecting auction donations through Tuesday October 3rd.  Once again, Peak families also are invited to drop off a bottle of wine or 6-pack of beer for the raffle barrel/buckets at the school by noon Wednesday.

Tickets are $40 in advance or $45 at the door. They are available for purchase through EventBrite by clicking HERE.

Karen Mathis
Colorado’s Best Kid- Grant Morgan On Fox News

If your students are gearing up to take college entrance exams like the ACT, SAT, and AP, one of Colorado's Best Kids has some great advice. Grant Morgan is a 2017 graduate of The Peak School in Frisco, CO. His nickname is "The Test Master" because he's aced so many of these tests.  See his top five tips below.

Grant is also an accomplished pianist, who has written an original sonata, and he speaks fluent Chinese and conversational Spanish.  He also loves the great outdoors and traveling the world.  He's leaving soon for a 5-month nature and leadership course in Patagonia.  After his trip, he plans to study medicine & neuroscience and become a neurosurgeon.

Grant’s Test-Taking Tips:

  1. Choose your tests wisely.  You are about to devote months of your life to tests like Advanced Placement exams, so the best thing you can do to score well is choose a subject(s) you have passion for. You don't have to love studying for these tests, but what you learn should at least spark your curiosity.
  2. Get some sleep. I pulled an all-nighter before the Advanced Placement American Government exam and I barely recall the three hours I spent taking it. This lack of recollection is proof enough that a good night’s rest is critical. Overall, sleep helps keep you healthy and steadies your nerves – and it’s one of the easiest things you can do.
  3. Take advantage of free resources and be creative with others.
  4. Get experience in your field of interest and subject matter and be prepared to apply the knowledge you’ve gained before test day.
  5. Finally, start studying now: the earlier, the better. This is a process – a journey with a beginning, middle and end.

Read the original article at Fox31 Denver. 

Frisco’s Peak School embraces growth process under new leadership
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Watch an interview with Travis at Summit Daily's website.

PUBLISHED IN SUMMIT DAILY: Starting into its sixth year, The Peak School in Frisco sees itself as past the stages of crawling and walking; the county's only private secondary school hopes to now begin hitting its stride.

After graduating its first class of seniors last spring and bringing on its next administrative leader this fall, the small program serving sixth through 12th grades is reinvesting in its unique outdoor education curriculum, more

holistic approach to instruction, as well as expanding enrollment. Some of that's easier said than done, but the idea is that as Summit's year-

round population continues to grow, so too will the need for academic alternatives to suit all students.

"I looked at Summit County, as we're the only offering for independent schools, and I saw a place that could really capitalize on our relationship with the community," said Travis Aldrich, Peak's new head of school. "I really felt like I had a vision for where this place could go, and I felt like I had the answers. I saw the potential for growth here and that's a real opportunity for us."

Aldrich, 41, arrives to Summit after nearly 20 years as a teacher and administrator at other independent programs on both coasts and in Colorado. Most recently, he spent four years as the director of the high school program at the Vail Mountain School in Eagle County.

With an extensive background in coaching and as a summer camp counselor, Aldrich believed engaging students and families in lesson plans outside of the classroom could really separate the school from what others in the community could provide.

"That allows teachers to connect, and I think that's a really big piece about a quality education, is having teachers that interact with students not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom," he said. "Great schools allow teachers that option. The more opportunity they have to interact with students, the more that they're going to trust each other, and I think that's a big piece of where things go."

In past years, Peak began each school year with an orientation field trip for every student to attend together and gain familiarity with instructors in addition to each other. To kick off the 2017-18 academic calendar, however, those options were expanded to three choices — a canoe trip in Moab, a team-building ropes course experience and a hiking trip to explore a canyon in southern Colorado.

Students can also look forward to other upcoming outdoor opportunities, including a mountain day with an assortment of area activities, from hiking and fly-fishing, to bicycling and paddleboarding. On top of an annual rafting trip, several hut trips throughout the winter are a part of the standard curriculum, too.

"And we're looking at enhancing those programs, because we really feel like it's something that all of our students and families really believe in," said Aldrich. "We really feel like that helps to separate us from other opportunities in the county."

Still boasting key components like the county's only Chinese language instruction and a nontraditional, mastery-based grading system that runs on a six-point scale rather than the standard 'A' through 'F' framework, the program continues to stress the importance of a high academic rigor. Into just its second round of seniors, the employing of a part-time college advisor, who may soon shift to a full-time role, helps emphasize the value Peak intends to put on post-secondary placements looking ahead.

With just 70 or so students, class sizes remain small — in some cases as few as eight — providing for more personalized attention and one-on-one interaction between teachers and students. That comes at a price, of course, with the current cost of attendance at $17,500 per year. However, Aldrich said more than 70 percent of families receive some amount of financial assistance, and maintaining the ability for anyone who fits the Peak mold to attend is central to the board's mission.

To bring more students into the program with its flexible afternoon scheduling — and that provides seniors a full quarter for work on their capstone project in any part of the world to pursue their passions — another element of intended to boost attendance is appealing to more elite athletes who call Summit home at least part of the year. The goal is to attract a larger number of ski racers who have aspirations of high-level competition, and aligning the Peak's daily class obligations to the regional training schedules will help secure those types of recruits.

As an articulated building block for The Peak School's model today and into the future, the thought is the program will become a destination for these specialized students who require online and remote learning opportunities to complete their studies. And from there, it may only be a matter of time before the transition from crawling and walking to running becomes a full-on sprint.

