Reinvigorating the joy of learning in southwest Colorado
If given the chance, would you ever go back to middle school? It’s a time of intense cognitive, physical and emotional change for humans. For most, it’s a commonly held truth that those years are among the most challenging. But in Durango, Colorado, the solar-powered, carbon-neutral Mountain Middle School is changing the paradigm.
This award-winning charter school for fourth- to eighth-grade kids is so different it’s being held up as exemplary around the state — and even the nation — and is the subject of the acclaimed documentary “Trust Me”.
Mountain Middle School’s mission is to integrate technology and project-based learning into a rigorous curriculum that prepares students to achieve their highest academic and social potential. And it’s working. Head of School Shane Voss says the experiential learning curriculum has landed the school in the top 3% for English Language Arts (ELA), and the top 8% for math — in the entire state.
There’s a focus on social and emotional learning too, with a character-building core that focuses on integrity and respect, effort and refinement. Shane emphasizes how impactful a negative school experience can be for this age group. “Middle school is a turning point for kids,” says Shane. “It sets their trajectory for life.”
In the past decade the school has had two renovations. The latest one, at $4.2 million, includes an outdoor, rooftop, year-round classroom that stirs inspiration and overlooks the city. Shane explains that the pandemic drove more open-air learning spaces for kids. The rooftop classroom has even changed the way core subjects are taught. The geology of the valley, and the history of Durango are a couple of examples he cites. Other improvements that support learning include LED lights, Promethean boards, new furniture and an outdoor amphitheater.
“Without the support of Alpine Bank, we wouldn’t have been able to expand our school and offer our new state-of-the-art facility,” says Shane. “We had pursued a USDA loan and it was a long, difficult application process. We happened to explore the local bank route,” says Shane. “Alpine Bank matched quite closely what the USDA was offering, and it was a much more simplified process. It made sense on so many levels to go with Alpine.”