The Peak School in Frisco restructures student divisions
A handful of students from The Peak School in Frisco flew across the country last week for an unusual field trip. They missed school for three days to tour not a zoo, not a museum, but other schools.
The four students traveled with a few parents and administrators to four private, progressive secondary education schools in three states in the Northeast to better understand how to improve their own school in Summit County.
“We’re a fledgling, and we’re just figuring it out,” said Steve Coleman, The Peak School’s head of school, “so we take things from schools that have been doing things for 15, 20, 30 years.”
The Peak School, the only private school in the county that serves middle and high school students, currently has 67 students enrolled.
Now in its third year, the school will restructure the way students are grouped for the fall, when its oldest students would be in a traditional high school’s 11th grade.
Coleman, who stepped into his role after previous head and founder Rebekah Jordan resigned last May, was inspired to start conversations about what the school is calling “Peak School 2.0” after visiting a school he calls “the mothership.”
Parker Charter School in Massachusetts was run by school reformer Ted Sizer.
In the 1980s, he founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, a network now with hundreds of member progressive schools including The Peak School.
The Peak School joined the coalition when it opened in 2012 in the original Breckenridge schoolhouse with 23 students.
The school has since moved to its current location on Main Street in Frisco, completed an extensive building renovation and nearly tripled its student population.
Coleman said a November trip to Parker Charter inspired him to think differently about how Peak School students are divided, which will be the biggest change coming next year.
At The Peak School, students aren’t given exams and don’t earn grades.
They are required to take humanities (which combines literature, history and social studies), STEM (science and applied math), math and a language (Spanish or Chinese), and the school’s elective offerings change often.
Each classroom has a lounge area, called basecamp, where students meet with a teacher who serves as their counselor and adviser before and after regular classes.
The school integrates outdoor education, outside community members sometimes teach art and other skills, and students are encouraged to participate in extracurriculars at Summit Middle School and Summit High School.
Students are currently divided into Division I, which corresponds to sixth and seventh grade, Division II, which equates to eighth and ninth, and Division III, or grades 10 through 12.
The oldest students now are in the equivalent of 10th grade, and as those students approach graduation, Coleman said he felt a restructuring of the divisions appropriate.
“Our divisions should be lined up with their academic and social needs,” he said.
Next year, Division I will be just sixth graders, and Division II will be seventh and eighth. That way, Coleman said, the students and families coming from elementary school will receive extra support in that transition.
Then the school will have a separation at the traditional divide between middle and high school.
John Vincze, chair of the school’s board of trustees, said, “There’s a natural break there socially. There’s a change. There’s more responsibility.”
Plus, he said, the break will better attract students from Summit Middle School who may want to attend The Peak School instead of Summit High School.
Division III students will be equal to high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and Division IV will be just for the seniors.
Vincze said that allows students to focus on academics and post-secondary preparation in the first three years of upper school so their senior year doesn’t become “a big scramble.”
The high school seniors, or Division IV students, will be encouraged to work independently for their final year in ways that support their interests and goals.
The seniors will take just one required course in the humanities, like Lives of Moral Leadership, Coleman said. Then they will be free to pursue performing arts, travel, internships or classes through Colorado Mountain College.
Vincze helped fund the recent trip to New England so that it wouldn’t cost anything to students or the school. He said the trip helped the school realize where it was doing well and where it could draw from the other school models.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s not some voodoo magic that’s new,” he said.
The Peak School was approved last week by the Department of Homeland Security to enroll international students.
That was the first step in the process of Coleman’s goal of creating more cultural exchange at the school and fostering global citizenship.
He hopes to host a few foreign students, hopefully native Chinese and Spanish speakers, in the fall, and the school is planning a short international student trip for as soon as this summer.
The Peak School added college-counseling services through a private contractor this spring, and Coleman is talking with Colorado Mountain College to facilitate Peak School students taking college classes like astronomy, philosophy and advanced mathematics.
Coleman said he expects the school’s student population size to remain about the same next year, though the board has found and discussed some suitable properties if the school outgrows its current building.
The school is slowly expanding its outdoor education and language programs, and a small task force is working to simplify grading and better communicate student progress among teachers, students and parents.
The Peak School will likely achieve accreditation this summer.
The school is evolving, said Dan Wolf, one of the board of trustees and father of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old at the school.
Still, what attracts his family — small class sizes, individualized attention and easy access to teachers — has remained constant.
The school will continue to refine its operations in its fourth year and beyond with input from students, Wolf said. “When issues arise we can talk about them and we can address them, and that’s pretty special.”
Coleman said he remains energized moving forward by the passion and positivity of the school’s community.
“Everybody here is really engaged with this project. Nobody just shows up,” he said.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.