New charter, Two Rivers Community School, spreads its wings |

New charter, Two Rivers Community School, spreads its wings

Tracy Pihl teaches basic Spanish greetings to second and third graders on the first full day at Two Rivers Community School.
Will Grandbois / |

In their words

Sixth- and seventh-graders had a lot to say about their first day at the new school:

“I thought it was gonna be like other schools but it’s different ... good different.” – Angelina Ramirez

“They pay more attention to you.” – Louisa Quionones

“It’s more open — and it’s more together.” – Veronyka Whaler

“We really connected and we’re becoming a family.” – Shannyn Biggs

“As well as academics, they also focus on getting to know you.” – Chloe Young

“I like how we do a lot of stuff outside.” – Eliana Suarez

“The school year has been really fun even it’s just the first day.” – Jadyn Zimmerer

Two Rivers Community School officially opened its doors Wednesday, welcoming nearly 200 K-7 students from throughout the valley.

The tuition-free public charter, which emphasizes bilingualism and hands-on, place-based learning, is the product of years of effort and enthusiasm from parents, students and staff.

“We’ve arrived,” said Rebecca Ruland-Shanahan, who shares her position as “head of school” with Adriana Ayala-Hire. “We’re working out the kinks but I think we’re off to a great start.”

The facility at 195 Center Drive in West Glenwood is remarkably inviting for formal Postal Service station. Six-foot-tall dividers between classrooms muffle noise surprisingly well, and Gregory Park expands the playground well beyond a single basketball hoop and some asphalt. The school has no commercial kitchen, so lunch is catered by local restaurants and served by students. Athletics are available through Glenwood Springs Middle School, just a few blocks away.

Despite all the newness, weeks of preparation provided an air of comfort.

“Today doesn’t really feel like the first day because it’s been an ongoing process,” said Ayala-Hire, “We know most of the kids already.”

Long term, the school hopes to get grants to buy a bus and add a preschool by expanding into unused space.

“It will evolve into something great,” said Ruland-Shanahan.

“We have a lot of plans,” Ayala-Hire agreed. “I’m amazed by the level of community support. It tells me people wanted to have options.”

The sentiment was echoed by numerous parents who attended the open house on Monday night.

“Whether or not you think this is the best for your kids or not, it’s important to have options,” said Christine Young, who has kids in first, second, and sixth grade at the new school, as well as children at other area schools. “I am very excited about the hands-on learning. I like the multi-age classrooms. It gives the older kids a sense of responsibility.”

Students spend two years with most teachers, a concession to the size of the school but also an opportunity for enhanced stability and more flexibility in curriculum.

The current kindergarten and first-graders are entering a fully bilingual program, with half of their teaching time in Spanish and half in English. The program will grow with this year’s fresh students, but in the meantime all grades are required to take 45 minutes of Spanish each day.

“The generation that’s coming up is going to be so global,” said Spanish teacher Tracy Pihl. She encountered many bilingual and trilingual students in her time teaching in Madrid, and is happy to help local students stay competitive.

“They’re going to have so many opportunities,” said Tricia Zienowicz. As one of the few teachers not already fluent, she’s working on improving her skills to keep up with her students. She believes the extra effort is worth it to be part of such an effort.

“It’s one of the coolest teaching experiences I’ve had and it’s just going to get better,” she said. “I always liked to teach science because you can make anything into a project. Now I’m learning to do all subjects that way.”

Ayala-Hire says she’s confident in the teaching team and the charter school approach.

“It presents us the opportunity to be innovative, and I think that’s what people are looking for.”

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