UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – The Creek Mystique

My college-age kids have thrived not just from their natural abilities and parental love and support but because of a special place called Cherry Creek High School. My wife and I moved to Colorado twenty-one years ago specifically so I could teach at Creek, a school filled with opportunities for every way that kids manifest their individual gifts. I’ve served numerous roles at Cherry Creek, including administrator and GT Coordinator, and I can’t imagine a better place to work and send our kids.

For years, my office was the contact point for prospective Creek families. In meetings I always told parents and future students, “Every kid can find their niche at Cherry Creek, because we have every niche.” For example, when my son was a freshman, a group of his friends went into the Activities Office and asked “when does the Dungeon & Dragons Club meet?” We didn’t even know D&D had become popular again, and that first year just seven kids met weekly in the Activities workroom. The club has grown to 120-plus kids, and on Friday afternoons, the IC Lounge is packed with raucous game playing

Sometimes Creek is a place where kids discover who they are, and it might not be who they thought they were. Last year at graduation, Ben Parris spoke passionately, humorously, and self-deprecatingly about how he came to Creek ready to become a championship golfer. During freshman year he realized, with some blunt advice from his coach, that he wouldn’t make the cut. From that setback Ben found his home among our Emmy-winning sports broadcasting program. Ben is now thriving on the air at ASU, and while Ben will never play in the Masters or US Open, I won’t be surprised to someday hear him broadcasting the events for ESPN. 

Years ago a young man named Frank Swann came into our fine arts program as a freshman and started working in the sound booth. After studying technical theater at NYU, he went on to become Production Manager for a new Broadway show called Hamilton. Another gifted Creek grad from the music program, Austin Wintory, won a Grammy award for his musical score of the video game Journey. Jesse Aaronson, a 2014 grad, just finished his first Broadway role in Tom Stoppard’s Tony-Award-winning play Leopoldstadt. You see, Cherry Creek is where ideas are hatched, passions are discovered, talents are cultivated, and dreams come true.

Of course, not everyone will or should become an award-winning this or that. Everyone should, however, become the best version of themselves. That happens everyday at Cherry Creek. Students go on to become successful engineers, accountants, dentists, community organizers, and teachers. Rebekah Lee was a gifted language student who was awarded our Future Teacher Scholarship. She then came back to student-teach at Creek, and we hired her because we don’t let go of talent when it wants to come home. 

And many Bruins do. Dozens of alums work there, like Matt Weiss, a Teacher of the Year and founder of our award-winning broadcasting crew. Assistant Principal Dr. Keogh was a Meistersinger during her years at Creek. This year at the winter concert, I had the joy of seeing her go on stage and sing with her daughter Maddie who is now a Meistersinger and talented dancer with our state championship Poms team. 

The basic description of Creek is a comprehensive public high school, a neighborhood school. And you might think, they’re not a performing arts school. Then you go to plays, musicals, and choir, band, or orchestra concerts and you realize, we kinda are. You might think, they’re not an elite sports academy. Then you walk down trophy hall, and realize, we kinda are. You could say, they’re not a STEM magnet. Then you see our robotics program, math team, cybersecurity club, independent science research, and national science fair achievers, and you realize, we kinda are. 

It has been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to work at and send our kids to Cherry Creek. After thirty-one years in education and two decades under the Creek Mystique, it’s now time for me to move on. This will be my final year at Creek, and this will also be my last regular column for The Villager. I moved to Greenwood Village for Cherry Creek, and it has been everything I hoped for and more. It’s always bittersweet to walk away, but I will forever look back with fond memories, and like we say, “Once a Bruin, Always a Bruin.”

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com