Kaya Williams: Drinking from the firehose

An education reporter’s education in, er, education

Kaya Williams, reporter for the Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun
Reporter Kaya Williams conducts an interview at the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Old Snowmass while covering the education and Snowmass beats on Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“Once the school year is over, then my calendar will really open up.”

I couldn’t even make it one year out from college graduation before I was thinking it again — this time, though, on the other side of the classroom doors while covering the education beat for the Aspen Times.

For the past two months, I’ve been drinking from the firehose in school board meetings and interviews and informational chats. It’s the kind of situation in which I don’t know what I don’t know until the time comes to know it and I don’t. (And as someone who was a know-it-all in high school, that isn’t always the easiest thing for me to acknowledge.)

I’ll admit it took a day or two to realize that the AEA and the AEF are different entities (the Aspen Education Association represents teachers; the nonprofit Aspen Education Foundation fundraisers for school programs). It took a few weeks to understand what “the bond” that everyone talked about in school board meetings actually entailed. I’m still getting the lay of the land when it comes to parking on campus for stories; consider this a blanket apology if I steal your parking space (or have stolen your space) without realizing it.

I’m getting an education in, well, education, and I owe much of it to the people in the school community who have kindly fielded my semi-frantic on-deadline emails and phone calls during what might be the busiest weeks of their year.

After 18 years as a student — and now just 12 months removed from being in school myself, where I had a future teacher for a roommate and a best friend — it turns out there was still a whole lot I didn’t realize about what it takes to make something happen that I know I took for granted.

My own high school was much like Aspen’s: outdoorsy and tight-knit, with a focus on both athletics and academics. We didn’t have a chairlift out the back door, but we did have miles of nordic skiing trails; steeper slopes were only 20 minutes away.

We also had an Independent Study and Ski Academy, which allowed competitive athletes to train and travel and take remote classes or courses with other local providers to make up the lost class time. When some kids went to fifth-period band, others headed for the mountain or the Ski Academy classroom to catch up on work.

To me, it doesn’t sound far off from the HyFlex program currently in the works at Aspen School District, which could use some of the remote-learning tools that came about during the pandemic to give students more flexibility.

The biggest difference is that when I was in school, Ski Academy was a fact of life, like having an art class or history lecture after lunch; now on the back end, I see how much planning, thought and community feedback goes into programs like these — and how much planning, thought and community feedback also goes into ensuring that art class and that history lecture are options for students, too.

Reporting on senior awards nights and proms and graduations has the same effect.

My own college graduation technically hasn’t happened yet. My senior year wrapped up when I filed my last final from home in California after the pandemic turned a two-week extended spring break into a six-month vacation; the ceremony for the class of 2020 has been bundled in with alumni weekend in October 2021.

But I can’t imagine spending all of senior year in and out of an online classroom that I only had to endure for six weeks. “Resilient” seems to be the word of the year, especially for the class of 2021, but I’d like to add “grit” to that list too. These students and the community that rallied around them are tough as nails; it takes a heck of a dedicated eye on the summer prize to get through a year like the one they’ve just endured.

I’ve always liked those end-of-year festivities, as both an active participant and as an observer; now, to play the part of the chronicler in this momentous sendoff makes me feel like I’m celebrating in a way, too.

Kaya Williams tips her hat to the class of 2021 graduates who toss their caps in the air this spring. She covers Snowmass Village and the education beat for the Snowmass Sun and The Aspen Times. Email her at