"Look where we are," said Aldrich. "We have a ton of ski areas around us, we need to be capturing more of those winter sport athletes. I think we're going to see more and more families start to get curious about our program and want to know more about it. And when they come in and they hear about how supportive we can be, I think it's going to be a natural draw."

Mastery-Based Learning Gains Traction Across the Country

The Peak School philosophy believes whole-heartedly in student-centered learning and a progressive form of assessment known in the education world as 'standards-based grading,' which encourages 'mastery-based learning.' Though veterans of the standards-based system, Peak is now joined by a slew of school across the nation, who are adopting similar forms of learning and assessing. In August 2017, the New York Times' Kyle Spencer dug into what exactly mastery-based learning means for students and teachers in a myriad of schools across New York City.

He does an excellent job highlighting voices from teachers, students, administrators, and researchers, who both advocate for and question mastery-based learning. Read more on their various perspectives and classroom anecdotes here.

Two Opinions On Standards-Based Grading

Proposed Mastery Transcript from the MTC/W.Dix

The Peak School adopted standards-based grading early in the school's history, and the trend is becoming increasingly popular, so popular that Colleges may soon need to re-examine their admission processes. In a recent opinion piece, Forbes contributor Willard Dix writes,"it presents a significant and necessary challenge to the status quo of transcript construction and, more significantly, the ways we measure student achievement. If a significant number of public schools join the conversation, it may be a watershed moment in how we approach preparing students for college." Dix notes that it's significant that this change is coming from the secondary schools, rather than universities "imposing changes from above." Still, some are nervous about the shift, especially parents who still rely on traditional grading systems as a yardstick for measuring their child's success in school. Back in March, Lisa Westman—an instructional coach in Chicago's public school system—wrote a piece for Education Week, which was inspired by a friend facing this exact concern. Had standards-based grading made her daughter go from 'A's to average? Westman assured her friend, it had not and even outlined the fallacies and assumptions people make about standards-based grading. Read more from Dix and Westman below.

—> A Proposal To Radically Revise High School Transcripts May Alter College Admission  By Willard Dix

—> Standards-Based Grading Made My Kid Average By Lisa Westman

Caroline Santinelli
Peak Graduate Grant Morgan Featured on Channel 9 News

Colorado's Channel 9 News recently featured Peak graduate Grant Morgan, who took 17 Advanced Placement tests over his last two years at The Peak School. Rather than jump into college right away, Grant is taking a gap year, during which he will spend time in the mountains of Patagonia and be working on his application for Columbia University, where he hopes to continue his studies.

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Read the full article here.

Meet our new Upper School English Teacher: Caroline Santinelli

The Peak School is pleased to announce Caroline Santinelli as our new Upper School English Teacher! Here is a little bio from her:

Hi folks! My name is Caroline Santinelli. I'm an east coast transplant to the Rockies, originally from Concord, Massachusetts, but for the last year, I've called Leadville home. I earned my bachelor's degree from Middlebury College, where I studied Environmental Nonfiction Writing (very liberal arts) and minored in Education Studies. Currently, I spend summers back in the Green Mountains of Vermont at the Bread Loaf School of English, where I am earning a master's degree in English Language and Literature. Before I began teaching, I had a brief career in digital media. Through this journey, I was lucky enough to be part of a pilot program for the National Geographic Society’s Storytelling Bootcamp as an organizer and an assistant video instructor. In the process, I realized how much I missed being in an instructive role—developing curiosity and inspiring deeper learning—which brought me back to the high school English classroom last year. I love all manner of outdoor activities, particularly climbing and backcountry skiing. When I’m not in the mountains, I spend time reading, writing, cooking, and listening to podcasts. I’m thrilled to be joining The Peak School community, and I look forward to getting to know everyone!

Caroline Santinelli
Division III Rafting Trip was a Splash!

Our Division III students just returned home after a week long rafting trip on the Colorado’s Green River. The section of the Green River that these students conquered is called the Gates of Lodore, which is the entry to the Lodore Canyon in northwestern Colorado. The trip started off on Monday with students loading up their gear in vans and driving four hours to Craig, Colorado. Once they were there, they set up camp at the Gates of Lodore Campground for the night where they met their raft guides during a meet & greet session. Tuesday, after covering safety aspects, equipment, river etiquette, and other information pertaining to geology and history of the surrounding area, students boarded their boats and started floating down stream. The day on the river ends around 5:00pm where they then set up camp for the night at a designated campsite where they made dinner and had campfire conversations until going bags in.

On Wednesday, the group of Division III students came up on a section of the river that had more rapids than the previous day. Guides pulled their boats to the shore to get out and scout the river and made sure they knew the route they wanted to take was safe. Once getting through the white water, the day looked pretty similar to Tuesday with a lunch stop, getting back on the river for a while, then pulling off to set up camp. Thursday offered very sunny skies and gave the group the warmest weather of the trip. Students enjoyed the weather by jumping in the river to swim and cool off.

The group ended their four days on the river at Split Mountain in Jensen, Utah around 1:00pm on Friday. Once they arrived at their destination, students gathered all their gear and loaded in back into the vans to return home to Frisco.

The annual Division III raft trip was a huge success, as usual, and was a great outdoor educational experience for these students. Upon going on this trip, students read the book Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey to help give them insight on the land they were about to adventure in to. Not only did students learn about the river and the land surrounding it, but they grew relationships, made memories and shared plenty of laughs.

Caroline Santinelli