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Telluride Mountain School opens Tuesday with focused mantra

Telluride Mountain School (TMS) Head Andy Shoff usually opens the school year with a mantra around which he rallies the school community. This year’s mantra — Known, Supported and Connected — emerged as faculty examined professional development and the importance of supporting students and each other. 

This past week, as TMS faculty and staff returned to campus to prepare for the Tuesday’s opening day, they reaffirmed commitment to this year’s mantra by increasing social-emotional programming and supporting well-being and mental health for both students and teachers. 

“We need to know ourselves, we need to support our colleagues, and we need to be connected as a school,” explained Shoff. “When we can do that, we can do the same things for our students and we can really live out our core mission and values.”

A vital part of that mission has been realized in recent years as the school has implemented the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in grades 11 and 12. 

“We didn’t adopt the IB program to change our mission values,” explained Upper School Director Jamie Hozack. “We partnered with IB to help us improve our program, particularly for high school students heading to college.”

IB exams were administered in May and students received results in July. All four of last year’s graduating seniors earned either the IB Diploma (submitting student work and taking exams in all areas) or an IB certificate (submitting student work and taking an exam in an area of interest, while still participating in classes in the other areas). For students across the world who choose to take the IB Diploma exams, the pass rate is generally between 80 and 90 percent.

“This is the third class of TMS students to attempt any of the IB achievements, and this really marks progress as a school preparing kids to be successful in meeting those expectations,” Hozack said. 

TMS is  welcoming five new teachers and staff to its roster this year. Todd Smith, a practicing artist who has worked in public, interactive and multi-disciplinary art installation works and as an art professor in Kentucky, is teaching art, mostly in the Upper School.

Lea Gibbs now serves as Upper School humanities teacher and as the all-school literacy specialist. 

“Within the context of our mantra, some of the student support we are seeking is academic,” noted Shoff. “So we’re boosting our academic support for groups and individual students to uncork challenges they might have.”

Ann Anders, who relocated to Telluride after 30 years of teaching Montessori in the Washington D.C. area, is working in a mentoring and support capacity at TMS Montessori preschool and kindergarten. Mikhael Grundhofer is a new Montessori assistant while Ridgway resident Amber King is the new front office manager for the school. 

With enrollment looking similar to last year with classes fully enrolled across most grades, TMS continues to reckon with COVID-19 protocols.

“The good news is that the state really wants kids in school and we have a much better understanding of how to keep kids in school even with COVID,” said Shoff. “Quarantine guidelines are different mainly in that routine school exposure won’t lead to classroom quarantines. So we don’t have to be as concerned about co-horting and mixing as we were last year which is great because that allows us to bring back a lot of our multi-age programming and community features.”

While TMS didn’t have any school-based exposures last year and no mandatory quarantines or shut-downs, Shoff acknowledges that the Delta variant may present new challenges. TMS will not offer a remote learning option this year, just as they didn’t last year, because the approach doesn’t mesh effectively with TMS programming.

“We are, however, prepared to support kids in quarantine or illness, just not through a hybrid program,” said Shoff. 

Like the Telluride school district, TMS will also begin the school year with universal masking for all students, teachers and visitors.

“Which also means we don’t have to exclude visitors this year,” Shoff noted. 

Shoff is considering how COVIDCheck Colorado surveillance testing may be part of the plan this year as it was last year. 

“Most of our students are under 12-years-old and cannot yet be vaccinated,” he said. “But we’re in line with the county metrics for vaccinated faculty, staff and students.”

Traditionally, the opening week at TMS serves as orientation.

“Getting to know, support and connect our students with their classmates, their teachers and the entire student body,” said Shoff. “It’s during that first week when we do our multi-age activities and set up all our systems for success in classrooms. And we always have elements of service, adventure and outdoor learning.”