The tens of thousands of tourists that visit and return year after year are a testament to the beauty and appeal of Summit County. But an even greater testament, one that speaks to culture and lifestyle, is the return of natives to their beloved county. Silverthorne Elementary has become an unexpected gathering point for Summit High graduates, four of which are currently employed there as teachers.
"Having roots in the community is important, and the fact that they have wanted to come back to their community and find teaching jobs, ... I think that's a really good thing," said Dianna Hulbert, principal at Silverthorne Elementary.
Kelly Ahern, Sara Buhler, Karleigh Schurr and Hannah Thompson were hired as teachers within the past three years and all went through the same hiring process as every teacher within the school district.
"They are all very good teachers and have worked very hard," Hulbert said. "(It) just happened that they were the candidates that we felt would fit with our school culture and on the teams that were looking for teachers. (We) just felt that they were the most qualified candidates, so it worked out for everyone."
Buhler, Schurr and Thompson all graduated from Summit High School in 2005, while Ahern graduated in 2002. Thompson and Buhler then followed in each other's footsteps by attending the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and obtaining a degree in elementary education. They said they both knew the other was attending the same school, but it wasn't planned together. Neither was their eventual hiring at Silverthorne Elementary.
Schurr attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where she received a B.A. in psychology and her elementary school teaching license. Ahern moved around more, spending two years at Western State College and then transferring to Northern Michigan University where she graduated with a bachelor of science in business entrepreneurship. Next she traveled to the University of Oregon for a master's in education. She's working on her second master's in early childhood special education.
All four teachers were active in high school, particularly in sports. Both Buhler and Schurr played on the tennis team and Ahern competed in soccer, skiing, hockey and cross-country, continuing with cross-country skiing and running in college. Thompson was a part of both the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society.
Buhler spent time student teaching at Silverthorne in 2010 and was hired on as a second-grade teacher. Now she teaches kindergarten. Thompson spent her first year teaching kindergarten in the Cherry Creek school district in Denver. But after a year she realized she wanted to return to Summit County.
"I'm not a city fan," she said. "I like the small town and the snow."
Thompson transferred over to Silverthorne where she spent one year as a special education paraprofessional and now teaches fifth grade. Though originally she had loved kindergarten, she said now she is a convert.
"I loved (kindergarten), but now I love fifth grade," she said. "I like their independence."
Schurr was hired last year as a media paraprofessional and now teaches Spanish classes at all levels throughout the school. Ahern spent some time teaching in Oregon before returning and was hired this year as a pre-school teacher.
"I moved back because I missed the mountains and the snow," Ahern said. "I also wanted to be closer to family."
Each of them has at least one teacher who they remember as being particularly inspirational. For Buhler, it's her mother, Kerry Buhler, who is the principal at Upper Blue Elementary.
"She is the most loving person I know. Everything she does is an inspiration to me," Sara Buhler said. "Hearing her students talk about how much she touched their lives and seeing her interactions with them convinced me that there is nothing more meaningful than being a teacher."
Others mentioned teachers who were particularly caring and kind, who connected with their students and showed compassion in their everyday work.
"It's hard to name just one," Ahern said. "I had so many caring teachers throughout my K-12 experience."
Bolstered by the support of past teachers, they have now gone on to inspire generations of students of their own.
"I chose education as a career because there is no better group of people to inspire like a group of children," Ahern said.
"I love working with children and I felt that this would be a good way to make a difference," she said. "Teaching has also been an opportunity to give back to the school district that helped to shape me into the person I have become."
When asked what the best part of their job is, they all gave the same answer - the kids.
"I love the kids and can't think of anything more worthwhile," said Buhler.
Thompson related a particular moment that stood out for her as a teacher. After working closely with a struggling student, she wrote him a congratulatory note after an achievement.
"His face when he read it and looked up at me, ... that's why I do it," she said, "when they finally realize (that) we're really here to help them."
The advantages that these four teachers bring, as teachers and as community members, is invaluable, said Hulbert.
"Teaching is a tough career, so I think just for so many of our graduates to choose teaching says a lot, too," she said. "It's not the easiest thing in the world to do and it's not the best paying job in the world either, but they have compassion for kids and that's what they wanted to do."