by Robert Burkhards
The phone rang. “May I come back and visit Eagle Rock?” We hadn’t heard from him since he departed without a diploma ten years earlier. “Why of course—it’s your school. Come any time.” “Thank you!” he said. “Because you know what my wife said to me this morning? She said, ‘Either you shut up about that damn school or you take me there.’”
Can school culture engender hope and build resilience in students? Will values grow in time? Here are two more Eagle Rock (ERS) stories in partial answer to these questions.
In Eagle Rock’s daily school meeting, Gathering, a student, teacher or group makes a ten-minute presentation followed by announcements and live music. Some years ago a student opened with, “I want to thank Eagle Rock; when I took Jesus Christ as my personal savior the ERS community supported me unconditionally. This would not have happened in my previous school.” Less than two weeks later another student began similarly, “I want to thank Eagle Rock; when I came out as gay the ERS community supported me unconditionally. This would not have happened in my previous school.”
A fundamental ERS value is “service to others.” Eagle Rock students deliver thousands of hours annually as they tutor elementary school students, assist at Estes Valley parades and cleanups, work in Rocky Mountain National Park, prepare meals, do chores, construct picnic shelters and much more. An alumna reports: “What I learned from my volunteer experiences at ERS made me want to continue. It made me a better team player, which has largely contributed to success in my career. Just like Estes Park knows they can call on ERS, my peers know they can count on me because I’m a proven team player and have an excellent work ethic because of what ERS instilled in us.”
My last column chronicled American Honda’s magnificent 1990 initiative that created a year-round high school enrolling adolescents unfamiliar with success, combined with a professional development center (www.eaglerockschool.org). This column affirms Eagle Rock’s impact on the lives of alumni, over and above the $14,000 each graduate receives from the ERS Graduate Fund toward the costs of higher education.
What values and practices endured? “Developing a work ethic by putting in effort, not complaining, finding a need and filling it, pitching in, getting up early and doing KP.” “The capacity for personal growth—it should be a lifelong undertaking to be a better person today than you were yesterday.” “You have no right to no opinion, but yours is not the only opinion that counts. I came in lost, didn’t know my motivation for being at ERS except to get away from home. My personality has changed from seeing alternate points of view. I exercise daily, tutor a girl, give to the Graduate Fund, etc.”
“My time at ERS helped reaffirm the power of a values based community and values based life. The school is a living testimony to this belief. Perhaps the most important axiom from my ERS time is that service to others is the greatest gift one can receive.” “I think the biggest thing I learned during my time was how to push myself through the predefined limits I had set for myself.” “I can’t tell you how many times I have had to speak in front of groups in my career. Had ERS not had us present in Gathering and Presentations of Learning I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do it in my early career, which ultimately groomed me to consistently step out of my comfort zone and volunteer for things or apply for positions that required me to speak in small and large groups.”
“I’m not as smart as I thought I was, but I learned do the right thing not because of a fear of consequences, but simply because it is the right thing to do.” “Within the sense of community there was a sense of empowerment. When young people are valued, ideas grow.” “My wilderness trip was a first stepping stone. I had attitude and was lost. Strong Circles helped me look at myself and learn to speak respectfully.” “I enjoy learning; in my case it was more personal transformation due to an abundance of new knowledge.” “I came from a broken home so I learned a lot about acceptance, love and family. A big piece academically was reading—I learned to love to read. I’m bilingual, so English was intimidating. There were so many people who believed me and believed in me.”
In closing, here are responses from two alumnae who did not graduate from Eagle Rock, but who carry ERS values and culture in their hearts decades later. “When I think of my time at Eagle Rock it is hard not to think about the very last conversation I had at The Rock. I was rather abrasively explaining my reasoning for wanting to leave The Rock. My stubbornness prevented me from understanding. It took me many years to appreciate the lesson, security, space and growth that The Rock gave me to achieve. I am not an Eagle Rock graduate but I will surely say that the lessons I learned at The Rock gave me the growth I needed to be where I am today. I am a director for a large government contractor. I spend my days having to exercise leadership and help other people grow into the best person they can be, and for my ability to do that I thank you. I was a nasty teen, but that never changed your approach. You and Philbert were what every teen needs, a guard rail. Someone to guide me but never bark orders. You had an amazing talent of reaching teens and I wish I was more grateful for the lessons you had.”
“You asked what was something I took away and have implemented in my life. I have another answer…I never graduated from my dream school, yet the way I was treated was like I had. Normally, a school reunion involves only those who graduated. But not this home, because that’s exactly what I found. Something I never had and something I’ll never let go of—a home. They loved me, you love me. I’m still welcomed, I’m still remembered, and I feel believed in like when I needed it most back then. So what I took away was a family. How to love each other, how to support and guide one another. I took away a family, something I never had before.”
Eagle Rock staff understand they are often in the presence of their intellectual and emotional superiors. Now you know too. But can Eagle Rock ideas and practices travel? Are they effective elsewhere? Stay tuned.
Next column: The tail that wags the dog.
Estes Park. Nice town. Nice people.