Stapp Inspires Educator Spotlight – Collaborative Control

Welcome back to our Stapp Inspires Educator Spotlight series. This month we are headed over to Erie High School to meet Kelsey Rasmussen. Kelsey is in her fourth year at Erie High School and she is the Focus Program Coordinator of Erie High School’s Academy of Engineering and Aerospace.


Kelsey is also one of the founding teachers of the program. When I met with Kelsey, her students were getting ready to pitch a presentation to a local CEO to request funding for an upcoming national competition. Her students competed and won the state Real World Design Challenge and are preparing to go to the National Competition in April. In fact, her students greeted their guest and began their presentation on their own while we were meeting, and this stood out in a positive way. Kelsey talked about having confidence and trust in her students. It’s one thing for a teacher to tell students what they think, but it’s completely different to actively demonstrate what they truly believe about them. This simple act of releasing control of the learning process to students is a strong component of this program.


Kelsey sees herself in a support role with her students. She strives to challenge her students, she sets them up for success, but when her students do not put in the work, she will allow failure in her classroom. When this happens, Kelsey is the first one to build that student back up, evaluate what went wrong, and help decide what next steps need to be made. Some of her high achieving students have never experienced failure in the classroom or had a problem they couldn’t solve on the first try. They struggle with anything less than perfection. Kelsey allows students to develop coping skills, to pick themselves back up, and not be discouraged in the process. By allowing her students to develop these coping skills, she is setting them up for success that will last far beyond their time in her classroom.


Another aspect of Kelsey’s classroom is providing a safe, nurturing learning environment. She prioritizes collaboration over competition and interdependence to complete projects. Kelsey loves watching her students grow from shy freshman to independent, confident seniors. Kelsey is proud of her students and what they accomplish each year. She has confidence and trust in her students, even when they might struggle to believe it themselves. She sets her standards high because she knows what they are capable of achieving. She challenges her students to take what they know and solve the next challenge.


Kelsey will challenge her students and while they might not like it at the time, they can look back and see the benefit and how far they have came in their own journey.


Kelsey, thank you for inspiring the next generation. We wish you and your students the best of luck at the National Real World Design Challenge!



Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight – Building A Legacy

Welcome back to our Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight. Each month we highlight a different educator in the district who are making a positive impact on those around them. This month we visit Mollie Kelleher. Mollie is a Computer Science Teacher at Altona Middle School. She is in her fourth year at Altona and has been a part of the district for 17 years.


Mollie jokes she is a “recovering English teacher” having spent most of her career teaching English at a high school level. As our conversation moved from learning more about her background and what brought her to being a computer science teacher, glimpses of the legacy she is building started to shine. During her tenure as a high school English teacher in Montana, she noticed how many students needed remedial help. Instead of staying still she applied for and won a grant to establish a family literacy program. This program’s intent was to help students early in their academic career and reduce the need for remedial help later on.

Mollie lights up when talking about her current teaching role at Altona. She is having the time of her life at this point in her career. She confidently and gracefully accepts that she is no longer the expert in the room, and she is learning right along with her students. She wants her students not to be afraid of technology, but rather make it their tool. ‘Leading by example’ is her encouragement not only to her students but her co-workers as well.

Her passion for this space is amplified when she talks about her desire to reach and teach more young women and minority students in this field. She actively recruits these students for her coursework and helps them discover a pathway to a future career. Currently, she’s working on a video with these students to encourage even more students to explore these career paths.

Mollie’s passion extends to her co-workers, freely sharing her knowledge and skills. Mollie took me on a little tour of the school, specifically to the maker room. We walked in and students were using a design development tool called Agile Scrum. Students create projects, assign tasks and complete projects. Mollie attended a conference where she became an Agile Scrum Master. She came back and started a professional learning team at Altona and brought this back to her co-workers. As we walked back to the library to finish up our interview, we stopped by another teacher’s room where they had several scrum boards up and running.

As she goes throughout her day she leaves a little bit of inspiration in each room to challenge what is possible, to test limits and be comfortable doing so. Her legacy will be in helping students and co-workers to find their passions and directions.

