Willoughby: Aspen Country Day School — 50 years | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Aspen Country Day School — 50 years

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies

Aspen Country Day School 1976 graduation: Helen Bonzi, Sarah Hoyt, Annie Kruckman, Stephanie Shellman with Edgar Stern presenting diplomas. Photo Courtesy Aspen Historical Society-Aspen Times collection

Reaching the 50-year milestone for ACDS elicits many perspectives from present and former students and families, and from the community in general. My time there spanned a quarter of those years, the early ones. One of the valuable components of a silver anniversary is to step back from the day-to-day, or for a school the annual school year cycle, to look back and reflect on institutional memory.

The location of the school has helped shape its personality. In the early years there was a love-hate relationship to the site. The campus donated by R.O. Anderson to the Music Festival in 1965 was a good location for practicing musicians whose hours of practicing scales in town raise local ire. But having a school out of town ( at that time) meant students couldn’t walk or bike to school made the choice to send children there more complicated. (solved later by having a bus).

But it was a good match. The festival only needed it for nine weeks a year and the school did not need it in the summers. When ACDS moved in none of the new festival buildings were heated so the school operated within the Victorian mining office building. The building’s rooms were not designed for classrooms, improvising was required. I remember a high school class that met in a small room with folding desks that at the beginning and end of each period had to be folded and unfolded because there was not room to walk between the desks.

First through fourth grades were housed in the basement in what the festival used as a cafeteria. At that time ACDS had combined grades so ACDS erected a partition to split the room into three sections, two for classrooms and one for a lunch room. This was rustic space. One year my students entertained themselves for a while when a busy-tailed wood rat paraded in the rafters above and at night would take shiny objects like pencil eraser parts. The creaky old building fostered the creation of a resident ghost, Mad Bess.

Fall was a beautiful but short time, winter was frigid and endless, spring didn’t come until the last couple of weeks of the school year. Included in the school year cycle was that every single object from desks to science lab fish tanks had to be moved and stored for the summer and then reassembled just before school opened.

Lacking, at that time, anything that resembled a ‘real school’ campus helped fashion the more important component, the students and teachers. For years the school was under-enrolled so classes were small, especially in the high school classes. The graduation picture above is not a part of the class it is the whole class. Especially for high school students, that meant a different kind of climate. In a larger school there are cliques with students gravitating to where they are comfortable (and uncomfortable being shunned by other cliques. In those very small classes everyone was welcome and important and students did not have to conform to the dictates of a clique, they could be themselves.

Student-teacher ratio guaranteed a different kind of learning environment one where all students participated and individual needs could be met. In addition, since there was no gym for winter P.E. ACDS had a ski program two afternoons a week and teachers skied with students (not teaching skiing) creating an informal environment where students could see teachers in a different light and visa versa. It had an outdoor education program where students (and their teachers) in 5th through 12th grade spent a week together in the first week of the year. In a town where there is frequent faculty and student turnover the usual friend and teacher bonding time of weeks , even months, was reduced to just one week.

Like many Aspen institutions, those who are or have been involved with ACDS understand how it is different and special. For everyone else please know that it took 50 years to get where it is and that it adds an important facet to what is Aspen. A well deserved 50th silver anniversary!

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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