Aspen High students leave campus for ‘real world’ classroom
ASPEN – When the school bell rings at 8:10 a.m., Aspen High School senior Channing Seideman isn’t sitting at a desk. When school lets out at 3:10 p.m., sophomore Erik Pizarro won’t jump on the school bus. And after baseball practice, junior Dominic Rinaldi doesn’t head home to do homework. But all three are getting school credit as part of Aspen High’s Extended Learning Opportunities program. Introduced this year, ELOs offer students a chance to earn elective credit by working at a local business. For Seideman, it’s the Cozy Point Barn, Pizarro works at D&D Auto, and Rinaldi tunes skis at Pomeroy Sports.The idea is nothing new; Aspen High students have long had the chance to do independent study courses. But ELOs are different, says AHS Principal Art Abelmann. They offer more of a vocational-technical course of study, an alternative to the traditional classroom environment.”Educating kids shouldn’t be limited to 8-to-3 inside the school walls,” he explains. “Kids learn differently. And they should be able to earn credit for all of their learning, regardless of where it takes place.”My goal is to reward students for the things they learn, and oftentimes that isn’t in the school setting. Oftentimes, it’s in the workforce.”Due in part to its small size and limited resources, AHS offers few traditional voc-tech classes, now referred to as “career and technology” classes. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for such opportunities, Abelmann contends.In fact, he believes Aspen High’s student population actually follows a bell curve. He estimates 20 percent of students are on a straightforward path to academic excellence, 20 percent are struggling, and 60 – the vast majority – fall somewhere between these two extremes. “Aspen High is much more diverse than many people think,” he explains. “Yes, most kids will go to college. But not everyone, and we are charged with educating everyone. Plus, not every kid that will go to college learns best with books, lectures and so on.”AHS counselors Emily Weingart and Josh Berro agree.”Not every kid thrives sitting a desk,” says Berro. “Not every kid is taking IB classes and going to a four-year university. These students are people, and they are all different.””And that’s OK,” adds Weingart. “We want kids to know it’s OK to follow a different path. But we want to be sure we give them the tools to succeed no matter what path they take.As such, Weingart and Berro have long seen the need for hands-on learning for many of their charges. Plus, starting next year, state requirements will demand that all high school students have a career plan in place.Thus the introduction of ELOs, where students can earn two or more elective credits during their time at AHS for learning a trade or just following their passion. “We want to make sure kids leave this school with some solid skills, whether they are academic or real-world or both,” says Abelmann, who will monitor ELO students and design the curriculum on an individual basis. “ELOs offer a different way of achieving this goal.”According to Abelmann, students who do an ELO are still required to meet all of their other academic requirements. ELOs – which equate to working about two 90-minute shifts per week – cannot be used for all of a student’s elective credit, however, as Abelmann insists that kids continue to explore elective subjects like art, theater and music.”This is about meeting all of our students’ needs; it’s about finding creative ways to educate and engage our students; it’s about helping each and every kid be successful,” he says, adding that his ultimate goal is to graduate well-rounded students. Seideman, Pizarro and Rinaldi are just these types of kids, say Abelmann, Weingart and Berro. Here are their stories, and why ELOs are a perfect fit for their Aspen High School email@example.com
Very little in Channing Seideman’s life has been “normal.” Diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy when she was 10, Seideman essentially missed middle school and has never attended high school like other kids. Though she takes three types of medication, she still suffers from regular seizures; at least one each month leaves her unconscious.”Well, it’s definitely helped me mature a lot,” says Seideman. “But it’s also made things a little different for me.”For example, her health makes attending school in the morning nearly impossible. She often has to take tests differently. Her friends, she says, are mostly adults because she can relate better to them.”Channing’s world is definitely different than most of our kids,” says Aspen High School Principal Art Abelmann. “But she’s done an amazing job of adapting and succeeding.”ELOs, even before they were a formal part of the AHS curriculum, have played a huge part in Seideman’s success.”The Aspen School District has been great in working with me,” says Seideman, who will graduate in May. “We’ve been able to create ways for me to learn and move ahead, without having to just be in a classroom, because that really doesn’t work for me.”Among the myriad ways Seideman has achieved her diploma are by taking CMC courses for high school credit and by working for credit with animals.Long a fan of horses, Seideman has always ridden. Now she’s taking that passion to another level by working at the Cozy Point Barn for credit. As someone with a disability, she knows and appreciates what animals can do for a person’s health.To that point, Seideman also has a service dog. She recently spent several weeks at “boot camp” learning how to work with her Golden-doodle, Georgie. The experience turned into a school project when her film teacher asked her to make a documentary about her experience.”Georgie is so important to me. She allows me to be more independent, and I have learned so much from her,” says Seideman. “I have learned so much from all of my experiences with animals; they are lessons I will use forever.”Abelmann agrees.”I would have to say that Channing has probably learned more from working Georgie than she would ever have learned in school,” he says. “And that’s what matters sometimes. It’s not necessarily where you are learning, it’s what you are learning.”