Mollie, thank you for taking the time to meet with us, and we wish you all the best!


Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight – A Quiet Bridge Builder

This month we head out to Silver Creek and into the social studies classroom of Justelle Grandsaert. Justelle is in her 20th year of teaching and she was one of the first teachers who helped open Silver Creek High School 18 years ago. She grew up in California knowing that her calling was to be a teacher. After she graduated with her bachelor’s degree she spent a year teaching the early grades, but upon completing her Master’s Degree she discovered her passion was teaching high schoolers and never looked back.

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If you are thinking that you may have heard Justelle’s name mentioned in a past highlight, you are correct. Our 2017-2018 ‘Outstanding Student’, Parker Nicholas, said “Mrs. Grandsaert teaches with such passion, and I want to be the kind of teacher she was for me for someone else.” Parker credits Justelle (or Mrs. G as every student calls her) with inspiring her to go into education. Knowing this, I was excited to meet up with Justelle and learn more about what takes place in her classroom.


Justelle teaches freshman World Studies – a combination of history and literature. As students study ancient Greece they compliment those studies by reading Homer’s Odyssey. She helps students build bridges between points in time and how those environments influence writing. She wants her students to see history in a different light. It is not about dates and timelines, but rather the stories, the people and experiences that make up our pasts. Justelle encourages her students to look at history through different viewpoints and highlights the dangers of a ‘single story’. She wants her students to understand that some of the greatest heroes in history have flaws. Even if sometimes those flaws are major ones.

She also has a few sections of junior government where she strives to have her students see that it’s more than just three branches, but its alive and relevant to their lives. She provides opportunities for her students to identify a local policy that they would want to change and create a proposal on how to do it and present it to local authorities.

Whether a class is looking at flawed heroes or local policy, they both serve as a starting point to the most important lesson Justelle is teaching her students. Above all Justelle wants her students to know that they have a voice and it matters. She empowers her students to use their voice for good in the world. Justelle’s passion instills a spirit of inquiry that stays with students as they move forward in life.

Justelle has a heart for teaching and her students that is special and palpable. She is the type of teacher that quietly pushes her students to push themselves and go beyond what they thought was possible – without them realizing the journey they are on.

Justelle, thank you for taking the time to meet with us, it was truly an honor. We wish you the best!


Stapp Inspires Educator Spotlight- A Cut Above

Welcome back to our Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight series! We are excited to introduce you to Hope Nazzaro, Culinary Instructor at the Career and Development Center (CDC). Hope is in her 15th year of teaching, having spent the last three years at CDC. She had previously taught at Skyline and Frederick High School. She graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Family Consumer Science.

Hope Nazzaro


Before we settled down to begin our interview, Hope gave me a tour of the kitchen her students use on a daily basis. It’s a very professional kitchen. One of the myths that Hope quickly dispelled was that her classes were similar to the ‘home ec’ days of the past. Far from it.


Currently, culinary students complete a program called ProStart. This is a nationally recognized program that students complete over the course of a year. The CDC offers ProStart 1 and ProStart 2 with plans to add ProStart 3 in the future. The program offers students industry certifications they can use upon graduation. First year students are certified as ‘ServSafe Food Handlers’ while second year students complete the ‘ServSafe Manager’ program. These programs help students become industry ready and provide them an edge on the competition when applying for jobs or culinary school. Students are also able to earn college credit from Metro State.


Over the past three years Hope and her students have been busy. They attended the Denver Wine and Food Festival where they presented roughly 2,000 servings and competed at the Family Career Community Leaders of America. Each year they continue to improve. They also run Sunrise Cafe, which is an on-site restaurant that is open to the community three days a week for breakfast and lunch.


I asked Hope if she went to culinary school or had a lot of restaurant experience in her past. She mostly worked in restaurants throughout college, but also studied food science while attending CSU. I was struck by this. What a great example she is for her students. She never stopped learning or improving her skills. She rose to the challenge of starting a new program from the ground up and met it head on.


