When asked to pinpoint his most vivid memory from childhood, Max Speyer, a senior at East High School, recalled the unfortunate moment in kindergarten when he decided to give Andrew Butterfield a haircut. Armed only with small safety scissors, it didn’t go well. For Riley Thomas, a senior at Denver School of Science and Technology, it was playing in the greenway and taking bike rides.
These seniors and others, who comprised the first kindergarten class at Westerly Creek Elementary School when it opened in 2003, recently gathered for a reunion in the library of their former school. Surprised exclamations, lively conversation and plenty of laughter filled the space as the students, parents and teachers looked at pictures and videos, and reminisced with classmates, many of whom are still classmates and/or neighbors today.
These students, who head off to college in the fall, are the first to spend the entirety of their formative years in the big experiment known as Stapleton. So, what was it really like? And did Stapleton, touted as Denver’s premier sustainable community, deliver the idyllic lifestyle that has been depicted in its marketing?
“Freedom,” stated Smith with emphasis upon describing his childhood. Speyer and Butterfield piped in that heading off on their own to pools, parks and friends’ homes was a definite perk.
“I felt like I never left Spruce Street,” commented Maddie Grossman, a senior at East, whose best friends all lived on her street and routinely played at each other’s homes.
“I loved my childhood here,” said Sheridan Snapp, a senior at Grandview High School, who moved to southeast Aurora in 2009. “All my friends were right here and there were always things to do. You never had to set up playdates.”
Students at the event went on to attend various high schools in the area. In fact, five of these students, whose parents have remained close over the years, chose to attend five different high schools—East High School, DSST, DSA, Kent Denver School and Regis Jesuit High School. “I think overall it’s been really cool to see how even though we all ended up in different high schools, we can all hang out without it being weird or awkward or anything,” commented Miranda Whitney, who attended DSA for middle school and Kent for high school. “I think that just shows how well we know each other and how close we all were at one point.”
These different high school environments enlarged their worlds, and gave them glimpses of what those outside of Stapleton think about the place they call home.
“I think people think it’s majority white with not a lot of diversity in race and economic background,” said Thomas. “I tell them it kinda is, but don’t judge me.”
“It’s so different than where I live now,” expressed Snapp. “It’s very white here, and there’s a lot of different ethnicities on my block (in Aurora) now.”
Grossman echoed these thoughts saying she’s heard Stapleton described as “Stepford-like” and “pretentious.” “But at the same time,” she continued, “I don’t think I experienced this. I got to grow up in this tight-knit community with people I’ve known since kindergarten.”
Just like during that first year of school, the students gather in a circle to share. This time, they sounded off about their college plans, one by one. They plan to head off to the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Alabama, Humboldt State University, Drake University, Metro State University, Gonzaga University and Clemson University—to name just a few.
Snapp, who plans to attend the University of Northern Colorado and study elementary education, proudly pointed out that her favorite elementary teacher, Cheryl Beckwith, inspired her to pursue a career in teaching. “She brought so much joy to me and the classroom as she always made learning fun and exciting,” said Snapp about Beckwith. “If I’m even half the teacher she is, then I know I’m doing something right.”
No matter how far away they land for their college educations, it seems that childhood experiences still have them rooted in this special neighborhood and their early relationships.
“I don’t know anyone else doing this,” Grossman pointed out, gesturing to the reunion of friends around her.
“I think it’s a fantastic place to grow up with a ton of resources, and it can be very close-knit if you want it to be,” summed up Thomas.