This fall, Summit County parents will have another education option for their young children when a nonprofit alternative school opens its doors in Breckenridge.
Founder, board president and teacher Jessica TerrizziCaldwell plans to educate kids 18 months to 12 years old at the bilingual learning center, called Roots Del Mundo, at 105 Jefferson St.
The small school will start out teaching 6- to 9-year-olds at the end of August and will add 3- to 6-year-olds by October. The center will be one of the few alternative schools in the county (The Peak School in Frisco serves middle- and high-school-aged kids), and once the center adds its youngest cohort, it will be the county’s only bilingual preschool.
The school, which is currently accepting applications, will base its teachings on the philosophies of progressive education giants Maria Montessori, John Dewey and Rudolf Steiner.
BEHIND IT ALL
A mother of four kids under 7, TerrizziCaldwell has spent her whole career working with children.
She worked at Summit Middle School as a severe-needs paraprofessional and taught first grade and English language acquisition at Summit Cove Elementary. She also worked at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
“Why are we doing what we’re doing?” is a question that drives her education philosophy, she said, and she encourages her students to always think about that.
Most recently, she worked as a tutor, and some of her clients asked if she had thought about opening a school. She said she has been actively pursuing opening Roots Del Mundo for the last year, and starting in November she held meetings to gauge community interest.
She found interested parents from all over Summit County and some who live in Park County but work in Summit. Now the school has a six-member board of directors that includes TerrizziCaldwell, Sole Drumwright, Geoffrey Grimmer, April Kemp, Mili Shoemaker and Bill Spady.
Spady said TerrizziCaldwell’s commitment to the school is evident in the way she has overcome regulatory hurdles and other obstacles.
“The number of things Jessica has had to do to get this off the ground is incredible,” he said. “I don’t know how she does it.”
A former Harvard professor of education, Spady has worked as an international consultant and written several books promoting paradigmatic change in education. He said he was delighted to hear about the school in his own community.
“I have been desperate, as it were, to find models of this kind for 15 years,” he said.
With the help of a teacher from Spain, the school will have bilingual humanistic approach. Its curriculum will use Montessori, Waldorf and other alternative methods that were developed in the early 20th century.
Those ideas are about 100 years old, TerriziCaldwell said.
“None of the things I’m doing are original. I’m drawing on things that are tried and true,” she said.
Spady added that as a society, “we ignored them, so they became alternatives rather than mainstream.”
Mainstream education has become more rigid and mechanistic, he said, especially in the last 15 years with political accountability leading to more emphasis on testing mandates.
Spady said his books describe 25 kinds of intelligence that schools should be encouraging in their students, and current reform initiatives stress only about six of those.
“We have fallen into such a narrow, narrow framework,” he said, where student success if often measured by just their reading and math scores.
TerrizziCaldwell stressed that she is creating the school as a response to the education system nationally, not anything local educators are doing.
“I respect what the district is trying to do with the parameters they’re given,” she said.
She wants the school to foster the idea that learning doesn’t stop when students leave the center. They should think of learning as a constant process throughout their daily lives.
Roots Del Mundo will have same number of school days as the district but students will attend year-round with different breaks. The kids will also be divided differently, into four age groups (1 to 3 years old, 3 to 6, 6 to 9 and 9 to 12) instead of by grade level.
The center will also focus on community partnerships with organizations like the Summit Community Care Clinic, High Country Conservation Center, SOS, Mountain Mentors, Keystone Science School, the animal shelter, ski resorts, art studios, recreation centers and the public libraries.
Four days a week, students will meet at the center, and the fifth day will involve going out for a hike, doing trail maintenance or gardening or visiting a local business.
“The options are endless when people start to open their doors to all the things kids can do in this world,” TerrizziCaldwell said. “It’s worth exploring the possibilities.”
She wants the school to be a learning center for all ages, with groups for parents and involvement with Colorado Mountain College students.
“I really do want it to be a place where the community can benefit from it and learn and feel like they have a space,” she said. “I’m looking forward to collaborating constantly with the community.”
She envisions teacher and family exchanges and spreading the school’s concept geographically.
TUITION AND FUNDING
Her ultimate goal, TerrizziCaldwell said, is to fund the center privately but make the school’s education available to students tuition-free. For now though, the school will be funded through tuition as well as donations and grants.
The center is accepting donations and other contributions, including volunteer labor and supplies.
The school’s next fundraiser will be during swing dancing night at the Dillon Amphitheatre Tuesday, Aug. 12, when supporters will sell concessions starting at 5 p.m. until the dancing ends around 8:30 p.m.