When Bonnie Dorn goes out in Summit County, she’s bound to get recognized. Even a quick trip to City Market can turn into a flurry of handshakes, hugs and catching up. It’s not surprising, as Dorn has been an elementary school teacher in the county for 29 years and has interacted with hundreds of children and their families.
Dorn jokes that her husband tells her to get in and get out quick by not making eye contact.
“I can’t help it,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s our community and that’s what’s nice about it.”
Over the course of her 29 years, Dorn has created many memories to look back on.
Teaching in the blood
Dorn was into teaching from the very beginning, running her own school among her playmates.
“My mother tells me that I used to torture the neighborhood kids. I used to teach school in the basement,” Dorn said, smiling. “She couldn’t understand why they came back.”
Both of Dorn’s parents were teachers. Her father taught instrumental music at the secondary level and her mother taught sixth and second grade.
“It was maybe written in the stars, but I just loved it and always wanted to teach,” Dorn said.
A Denver native, she graduated from Metro State with a degree in education and music. From there she went on to work as a substitute teacher for the Denver, Cherry Creek and Douglas school districts. She also spent some time at a residential treatment facility for court-placed adolescents before moving from the Front Range to the mountains. She had lived in Summit County once before, for just a year, and said she was looking for openings in Summit that would give her a chance to move. That chance came in 1984.
Dorn started as a special-education teacher for the Summit School District. She worked at both Dillon Valley Elementary and Frisco Elementary. After four years, she transferred to Silverthorne Elementary, where she remained.
At various times, Dorn taught third, fourth and fifth grades. For a couple years, she taught a combined class of third- and fourth-graders, an experience that she enjoyed.
“I really liked the third-fourth combo, because you’d have the same kids for two years but what was interesting about it is your little guys, your third-graders, the next year they were your big guys, and the social hierarchy would get kind of ruffled … so some of these kids that would normally never be put in a leadership position just kind of naturally rose into it because they were the big guys in the class.”
Dorn is a big fan of the mid-level elementary age group, because of the line they balance between being very small children and edging toward maturity.
“They’re just wild things,” she said, smiling. “What’s nice about them is they’re still little kids but they’re growing up, they’re getting some skills. … I just think it’s a fun age.”
She’s also enjoyed the curriculum, working with students on various projects and, especially, teaching them a love of literature.
It’s the relationships that Dorn is going to miss the most.
“The connections you make with families and your teaching colleagues and the kids … and just that community connection,” she said.
Dorn also mentioned the important connection she’s had with her student teachers over the years. She was fortunate enough to student teach under one of her previous elementary teachers at Cherry Creek and loved the experience.
“That has been one of the best things in my career — having student teachers. I really have enjoyed that. Just, really fun. I learn a lot from them.”
change Over the years
During her time in Summit County, Dorn has seen quite a few changes to the education system, such as mixed-grade classes and the inclusion of more advanced technology. One thing that she’s noted at Silverthorne is change within the student population as well.
“Our population clearly has changed and it’s very diverse and it’s great. I like the diversity,” she said.
It was one of the factors in her decision to enroll her own daughters at Silverthorne Elementary. Plus, she and her colleagues received more training to deal with the diverse population.
“We’ve had some very proactive administrators that put together cohort groups so we could go through and get our endorsement and support, (as well as) support each other when teaching culturally diverse students,” she said.
In addition to her degrees from Metro State, Dorn holds a special-education endorsement from University of Northern Colorado and an English Language Learners certification from Regis University.
“You just keep taking classes, trying to do it better. We’re perpetual students,” she said. “It’s a way to connect with your professional colleagues.”
With the end of the year coming up, Dorn’s mind is drawn once again to her students and the progress they’ve made throughout the year.
“It’s just fun to see the kids pull it all together at the end,” she said. “You try to have some sort of culminating project so they can show off their writing and their researching and reading, do a little artwork and be creative and use their speech. It’s fun to do that. I like those projects; those are nice.”
Dorn intends to stick around Summit County after her retirement and enjoy all the mountains have to offer. For example, she recently bought a road bike.
Dorn won’t be retiring entirely from the workforce. She intends to assist her husband with his design/build business. There may also be some travel in her future, visiting her daughter in New Orleans or possibly visiting her husband’s family in France. She’s also pretty sure she won’t be able to resist volunteering at the school in the future. Whatever the plan turns out to be, she’s looking forward to it.
“I’ve had a really good run,” she said of her teaching career overall. “I feel very fortunate.”