As Little Red Schoolhouse enters new chapter, a look back at its history |

As Little Red Schoolhouse enters new chapter, a look back at its history

Play, collaboration and family have long been part of the Little Red’s ethos

Snow covers the grounds of The Little Red Schoolhouse child care center and preschool Tuesday.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

On Tuesday, the Little Red Schoolhouse began a new chapter in its 128-year history: It was the first day of school under the leadership of Christina Holloway, who also operates Woody Creek Kids.

Though the child care and early childhood education center on Owl Creek Road will now operate under the Woody Creek Kids umbrella, it is still the Little Red Schoolhouse in name and in physical appearance — and, history shows, in principle, too.

The one-room schoolhouse that the center is named for has been around for more than a century. It opened in 1894 as the Brush Creek School, a one-room schoolhouse for students between first and ninth grade, according to a history of the institution in the 2014 book “The Story of Snowmass.”

A benefit celebration in the summer of 1976 helped raise money to fix up the Little Red School House as a preschool and community center. Hildur Hoaglund Anderson is playing her accordion with the band.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

Hildur Hoaglund Anderson — the “beloved daughter of Brush Creek” and a longtime teacher in the Roaring Fork Valley — attended and later taught at the schoolhouse, according to the book. She remained a part of the school’s history even in her later years and played her accordion at a benefit in the 1970s for much-needed repairs to the building.

That fundraiser was part of a community effort to revive the institution, which was due for a roof replacement, siding repairs and new insulation. It had fallen into disrepair as students started to attend “more modern” schools in Aspen, according to “The Story of Snowmass.”

The effort was a success, one that ushered in a new era for the school now known as the Little Red Schoolhouse. It reopened a few years later, led by Nancy Dunham; a second building, which previously housed Alpine Bank, was relocated to the campus in the late 1980s and currently serves as a toddler center.

The institution has operated for most of the past four decades as a nonprofit and became a tax-exempt organization in 1984, according to ProPublica’s online nonprofit database; the new chapter of its history under the Woody Creek Kids umbrella will mark a departure from that because Holloway operates the organization as a for-profit business.

The Little Red Schoolhouse will still pay just $1 per year in rent to the town of Snowmass Village, which owns the parcel of land the facilities sit on, according to an updated lease that the Town Council approved at a Dec. 20 meeting.

The Little Red Schoolhouse, pictured here in 1972.
Ann Hodges/Aspen Historical Society Ann Hodges Collection

As for what goes on within the two buildings on the Little Red Schoolhouse site, Holloway has said she’ll be implementing the Reggio Emilia Approach at the Little Red Schoolhouse just as she does at Woody Creek Kids. The philosophy is similar to that of a Montessori school with an emphasis on self-directed experiential learning and a community founded on close relationships. Holloway also said she wants to foster a sense of “one family” among the Woody Creek Kids and Little Red Schoolhouse cohort.

A black and white photo of the Brush Creek School (later called the Little Red Schoolhouse) circa 1960.
Loey Ringquist/Aspen Historical Society Ringquist Collection

It’s an ethos that has been at the core of the Little Red Schoolhouse since before it was even the Little Red, albeit not with the Reggio Emilia flag flying. Anderson, whose sister Rose also taught at the school when Hildur was a student in the 1920s, recalled a daily routine that began with games and allowed students to learn at their own pace while working together, too.

“We learned early in the game to go ahead with our own work and not pay attention to what others were doing unless we wanted to listen to interesting things and learn work ahead of time,” Anderson said in “Colorado My Heart,” an interview manuscript by William Gilbert. (The excerpt was highlighted in a 2017 Snowmass history article contributed by the Aspen Historical Society to the Snowmass Sun.)

“All in all, we learned a lot about cooperating and being nice to each other during those play times,” Anderson said of her time as a student at the school in the 1920s.

Marnie Mosiman and David Gensch share a summer moment at the Little Red Schoolhouse on the cover of Snowmass Affairs in July 1981. The cover story, titled "The Little Red Schoolhouse That Could," detailed the history of the institution and featured photos by David Brownell of children collaborating and learning through play.
Aspen Historical Society Snowmass Affairs Collection

The principle remained the same in the 1980s: A Snowmass Affairs cover story from July 1981 showcased photos of students collaborating and learning through play, often in the natural space that surrounds the schoolhouse.

Robin Sinclair, who was the director for the last six and a half years before Holloway took the reins, said she embraced the idea of play and community, too. (She’s still deciding what her next pursuits will be.)

“We tried to allow the children to explore new experiences for themselves, but we also mixed that in with some formalized education — it was a little bit of both,” Sinclair said in an interview Dec. 29.

The notion of “family” has long been at the heart of the feeling at the Little Red Schoolhouse, Sinclair said.

“That’s what we went for was to try and make it as inviting and caring and a place that people would want to be (as we could),” Sinclair said.


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