Learning From Experience

Monday was our second opportunity to engage in our Cougar Buddies program.  Once again it was an absolutely incredible experience!  Having enjoyed my trip to IMAGINE Valley with our 9th graders at Thanksgiving, there was no way that I was missing this second trip.  In our first visit I was blown away by the wonderfully positive interactions between our 9th graders and the IMAGINE Valley students.  On this trip something else hit me, the learning…

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When we first conceived of the idea of Cougar Buddies there was a buzz of energy in the room – what a great opportunity for us to build community at our school!  Connecting the Middle and High Schools with Early Childhood and IMAGINE, building relationships with students who wouldn’t normally interact…it was an exciting concept.  In our first Cougar Buddies, at Thanksgiving, we saw this excitement play out, our teachers loved it and more importantly our students loved it!  This experience was different, in a good way…actually it wasn’t different, so much as it was better – it was improved, it was deeper, it went beyond meeting new people, smiling, and having fun.

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In our first trip to IMAGINE I stood with Carolina Ulloa (one of the outstanding leaders of the IMAGINE programs) and we watched.  We watched as students met and engaged for the first time.  We watched as some 9th graders dove in and immediately developed meaningful relationships with their Cougar Buddies.  We watched as IMAGINE students joined the excitement with smiles and we watched as a few retreated in tears.  We watched as some of the 9th graders retreated (without the tears!) to a more comfortable distance; it was clear this was pushing their comfort zones.  It concerned me, I was disappointed seeing these “big kids” hold back.  However, being as amazing as she is, Carolina encouraged me to be patient.  “Give them time,” she said, “I’ve seen this before.  Some kids need to sit back and watch for a while before they jump in, that’s okay.”  She couldn’t have been more correct, our second visit proved that!


Based on stories I’ve heard from teachers and students alike, the experience I’m describing wasn’t unique to the 9th graders visiting IMAGINE Valley.  This scene was playing out in classrooms all around our campus and what a beautiful scene it was.  Our second Cougar Buddies visit opened new doors, chances for those who sat back and watched during the first visit to wade in a little further and test the waters.  It was amazing!  


Students who had previously been little more than a fly on the wall were now diving right in, playing, laughing, and enjoying the experience.  The pleads for more time with Cougar Buddies were repeated during this second visit.  The laughter and stories heard on the bus ride back to AC were filled with joy and happiness.  Our students, both young and old, have taken full advantage of the opportunities provided by our Cougar Buddies time.  

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Building the Academia Cotopaxi/IMAGINE community, #LearnInCommunity, was one of the main drivers in our initial planning of Cougar Buddies.  While that goal has certainly been achieved we’ve also seen incredible growth and learning come in just our second visit.  Many of our students don’t have siblings with such a large age difference, or siblings at all.  The experience of interacting, even just sitting down and playing together, is one that is new to many of our students.  What an incredible opportunity for them to step out of their comfort zones and face new challenges!  This was the best Cougar Buddies experience yet; with the awesome growth seen between visits one and two I have high hopes for the future of this initiative!!

Dia de Acción de Gracias

Thursday was an absolutely amazing day for me as an educator and as an Academia Cotopaxi community member.  From the beginning of the day right through until I fell into a turkey induced night of sleep, I was riding a high of joy and thankfulness.  Our community came together for a beautiful and impressive day of gratitude and celebration.  It was inspiring to say the least.

A while back a few of us had the idea to create Cougar Buddies and match our older students with younger classrooms for the sake of building community and sharing in each other’s learning.  On Thursday we saw this vision become a reality in many inspiring ways, some unprecedented in this community.  Stories of our older kids working with our younger students have spread all over campus and, even better, those older students are telling stories of how they were inspired by the younger kids!

It was a little bittersweet for me because I missed all of the amazing interactions that were happening here on campus.  However, missing those interactions was more than made up for because I accompanied our amazing 9th grade class to IMAGINE Valley for a morning of giving thanks and play.


I’m not sure I’ve been able to find the words to adequately describe the amazing experience that was had by every single person on that campus yesterday.  From our 9th graders to the IMAGINE students and on to the teachers and staff who were able to witness the sights and sounds of pure joy…it was flat out amazing!


In the four years since our IMAGINE Valley campus has been open we have never managed to get students down there to visit.  This 9th grade group was the first assembly of AC students to make the trip.  When we left, we had to pull some of those 9th graders away kicking and screaming…they had fallen in love within minutes of our arrival.


To see the way our high school students so quickly got involved and, literally, got their hands dirty was truly a beautiful experience.


The tears from IMAGINE Valley students when we had to leave was evidence that our impact was felt during the short stay on their campus.  Equally obvious was the effect those kids had on our 9th graders as the whole bus ride back to school was filled with positive emotions and requests to return to the valley for more opportunities to interact.


This year’s Thanksgiving experience gave me a lot to be thankful for on that day in particular.  However, there is a lot that I am thankful for day in and day out at AC.  The staff, students, and families who comprise this wonderful community make being a member of the Academia Cotopaxi family an absolute honor.  Thanksgiving was evidence of the power of this community to come together and create such an amazing and beautiful experience for our students.


Thank you to everyone who plays a part in making this community so awesome.  Whether support staff, student, teacher, or parent, everyone is important to making Academia Cotopaxi the wonderful place it has become.  Thank you!!!