If you happened to have meandered through Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s campus in recent weeks, chances are you were able to witness students deeply immersed in academic pursuits beyond the standard PowerPoint during CRMS’s annual Interim.
Each year, students and faculty members participate in a multi-day intensive study of their choice that explores knowledge through experiential education. While some students can choose a culinary and cultural immersion course in New Mexico or dive deep into Caribbean oceanography, other students are able to pursue on-campus experiences such as raku ceramics and silversmithing with local artists or sustainable ski and bike building with respected experts. In each case, CRMS strives to create learning environments that challenge its students to broaden their abilities and awareness of the greater world through experiential learning.
In the Ski Building Interim, students worked with Kristin Broumas and Michael Lish of Oregon-based company Community Fabrications to learn how to custom-build sustainable skis in a cost-efficient workshop.
Junior Sydney Pfeifer-Picard said the students built the skis based on how they ski, their weight, and whether they want carving or powder skis. From there the students worked together to bring the skis to life — from shape to graphic.
“This is not how people normally build skis,” Broumas said. “A factory usually has big presses and it’s really industrial. Michael figured out a way to build custom skis so that it is one-time efficient, material efficient, and something that can be transferable.”
Environmental awareness was also a key element of the Retro Arcade Interim when students built personal gaming systems from repurposed objects found around town.
“The goal is to build [our systems] out of interesting objects,” junior Seamus Garvin said. “We have a chess board, someone is building one into a desk, a toy cash register — they’re all different. The goal is to think outside of the box.”
While students were able to hone their sustainability skills, experts helped guide the process to enhance practical, real-world experiences. During the Silversmithing Interim, students spent the week working with two highly respected artists: Judy Fox Perry and Mae Peshlakai. As the former silversmithing teacher and CRMS alum, Fox Perry said she enjoys coming back each Interim not only to teach, but to learn and grow with the students. Peshlakai, a Navajo educator, shows students new and culturally inspired art that the students might not experience in their daily lives.
Art faculty member and Silversmithing Interim teacher, Noah Sakamoto explained why working directly with professionals from the field is so critical for academic growth and exploration.
“Yes, there are demos and explanations, but a lot of it is practice-based,” Sakamoto said. “When you see some of the professional jewelry you have a different appreciation; you’re just in awe of some of the skill that’s out there.”
For some students, the sheer satisfaction of creating jewelry from scratch was an experience that helped them appreciate the art, and build self-resilience and independence. Sophomore Morgan Karow explained that she already wears rings and bracelets, but they were store-bought. She was able to spend an entire week honing her skills to create more personalized pieces that she now proudly wears.
CRMS Interim is also an opportunity for holistic development. Students build their leadership skills, confidence, and community engagement with Interims that take them outside the academic schedule.
Senior Kenobi Clapper focused on custom-building bikes from upcycled parts. He, along with his peers, stripped and salvaged parts from older bikes, and then used problem-solving skills to create newer bikes they could take home at the end of the week and worked closely with Way of Compassion Bicycle Project to help build bikes for third graders.
“I’ve always been a biker and grew up with that in my life. I’ve had my race bikes that I didn’t feel comfortable wrenching on my own,” Clapper said. “This has been really confidence boosting to not have to worry too much and to just take apart a bike and see how it works. It helped me think that I can fix this on my own.”
For his part, freshman Emmanuel Ruiz had never attempted blacksmithing prior to his Interim. However, by the end of the week, Ruiz was able to confidently create art that previously seemed impossible.
“It’s really interesting to see something like steel that is really difficult to bend and then have the power to be able to change it and create something,” Ruiz said. “At first it’s really difficult to get into, but once you do you fall into a rhythm.” When asked if he plans to continue blacksmithing, Ruiz — without a moment’s hesitation — said yes.