Hope is in a unique position with her students. She strives to instill valuable skills within her students to be successful in the culinary industry but also the skills to be successful adults. She reinforces accountability and responsibility with her students on a daily basis. This has led to some students labeling her “hard” or “mean”. This doesn’t bother Hope. “If I let up a bit, that’s how accidents in the kitchen happen.”


Hope realizes some of her students will choose to pursue other fields of study, but encourages them to stay current with their certifications, to continue to develop skills and to make contacts with other professionals. She wants her students to always have a backup plan. Sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned. The skills and certifications students gain in class can help them through tough times as they plan next steps.


I asked Hope what was the one thing she hoped every student would take away from her class. “Excuses are going to set you behind. Make sure you have the right mental attitude and keep going, you can do it.”


Hope, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. We wish you the best!


Stapp Inspires Educator Spotlight – A Field Guide

Welcome back to our monthly Educator Highlight Series. If this is your first time stopping by we hope you leave feeling inspired and encouraged by the stories we have the privilege to share with our community.

A little background, my name is Erin. I am the Digital Marketing Manager for Stapp Interstate Toyota. We are underway in our second year of meeting different, teachers, administrators, and support staff throughout St. Vrain Valley Schools. It’s been an incredible journey to meet these individuals who are helping to shape the next generation. The different backgrounds and paths they have taken to wind up at SVVSD are as unique and different as they are. This month’s recipient is no different! We would like to introduce you to Miki Mills. Miki is a Special Education teacher at Niwot High School. She has been at Niwot for the last 11 years. Before moving out to Colorado, she taught special education in the south suburbs of Chicago.



The first question I always ask someone is, “Why did you want to become a teacher?” This time my question was a bit different. I asked specifically what was the draw to special education. As the daughter of a special education teacher myself, I knew that it took someone with a certain drive and passion to fulfill this role. Miki’s answer was quite simple and familiar. “Well, I knew I wanted to teach and I knew I didn’t want to teach general education,” she said. Typically, when this question is answered, the person I interview tells a story of how a teacher inspired or encouraged them to pursue teaching as a career. Miki’s story is a little different. Miki wanted to find a way to avoid the gym teacher she didn’t get along with. Her high school offered opportunities to tutor for the Special Olympics, so she signed up and began teaching gross motor and sports skills to athletes.


Miki has worked with students across the spectrum, but the typical student she works with today is high-functioning and attending advanced placement or IB classes. The students she works with require support with the social-emotional aspects of school. When working with these students, it’s important to identify the traits of their disability, so the proper tools and skills are used to make that student successful. As Miki said, “The old way of trying to ‘fix it’ doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t work. These kids are who they are. I want to help them find success with who they are.”  


Over the years her view has changed on how she interacts with students. “If you listen to your students, they will clearly tell you what they need,” Miki remarked. She continued with, “A student once made a comment, “We know what to do. We just don’t know why we need to do it.” This comment has inspired Miki to look differently at the social skills she was teaching her students. How many times do you have to stop and think, “Do I shake this person’s hand? Or is appropriate to give them a hug or maybe a high five?” For most of us these are split second decisions and we never give what we are doing a second thought. Miki takes the time to break these types of social interactions down for her students and gives them tools to learn these skills.


Miki mentioned that she likes to hike in her free time. As our conversation went on, I thought it was a perfect metaphor for Miki and her students. Miki is confident, warm, compassionate,  funny and a lot of fun to be around. She is helping guide her students through a landscape that is foreign and unfamiliar to them. Like any good guide she has the experience to help her students through difficult terrain and know what each one of her students need. She sees the potential in each student to be successful on their own journey with the tools they have, and the ones they need. Miki is that encouraging force for her students that won’t give up on them, even when they feel that their journey is too long or difficult. She rejoices with her students when they tackle that skill for the first time and each time they improve themselves.


Miki thank you for your work and dedication to your students. It was a pleasure meeting with you, and we wish you all the success in the future.


Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight – Eyes to the Sky

Welcome back! This month we are headed over to the Innovation Center (IC) to spend some time with Jake Marshall, Aeronautics Coordinator. Jake is starting his second year at the Innovation Center and with St. Vrain Valley Schools. He was previously a middle school teacher in the Thompson Valley School District. While with Thompson, he created and ran an afterschool club that focused on designing and building aircraft. He has always had a passion for flight and was excited to launch the IC Aeronautics program with St. Vrain.


When Jake and I sat down to talk, the new IC was still under construction. The excitement in the building was palpable. I asked Jake, “What drew you to St. Vrain.” He said he wanted to transition to working with high schoolers and thought St. Vrain would be a good fit. From what I saw, it has been a great fit. What Jake and his students were able to accomplish in just one school year, is nothing short of astounding!

For the 2017-2018 school year, Jake had 25 students participate in the Aeronautics program. These students worked on building – from scratch – different Unmanned Aircraft to spec for several different clients. They also had the opportunity to film commercials for district use. While enrolled in the Aeronautics program, they also have the opportunity to work towards earning their FAA Part 107 pilot license. This allows the students to fly drones commercially. He is in the process of building a partnership with AIMS Community College to allow his students to dual enroll in aeronautics classes as well.

While Jake has always had a passion for flight, he has not always found himself in the classroom. He spent a couple years as an engineer and quickly found that he did not like missing the important events in his family’s life. He transitioned to a social studies teacher at the middle school level and worked on curriculum and development. Then, he started an afterschool program where students were designing scratch built aircraft.

Jake showed me several different types of aircraft that his students were working on. While he explained the process, I started to hear a bit of the engineer come out. But I was never lost in ‘why things were designed the way they were’. Jake has an incredible ability to convey technical specifications in layman’s terms while sparking interest to learn more. It was incredible to see student work and understand the ‘why’.

Our conversation drifted to what was coming next. How would the move into the new 55,000 sq/ft IC improve the Aeronautics program. Well, Jake and his students will have a 300 foot runway and five acres of flight area to soar in. The smile on his face told me that this new school year couldn’t start soon enough. He gets excited when he thinks about expanding student opportunities – perhaps finding their career path in the sky. The connection with his students and watching them grow is the biggest reward for Jake.

As Jake and his students get ready to take off this year, we can only image where this program will go. We can’t wait to see what his students will design and come up with next. If you want a peek at what is going on in the IC Aeronautics program check out the following video.

Jake took two of his students out to the construction site to document the progress and turned it into this video. Take a look!

Jake, congratulations on a great first year. We wish you and your students clear skies for flying high!


Stapp Inspires Educator Spotlight – A Student Returns

This month we are proud to highlight Longs Peak Middle School (LPMS) teacher, Colin Rickman. Colin will be starting his ninth year at LPMS when school starts next month. Colin is no stranger to St. Vrain Valley Schools. He grew up in Longmont and graduated from Longmont High School. He has family who were or still are teachers in the district as well. He jokes that he teaches at the middle school his wife attended and she teaches at the elementary school he attended.

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Colin didn’t initially think he was going to be a teacher when he grew up. He attended CU-Boulder with a concentration on biological sciences, while training to be a physical therapist. I asked him what helped changed his view and what he wanted to do. He said two people influenced him. The first was a Spanish professor at CU that helped show him what teaching and education could be. The second was his wife. They had started dating while they were in high school and she was set on being a teacher. Colin said that listening to her talk about her classes with such passion and enthusiasm inspired him to switch fields. He was quick to mention that he looks up to his wife and she still is a source of inspiration for him. So he finished his Biology degree at CU and then started working on his education certification.

He completed his student teaching at Skyline High School and promptly took a job mid-year at a middle school in Lakewood. This was a pivotal point in Colin’s career. He discovered that middle school – not high school – fit is teaching style much better. Colin reflected, “I can focus on relationships as well as content. There is something special about a middle school student. They are still curious and love learning, and I can meet them where they are.” When an opportunity opened up to teach middle school at LPMS, he jumped at the opportunity and never looked back. He enjoys the neighborhood feel at LPMS – being part of the community. He believes that the entire staff is doing a fantastic job of reaching students where they are and can see a lot of growth because of systems in place to help student success. Colin showed a lot of pride when talking about his school and his co-workers. He is the type of teacher who can see the potential in each student.


