ASPEN - For many people, the Thanksgiving holiday was a time to go back home, a time to be with family and old friends. But for more than two dozen Aspen School District staffers, every day is a bit like this.
"One of the main reasons I moved back to the area was so that my son, Vinny Johnson, could receive the benefit of an amazing education within the Aspen School District - all while growing up within a community that cherishes and values our children, their education and futures as well as an appreciation for the valley and planet they live on," said district alum and Aspen Middle School teacher Bruce Johnson, adding that his son is currently attending the University of Colorado, where both he and his sister graduated after attending Aspen High School. "It speaks to something to see so many former graduates and current teachers moving back to the area in which we were raised, in order to raise our own children here.
"I know that some families have even more generations coming through our school system and laying further roots in the valley."
In fact, 27 Aspen School District employees - more than 10 percent of the entire staff - are Aspen alumni. And the district's current student body includes at least 179 students whose parents attended the Aspen schools (25 students have both parents who are alumni).
The group of teachers and students gathered before the Thanksgiving holiday for a photo and to share stories. Some families have sent several generations of kids through the Aspen schools.
"My family has been in the valley for three generations, so for me, there are some strong community ties," said Bente Doolan, an Aspen School District alum who teaches at Aspen Middle School (along with her sister) and whose children attend Aspen Elementary School. "So what it means to me is giving my children the same close network that I had growing up in this community.
"I think so many of us have returned here to work and raise our families because we love the small-town atmosphere and all that it offers us and our children."
Aspen Superintendent John Maloy said he definitely sees the benefits of having so many students - and teachers - with deep roots in the community.
"It is a positive statement for the schools when alumni wish to return to the school district they attended, not only to enroll their children in the schools but to seek employment in the schools, as well," he said. "These individuals bring a history of the hard work, high expectations and struggles that were necessary in building the community into an attractive place to live and in shaping the schools into desirable places to educate the community's children.
"Their knowledge and understanding of this history helps to maintain the spirited and determined culture that exists in Aspen and its schools today."