The 39 eighth-graders at Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen will have their continuation ceremony on Thursday to mark their departure from the school and entrance into high school.
That is not unusual for any eighth-grade class.
What is unusual is that 12 of the 39 students began at Rocky Mountain Academy as kindergartners, and this is the first group of students to attend the school for nine years.
Those 12 in particular are saying goodbye to their home away from home and their classmates, who are more like siblings.
It’s a significant year for the students and for the school, which opened in 2001. It was a hard road for the founding parents to win approval from the Jefferson County school board and get the school up and running.
Parents say it was worth it and their hard work paid off. They agree Rocky Mountain Academy has been a great learning experience for their students.
The students have formed lasting bonds that the parents hope they will carry with them through high school, college and beyond. They say the students act like brothers and sisters, fighting sometimes, hanging out sometimes and always friends.
“They’ve been like a family,” said parent Lorene Joos, whose daughter JoJo is an eighth-grader. “They’ve been through the good and bad, and had squabbles like siblings do. They have respected each other and pushed each other to greater levels. It’s been a great experience all around.”
Joos, a founder of the school, said the smaller class sizes, the care of the teachers and the number of parents involved in the school made Rocky Mountain Academy a positive experience.
Joos said the idea behind creating Rocky Mountain Academy was to have a school run by parents for their children. As a Jefferson County charter school, it could make curriculum decisions quickly without waiting for school board approval.
“If we decided that a class needed a supplemental math book or reading book, we had enough control … to make decisions quickly,” said Jean Wilson, parent of eighth-grader Katie and a founder of the school. “It was a powerful piece that added to their education.”
Wilson said Evergreen is lucky because it has great education options. What makes Rocky Mountain Academy unique is both its Core Knowledge curriculum and that it’s a single facility for children to go from preschool to eighth grade, which gives continuity from one grade to the next.
The continuation ceremony will recognize the achievements of all eighth-graders, said parent Cheryl Hadsell, coordinator of the ceremony. Former staff members have been invited to participate in the festivities, and a slide show will chronicle the students’ journey through the school.
In addition, “we do want to recognize what the parents did,” Hadsell said. “Many sacrifices were made, and the parents took a big leap of faith that to put their trust in a brand new school.”
As part of their class gift to the school, the eighth-graders are working with Joos to create a sculpture that will stand outside the school. The 9-foot-tall metal sculpture consists of symbols depicting the students’ dreams for the future — everything from a soccer ball to a stethoscope.
For these families, saying farewell to Rocky Mountain Academy is not easy.
“I will really be sad (about leaving Rocky Mountain Academy),” Joos said. “I will miss everything from the carpooling to the principal always out there greeting us every day.”
The parents are excited that their children will move on to high school, yet keeping the core friendships from Rocky Mountain Academy intact.
“My hope is they’ll have a reunion,” Joos said. “They’ll want to know what happens to each other in a sibling kind of way.”