In talking to Colin, you understand just how much he cares about each student and how fortune he feels to be teaching and giving back to the district that gave so much to him. We discussed the classes he teaches which range from basic STEM classes for sixth and seventh graders to advanced robotics. He smiles and says he wants to create classes he wished existed when he was in school. There is a quiet dedication to this line of thought. Colin is looking to keep advancing his classes and challenging his students. He is always looking for that next step to advance his students and their knowledge.


At this point I noticed a large ‘check’ on one of the walls. Colin is the 2018 Eleanor Venture Grant recipient. This grant is awarded every year to a teacher in the district with the purpose of helping them further their own education. I asked Colin to tell me a little more about the grant and what he was going to do with it. He is going to travel to Cape Town, South Africa and start creating and innovating. There is not a lot of curriculum for design challenges, so he has to write most of it himself. He is going to study something called “Day 0” which South Africa is predicted to hit in 2019. “Day 0” is the day Cape Town’s water supply is expected to be exhausted. Colin is going there to document the problem and bring it back to his students. He is hoping to instill empathy in his students as well as challenge them to come up with design ideas to address the  water crisis in Cape Town or in their own backyard. While Colin is there he is also going to be documenting his trip with a 360° camera. He has a desire to get his students to explore their world, but realizes that they may not have that opportunity. So he is going to bring the footage back and have it run in the library’s virtual reality system so students can explore Cape Town in their library.


Colin’s passion is to see his students succeed beyond his classroom. He loves running to his former students and hearing about their success. He told me that he had taken his STEM Explorers Club to CU for the day and ran into one of his former students. Catching up with that student was a highlight for Colin.


Colin, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. The care and compassion you have for each of your students is evident. We wish you the best as you continue to inspire those around you!


Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight – A Change in Definition

Welcome back to our monthly Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight series. We are starting our second year of highlighting those individuals in the district who are inspiring those around them to reach their full potential. We are excited to share their stories as we go throughout the year.

To begin the 2018-2019 school year we start at Sunset Middle School with School Resource Officer (SRO), Scott Pierce. The very first thing he admitted to me was that he didn’t think he qualified for our recognition, because he wasn’t an “educator”. In the traditional sense of how we define an “educator” he is completely correct. Scott has been on the Longmont Police Department force for 33 years. He has spent his entire career serving the city of Longmont, and for the last 10 years he has split his time between Sunset Middle School and Altona Middle School. By any standard definition Scott is a police officer. However, he is actively challenging what an educator is within the district. He does this in the most graceful and sincere way.

Scott Pierce


Before Scott became a SRO he spent time on patrol and was a detective with the Youth and Family Crimes Department. Eventually he transitioned back to patrol and started working with the Longmont Police Cadets. He has spent his entire career working with kids in one way or another. When the position to be an SRO opened up he jumped at the chance to continue his work with students. Make no mistake, Scott has the composure and confidence of someone who has been on the job for 33 years, but a compassionate side kept shining through our conversation.

After interacting with adults on patrol for so many years Scott has a unique view when he enters his school each day. He sees each student as someone who has great potential. This attitude doesn’t change when he is called to assist with discipline. Instead of making quick decisions on the street, Scott has an entire year to interact and work with a student. He says that students have a great capacity to change, and if minor problems are caught early, most students will make better choices and get back on the right path. He gets great satisfaction helping students – and parents – understand the consequences of their actions and steering them to make better choices. He is truly concerned with what is in the best interest of the student. Scott views his school as his school and certain behaviors will not happen in his school. He begins every student conversation in this manner and in the end, encourages the student to view their school in the same manner.

The biggest part of Scott’s job is not discipline, but forming relationships with the teachers, staff and students. From time to time you might catch him in a classroom teaching a lesson or discussing the Constitution in a history class and how it relates to everyday life. He might be in a health class conducting a unit on drugs and alcohol recognition. In each case, he is giving his students a different perspective on how the world works. Students love having him come in a teach, and it’s not hard to understand why. On the day of our our interview, he mentioned that later in the afternoon he would be refereeing a school basketball game – students vs. teachers.

