It’s the first day of school…and that’s what really changed the town

When I first moved to Crested Butte the school didn’t teach kids beyond elementary school. Middle and high school students were bused to Gunnison. I didn’t have kids so I didn’t care. Then Diane and I started thinking about having children and things changed. We supported the effort to get a full-fledged K-12 facility in town and it has made all the difference.

As the end of August approaches, I sort of miss the first day of school. It’s one of those things you don’t think about much as a parent until it’s not there anymore.

Our kids—no matter how old they were, first grade or twelfth—had to stand on the front porch with a goofy grin while we took a photo before they headed to the Crested Butte school on day one. They obliged and now one is a recent grad from CSU while the other is in his senior year in Fort Collins.

Both our boys say their experience at the Crested Butte Community School left an impression. They didn’t necessarily know it at the time but after getting out of the little ski town bubble they better understood this place and that their school was unique. The athletics, the academics, the social scene are all different here than in, say, Colorado Springs. The small numbers of each class make bonding between kids of all interests a necessity. The jock and the geek and the art lover all have to get along because there aren’t a lot of choices. While my boys each had a few dozen kids in their graduating class, they reached beyond the boundaries of their immediate peers to become friends with kids older and younger than themselves. I’m sure the growing class sizes are shrinking that opportunity. But the forced mix of kids of all ages (from six to 18 years old) congregating in one space is pretty special and in theory makes the older kids take on the mantle of being a role model more than they might if they only had to impress kids of similar age.

Like the changing town that is Crested Butte, it is the people who truly make the school. The teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers and workers of the Crested Butte Community School provide a cocoon of support with an end-of-the-road flavor for these local kids. I have so often seen, not just with my kids but with any member of the local village, those working at the community school take a kid under their wing and make them better. Even with more than 700 students roaming the halls, the faculty at CBCS manages to personally help each kid as an individual. It is up to those kids to either embrace that attention or not, but if they do, they will become better people. The CBCS staff encourages, cajoles, pushes and pulls to make the students stand-up people while instilling a small town ethic.

It is hard for a local kid to fly under the radar at the community school but it’s not impossible for a local child to drift. There are certainly problems and issues with every class. There are drugs and bullies and inappropriate social circles. There was a lockdown last year. Bad stuff could happen and, while that’s very unlikely, the faculty is prepared. But all of that is an unfortunate part of life these days. In the positive light, the community school works to make the kids understand that while they can be taught math and science, it is just as important to learn how to learn and that treating people with respect is important, as is standing up for their peers.

I’ve said before that in the big picture, the Crested Butte school was the biggest game changer in this community in decades. It did more to transform the town than the ski area or Whatever or Vail. Having a K through 12 school in Crested Butte has allowed families to live here and raise their children here without having to bus their kids down to Gunnison to learn how to read.

The quality of the CBCS is that of a private prep school in so many cities, so I believe some families justify the move to the valley by figuring in the tuition savings they get from now sending their kids to a college prep school for free. There are families that would no doubt seek out other places to live if the CBCS did not exist. Those families live in town, on the mountain, in Crested Butte South. They participate in the community. They sit on boards and embrace the opportunities of Crested Butte. These are people who make up the new Crested Butte community and they are here to be a part of the place. They may not work as ski instructors or waitresses like my fellow parents did, but they live here and call Crested Butte home.

It seems to me that some of the parents might not understand the independence of a small mountain town. They might hover over their kids more than the parents we mingled with when my kids were in middle school. I am sure there are more protective parents who want some big city flavor with their small town school. But hopefully they can learn to relax and trust the culture of the CBCS that has been cultivated over many years. It has sent kids out into the world fully prepared, whether those kids are heading to a top-flight university, a world travelling experience or a job fresh out of high school. I will again thank those at the school for helping to make my kids who they are today.

Monday is the first day of school for the Crested Butte Community School. Sitting at the entrance to town, it is a focal point for this high mountain village. The best part of the whole thing is evident in its name. It is the Crested Butte Community School and our community is fortunate for that. Here’s to another good school year.

—Mark Reaman

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