The Bulldog Spirit

How Boulder Country Day School Fosters a Community of Joyful Learning

Article by Lisa Van Horne

Photography by Lucy Tuck Photography

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Raise your hand if you have fond memories of your elementary and middle school experiences—if you recall being immersed in a true community of learning and collaboration. This is one of the primary goals of Boulder Country Day School, to establish an inclusive sense of community that nurtures the development of all its students and families.

“I’ve been at Boulder Country Day School for 20 years, and there’s a special sense here that you just don’t get in other places,” says Gabrielle Hernan, chief operating officer at Boulder Country Day School. “It’s a hard feeling to put into words. The ties between our families, faculty and staff are so strong. There is just something magical about this place and these people.”

Boulder Country Day School is a private preschool, elementary and middle school that is distinguished by its small class sizes, outstanding faculty, engaging academics and focus on the community. Founded as an independent day school for children in 1988, the school relocated from its original Kalmia Avenue location in 1999 and moved to its current five-and-a-half-acre campus northeast of Downtown Boulder in Gunbarrel. From its 2009 middle school expansion to its multiple accreditations—including from the Association of Colorado Independent Schools, the State of Colorado and the National Association of Independent Schools and authorization as a Middle Years Programme by the International Baccalaureate Organization—the school has undergone much growth since its inception. Yet these purpose-driven evolutions have consistently kept the diverse needs of its student population at heart.

“One of the most unique things about our school is that it is a community focal point for our families,” says John Suitor, head of the school. “While neighborhood schools are great focal points for their specific neighborhoods, our radius extends for 20 miles. This community is core to who we are and what our school is all about.”

This familial nature is evident in the model of the school itself, which serves students from preschool through eighth grade. This is a unique, purposeful model that both John and Gabrielle note has myriad benefits for students.

“I love this model because it’s so important for all of our students, but especially our middle schoolers,” says John. “They are the leaders of our school, and they serve as role models and mentors for the younger students. This responsibility is impactful for them as they’re navigating who they are and what they’re passionate about.”

“We also have a concept named after our mascot called bulldog families,” says Gabrielle. “One student from each grade makes up a family that meets regularly and stays with them throughout school. It’s a very special program.”

This emphasis on establishing relationships across grade levels is further embodied in the school’s new Commons Building. An exciting new development, this 11,000-square-foot structure will house a series of classrooms grouped together by core subject, vs having the various classrooms split up between separate buildings according to grade level.

“The idea is that, for instance, when we have all of the science labs together, it allows for a lot more exploration on different levels of learning and teamwork across divisions,” says Gabrielle.

The new Commons Building will also include a design and innovation center as well as a fine arts center on its top floor—another strategic placement of related subject areas to foster creativity and collaboration.

For John and Gabrielle, this new Commons Building initiative encompasses much of the entrepreneurial spirit that is likewise a mainstay of the school’s philosophy.

“One of the unique things about Boulder is that so many people come here to explore a different sort of lifestyle,” says John. “This includes Boulder’s creative, entrepreneurial nature, which really permeates what we do.”

At the end of the day, Boulder Country Day School is a place where students’ needs to thrive are prioritized—a place where joyful learning and community combine to drive exceptional local education.

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