Our conversation started to look ahead to what comes next. After 33 years on the force, Scott’s retirement is on the horizon. One thing Scott was adamant about was his retirement as a SRO for Sunset/Altona Middle Schools. He has no desire to do anything else. He truly enjoys his work and wouldn’t trade the relationships he’s established for anything.

Every once in awhile, Scott will work at a Niwot or Silver Creek High School football game. He says kids will call out to him from the stands – waving – ready to share what they’re up to. Scott has a strong sense of pride when it comes to visiting former students. To see his students prosper and on the right path means the world to him.


Scott, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. The impact you are having on the students, teachers and administrators in your school is far reaching. We wish you the best!


Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight


Welcome back to our Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! I’m Erin, the Digital Marketing Manager for the dealership.

This month we want to take a closer look at the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools (IC). The IC has been a part of the district for a few years now and has really filled a need in preparing students for life after they graduate. At the IC, students can get their Apple Certification or work on creating and producing a product that solves a need for real-world clients. St. Vrain Valley Schools is in the process of building a new Innovation Center with the groundbreaking scheduled to begin in early August and an anticipated start date of Fall 2018. The passage of the bond in November of 2016 will allow St. Vrain to expand and branch out to all students. The new facility will be a hub for the entire district. Both students and educators will have access to the latest in industry standard tools and experts in the field.

As with any project, the success of the new facility depends on the team that is running it. Meet Axel Reitzig, he is the Robotics and Computer Science Coordinator for the IC. He has been an educator for a total of 25 years. He started teaching German at a college level. He later decided to pursue his German and Language Arts endorsement and taught middle schoolers for a few years. Eventually he went through the Library Sciences program and was teaching STEM with robotics and Computer Science emphasis before coming to the IC. I had the opportunity to spend some time with him recently.

Axel Reitzig


Axel has that intangible quality that you hope every teacher has. In just talking to him, I was ready to go back to high school and sign up for one of his classes. He is truly an expert in his field, but always yields to letting students find their own answers. He believes that we are all creative problem solvers and innovators. Axel focuses on three components when interacting with his students; engagement, challenge and transformation.

He said students need to be ‘engaged ‘with the world around them, not just intellectually, but emotionally and socially as well. The ‘challenge’ part is making sure students are applying their skills authentically, that there is a true means to an end, not just filling out a worksheet. Where the struggle to learn a certain math component goes from dread because “it has no purpose” to  “if you want your project, or app to work you need to figure this out”. And finally, ‘transformation’. Can students apply what they have learned to something they have to design?

His quiet passion for his students and their work is evident. He enjoys providing his students authentic learning opportunities, where abstract becomes concrete and projects are meaningful to students. On thing he said has stuck with me. When talking about his students and their work he said. “Students are natural learners and problems solvers. They want to help and make a real difference in their world.”  We then took a look at one project the students are currently working on for Boulder County Open Space.


Do you remember when students from Skyline created the underwater camera so a researcher in Peru could study frogs in their natural habitat? (If not see here). Boulder County Open Space intrigued by the project, asked the students if they could build something able to create topographical maps of the lakes, streams, and ponds.

Sometimes certain aspects are outside Axel’s realm of expertise. The entire team at the IC has reached out and partnered with members of the community to provide support for some of these projects. Retired engineers and IT specialists are just a few of the people who mentor and help support these students.

Axel is also quick to highlight what his colleagues are up to. I got the sense that even though I was only talking to Axel, a strong team mentality exists at the IC. Axel doesn’t work as a teacher telling students the outcomes of their projects, but as a facilitator instead. He said, “The best thing I can do is let students take technology out for a ‘test drive’. I want to provide opportunities for transformative experiences. I get out of the way, and if needed, provide help or find someone who can help.”

Axel, thank you for your time and dedication to all students within our community. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. We are excited to partner and support the IC and St. Vrain Valley Schools.

We wish you and your entire team the best as you work to expand and open the new Innovation Center.