Su Lum: Slumming |

Su Lum: Slumming

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I have to begin this column with a slew of disclaimers. My daughter Hillery was a student at the Aspen Community School when it first started in the old Physics Institute buildings in 1975. My daughter Skye is the executive director of Compass, which encompasses the Aspen Community School and the Carbondale Community School.

My granddaughter Riley was a student at the Aspen Community School from kindergarten through her graduation from the eighth grade.

So you can rightly say that I have more than a passing interest in the school’s welfare.

When I went up there a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t visited the school since Riley’s graduation, but, as always, the second I went through the door I was overwhelmed by the spirit of the place. Just as it did in the mid-’70s and mid-’90s, it zings with positive, creative energy.

Nothing could be further from my education in Boonton, N.J., where the principal was definitely not your “pal,” everyone was in the same place in “the book,” children were to be seen but not heard, and the teachers ruled with iron fists. No sixth-grade child associated with a fifth-grader, no one in 7A (smart kids) associated with 7B’s (dumb kids).

In contrast, the Aspen Community School kids are like a big happy family. They discuss, they debate, they question, they have regular school-wide meetings where they can express ideas and feelings, and most of all, they are enthused about learning. Creating lifelong learners is a principal goal of the school.

One of Riley’s graduation events was the presentation of her eighth-grade portfolio. Each student described the experience of the school and wrote an essay on the subjects, “I Believe,” and “Who am I,” then delivered in front of their teachers, family, friends and anyone else who might drop by. Riley spoke to a full room for more than an hour, fully confident and at ease.

I would have sooner died than do that at age 13. Furthermore, I had no idea who I was or what I believed – had never even thought about it.

When Riley went on to Colorado Rocky Mountain School, she had never received a grade for her schoolwork. She was nervous about it – how would she stack up? But after four years at CRMS and now in her senior year at Bennington College, she has never gotten less than an A in any of her many subjects.

Aspen Community School is a helluva facility for the kids who are a good fit with that kind of education. The valley is blessed to have that option.

Skye has been working for four years to get a grant from BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today, part of the Colorado Department of Education) to fix the only thing that’s wrong with the school – the infrastructure. The 40-year-old original log building has been tacked onto and chopped up as enrollment rose from 80 to 127 students.

The plan is not to make the school enrollment bigger and not to make it less funky but to fix the hairy road to bring it up to par, fix up the existing buildings and add a new one. After four years, they got a $4.2 million BEST grant, but the catch is that they have to raise $4.9 million in matching funds by May, or the grant will go out the window.

As a charter school, it can’t ask the public for sales or property taxes, so it’s dependent on the kindness of successful graduates (you know who you are), philanthropists and educationally inclined donors to raise this sum. Let’s dig deep and fork it up.

Send your dollar now to Skye Skinner, P.O. Box 336, Woody Creek, CO 81656, or call Skye at 970-923-4646, ext. 217, to arrange a tour and see for yourself what you’d be supporting. Her email is

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