Legend Grads Return as Teachers

Legend Grads Return as Teachers
Posted on 03/05/2020
Legend Grads Return as Teachers
How Three Former Students are Using the Past to Create the Future

PARKER - Few graduates return to their high school. Fewer still intentionally return to take part in building the culture of that school. However, that is what Legend High School (LHS) graduates Jesse Van Divier (class of 2013), Brooke West (class of 2012), and Meg Gray (class of 2012) did. The three former students are now playing new roles as teachers, continuing the unique culture-building work of the past, and looking forward to the future. 

When LHS opened its doors in 2008, it was like starting with a clean slate. A new building, new staff, new student body. Under the leadership of Principal Corey Wise, now Executive Director of Schools for the East Highlands Ranch region, the entire community set about developing its own culture.

"We hired great people, then we created collaborative ideas of who we are and what we're about," explained Wise. "We made it tangible through daily practice of mission statement, worked with students on 'What does it mean to be a Titan?' and we would talk about those core values."

The core values that students, staff, and administrators developed were (and still are): Positive Intent, Integrity, Adaptive and Responsive, Perseverance, Hope, Respect, Equity, and Citizenship.

Jesse Van Divier, Class of 2013"I think it was important to me that this was a newer school, and we had been here when it was opening up,” said Jesse Van Divier, who teaches social studies. I have something to contribute because I knew a lot about what it's like there already before I've ever taught."

Van Divier graduated from LHS in 2013, earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Colorado Boulder, and earned a Masters in Social Studies and ESL Education from the University of Wisconsin Madison. He began teaching at LHS in 2017.

For Van Divier, being an LHS alum opens the doors to conversations about the school's internal culture that might not happen otherwise.

"[My colleagues] are curious why [I] wanted to come back," said Van Divier. "I want to make this a place that people come back to. Many people want to teach a good lesson or to have a good class, but to make this a building people want to come back to one day as their profession is an entirely different standard."

Link Crew, which Van Divier once participated in as a student, is now under his experienced supervision. The tubs of supplies and t-shirts in his classroom show just how invested he is.

Brooke West, who teaches English and Creative Writing, displays her oldBrooke West, Class of 2012 school I.D. cards and yearbooks in the back corner of the classroom.

"It's a perfect way to connect with students," said West.

As the daughter of an Army Ranger, West frequently moved from place to place. LHS was the first time she spent four years at one school.

"I knew I wanted to settle in the place where I had roots for the first time because I had never felt I had a home," said West. "I wanted to be somewhere that gave me high expectations, and I could see people who would hold me to a higher standard."

West graduated from LHS in 2012, earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Creative Writing, and received her license for Secondary Education from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is currently applying to Masters programs to become a counselor. She began teaching at LHS in 2016.

Like Van Divier, West has carried on something of importance from her student days to her role as a teacher: the memory of Jason Ritter, a beloved social studies teacher, and basketball coach.

"I knew Mr. Jason Ritter very well. I went through his classes, and he was a very good mentor for me before his passing [in 2011]," said West. "I wanted to make sure his spirit was brought back here."

LHS graduates aren't only creating an impact in the classrooms, but also on the LHS auditorium stage. Meg Gray, who graduated in 2012, returned to LHS in 2018 to teach Theatre and Theatre Tech. She went on to Colorado State University to study Early Childhood Education with an emphasis in Dramatic Arts. After attempting to bring theatre to elementary students, Gray found herself thinking more and more about LHS.

Meg Gray, Class of 2012"I find I talk to a lot of colleagues and friends, and they say college was the best experience they ever had. For me, it was high school," laughed Gray. "I grew up on that stage that I now get the opportunity to teach on every day. I credit who I am to the performing arts hallway and that stage."

Gray's husband even proposed to her on the auditorium stage at LHS, marking one of many significant moments she experienced in that space.

"The ability to return to the place where I truly believe I found myself is so empowering, and I think telling your students that is very empowering as well," explained Gray.

Van Divier, West, and Gray recognize the impact that building founders had on them as students, and they are determined to carry that legacy into future classes.

"The veteran teachers and the administrators who have been here [since the beginning] had such high expectations for us to be good people – I carry those expectations into my classroom," said Gray. "We don't bring each other down; we lift each other up. That was the culture and climate I grew up with here, and it is the exact expectation I have with my students because it was so impactful for me."

The three graduates-turned-teachers often straddle the line between the staff and the student experience. They can offer unique perspectives that help the building as a whole move forward while drawing on the foundational principles they learned as students.

Van Divier places a considerable amount of importance on understanding students' role in building culture.

"Adults are never going to change the culture of a building. You're too outnumbered! Mathematically, that's not who sets the culture,” said Van Divier. “At the same time, the students should get the sense of what the culture should be from somewhere. They're not always going to get it from their peers."

"I can't imagine what it would take to start off a brand new building from scratch and have it work out so well!" exclaimed West. "I have endless gratitude for them being mentors then and continuing to be mentors now. I'm realizing more and more that this is a life-long job, and the fact they take that seriously is a powerful example."

DCSD alumni like Van Divier, West, and Gray demonstrate that positive relationships and supportive culture are vital components of creating schools where students and staff can thrive together.
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