2008 Summit High School graduate returns home to teach at Snowy Peaks
August 29, 2016
Editor's note: This is the second installment in a series on educators in the Summit School District who are taking on new roles this year. Read the first installment on Frisco Elementary's new principal here.
When Dan Marion graduated from Summit High School in 2008, he hardly expected to find himself back in Summit County eight years later, teaching at a school called Snowy Peaks.
The newest teacher in the newest school in Summit School District spent his early years in Arizona, but, in 1997, when he was in early elementary school, his parents decided they wanted a change of lifestyle. He moved with his family to Summit County, where his parents took over two Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store locations.
"I was heir to the chocolate throne," said Marion. "I called it a pretty sweet upbringing, pun intended. Always. And it was fun."
His favorite part of growing up in the High Country was the closeness between community members, whether between friends or between students and teachers. He has maintained some of the friendships he made in Summit School District for nearly 20 years.
After passing through Summit Middle and Summit High Schools, where he was taught by still-familiar faces like Kay Kirkland, Doug Blake, Kristy McClain and Charlie Cuba, Marion continued as a Tiger by attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Like for many young adults, college was an experimental time for him; he was unsure what he wanted to do moving forward. He fell in love with journalism and writing through a professor, but what really stuck with him was the experiential style of learning he discovered through studying abroad.
Recommended Stories For You
As an undergraduate, Marion took part in the Semester at Sea program, which ferries students to 10-15 different countries in a unique study abroad experience.
"Seeing kids in all those different places and kind of being reaffirmed that we are one people on one Earth was a really cool experience," he saidhe.
After graduating from college, Marion worked for a year doing strategic planning in the office of the Colorado College president. The next year, he left the mountains behind him and went to work for YES!, a non-profit magazine on an island off the coast of Seattle.
While at the magazine, he encountered several local teachers who were pushing back against the amount of standardized testing required of their students. At the same time, he was studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) thinking he might one day go to graduate school. He began to recognize and to resent the disjunction between the standardized tests and the kind of intelligence that leads to success in the real world. Ultimately, he wrote his essay on the argument section of the GRE about the flaws inherent in that test, knowing that it would hurt his score. Then he wrote an article for YES! about his disillusionment with standardized testing and his decision to use the GRE to criticize the GRE. He then used that article to apply to graduate schools.
As risky as this plan might sound, it paid off: Marion was accepted into Harvard University for the next year and graduated with his master's degree in education policy and management.
When speaking of what ultimately drew him to teaching, he said, "having had great teachers my whole life, I didn't want to be someone who, at a young age, was making decisions for a lot of people without actually understanding the realities of how those things work. So I decided that the best way to make change that I wanted to do would be to be on the ground, do it as a teacher."
Additionally, he said, "You can kind of affect people's lives on a day-to-day basis, which is something that's important to me."
Now working at Snowy Peaks High School after a year of teaching at North High School in Denver, he is excited to share his love of experiential learning with his students — a facet of Snowy Peaks' educational policy that drew him to the school.
"I can tell a student about perseverance all day long, and I can lecture them and show them videos and show them literature that does it; but, when you're on a mountain and you're like, you've got to make it to the top, that's when they really learn how to persevere," said Marion.
One aspect of his own education that he hopes to pass on to his students is the feeling of having someone in their corner to support them, a teacher whom they can rely on. However, he also wants to put his own twist on his teaching style by helping students to identify their passions early and helping them develop a purpose beyond school.
He will accomplish this in part through his project-based learning class, a type of course that each teacher at Snowy Peaks leads. This is one of the things he is looking forward to most about this year: helping students gain important skills and experience while producing something valuable and giving back to their community.
"I think it's important for them to be doing and making things, not just learning things," he said.
In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and basketball. However, one of the things he finds challenging about his career is leaving it behind at the end of the day.
"You're never not a teacher," he said.
Speaking about his students, he said, "When you try to go to sleep, the struggles that they're facing that you want to help them with are on your mind constantly, I've found. So I think that your mind as a teacher is always kind of occupied, thinking about what can I do to better support my students, and you can always do more."
However, Marion is happy to be able to do more for his students and for the school district.
"It feels good coming back here," he said, "because it feels in a small way that I'm giving back to a community that has given me so much."