Aspen High School sophomore Erik Pizarro wants be an attorney some day. But he realizes the road to a law degree will include both school and work, and won’t be direct.So Pizarro, who moved to Aspen this year from Mexico, has a plan. “I like cars a lot, and my dad in Mexico said he wanted me to learn about cars … that it would be a good skill to have,” says Pizarro. “So it was great when I found out I could learn about cars through school.”In fact, Pizarro approached AHS counselor Emily Weingart about the possibility of working at a local auto shop for school credit. Coincidentally, AHS principal Art Abelmann had just introduced the idea of Extended Learning Opportunities to his staff.”Erik’s a pretty impressive kid to take that initiative,” says Weingart. “And it was perfect timing. This is a great example of why ELOs are important and proof that they can work.”Pizarro is now spending two afternoons a week at D&D Auto at the Aspen Business Center, learning to be a mechanic. “I don’t think I’ll be a mechanic forever,” admits Pizarro. “But I’m sure I’ll have a car and now I can fix it. Plus, it could be a job I can always do.”People always need to have their cars fixed.”Alongside the technical skills Pizarro is learning at the auto shop, he is learning about the importance of hard work.”I like school, but I think there are a lot of kids like me who also like to work,” says Pizarro. “It’s good to learn about working, because that’s really what we’re going to have to do once we’re done with high school.”Weingart agrees.”Erik knows he’s going to have work when he finishes high school,” she says. “By working at the auto shop, he’s learning those skills now – and he’s getting school credit.”And that’s what this program is all about.”
Dominic Rinaldi plays baseball and soccer. He loves to ski and hang out with his friends. He’s in the Aspen High School guitar club. All in all, Rinaldi’s a pretty typical high school junior.”But school itself has always been a little difficult for me,” says Rinaldi. “I don’t really do my best just sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture.”His parents – a kindergarten teacher and small-business owner – recognized this too. And together, they began to think about other ways for Rinaldi to learn.”My parents are really supportive,” says Rinaldi. “They want me to succeed and they have helped me figure out ways to do that.”Case in point: Rinaldi’s Extended Learning Opportunity at Pomeroy Sports, where he spends two evenings a week learning to tune skis.”It’s been great,” says Rinaldi. “I’ve learned a lot about skis, and business. And I think it’s actually pushed me to do better in other things.”Plus, his work at Pomeroy plays perfectly into his long-term plan.”I want to go to CMC in Steamboat. They have some type of ski tech degree, so this is ideal,” says Rinaldi, adding that he wants to always live in a ski town, so having a skill like ski tuning is a perfect fall-back plan.”That’s the whole idea behind ELOs,” says Aspen High School counselor Josh Berro. “To give kids the tools they need to succeed outside of the school’s walls.”Not every kid is going to go to a four-year college, and even if they do, many will need to work. This program gives them the chance to learn a skill they can take with them.”Rinaldi agrees.”It’s a great experience. I’ve really learned a lot,” he says. “And I think it’s so great that we are being given a chance to learn like this. “I think there are a lot of other kids who would benefit from this.”
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The coronavirus pandemic provided an unlikely springboard for the Aspen Brain Institute’s programs, allowing them to go virtual and global and sustain a large audience outside of its Aspen bubble.