Seeing is Believing Series: Mountain View High School

Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our third summary of the series, we re-visit Mountain View High School.

Teaching and learning doesn’t get more personalized than in Peter Toew’s music room at Mountain View High School.

Conducting a band or orchestra, says Toews, requires “100 percent personalized learning.” For the whole group to function, the individual performers must rise to the same level. Playing in a band or an orchestra requires collective performance. And each individual’s contribution counts.


The evidence of mastery—or evidence of where the individual student currently stands on that road to mastery—is immediate.

Toews, who has been teaching at Mountain View High School since the school opened in 2000, collects eight pieces of data in each student’s performance—tone, rhythm, notes, intonation, etc. When giving a test, Toews opens an iPad and checks off his rubric. All students at MVHS are given an iPad and log-in to see their scores. There is no need to wait or wonder.

“In a minute, kids can go in and look and they go, ‘man, I got a four on notes, but I got two on rhythm, so I really need to this time focus on rhythm to get better,’” says Toews. The specificity helps students key on areas of improvement and then they take the test again.

Toews’ spacious music classroom and the entire Mountain View High School were on display when Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour stopped for a visit on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The tour is giving district staff and district partners an opportunity to see how schools are making progress under Thompson School District’s ongoing journey to bring personalized learning to every classroom setting. Mountain View High School was the eighth such visit.


Like Toews, says Mountain View High School principal Jane Harmon, some teachers are implementing personalized learning in a “very comprehensive way.” Other teachers “remain skeptical,” she acknowledges. But most teachers are implementing some elements of personalization.

Teachers are being asked to become learners in this journey, says Harmon. And they are being asked to take risks, all with the goal of creating learning environments that give students more of a voice and more of a choice in their education and to encourage students to take ownership of their learning.

For instance, math teachers Em Ayyildiz and Heather Anderton each designed a “flipped classroom” unit for their shared Algebra I class. In flipped classrooms, the instruction shifts to a learner-centered model in which students use class time to explore topics in greater depth while content is left to online resources.

“It was uncomfortable for those teachers,” says Harmon. But the flipped classroom approach changed the teachers’ interactions with students, she adds, “because they became a one-on-one tutor for some students, and a small-group tutor for others. At times, they had to stop and do large group instruction, but it gave them the ability to know students personally, because they had the time to do that. They weren’t standing in front of the classroom modeling a problem. So through that risk-taking they were able to do the very thing we need teachers to do, and that is to relate with students.”


In any algebra class or music room, adds Harmon, some students are “ready to fly.” At the same time, other students need one-on-one time with the teacher. The personalized approach allows teachers to distinguish the needs and gives them time for those various interactions.

Up in the second-floor classroom of social studies teacher Kelly Evans, students are exploring the seven jobs that make up the work of the President of the United States. The class is pre-Advanced Placement civics integrated with economics. The class is part of the magnet program inside MVHS known as ‘LISA’ or Loveland Integrated School of the Arts. Groups of students are working together to write a paragraph explaining what the one job they have selected to study and why it’s important. Each group will also create a hat that represents that particular responsibility.

Recently, students were asked to summarize everything they had learned about the executive branch of government. They were given a rubric of how their submissions would be evaluated. Each student decided the form in which they would deliver their work. Evans says she received “amazing” submissions that included storybooks, pamphlets, and infographics—all based on the individual student’s choice of how to represent their work.

Evans said her early cautions about personalized learning are dissipating. “I think before it was almost sort of sold as ‘have at it.’ And that was very scary, but now that I’ve done it this way, the students are tapping into their learning styles. They’re really expressing themselves, and I’m seeing the breadth of what they understand more than if I were to just say, ‘here’s an essay question, write me something.’”

Students, says Evans, are more engaged. “They’re more into it … they do the work so that they can produce that higher-quality project at the end. They actually navigate their agency, their self-agency, a lot better. They’re more invested.”


There are 170 students in LISA (out of 1,240 in MVHS overall). LISA is a school-within-a-school. Students apply for enrollment with a portfolio demonstrating their pathways and interests. Once enrolled, they pursue a rigorous pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement curriculum.

Art is incorporated in all LISA core classes except for mathematics. Collaborations with local artists and other community connections are routine. There is team bonding at a fall retreat. And seniors complete a capstone project including interviews with people in their field of study, says LISA coordinator and language arts teacher Gwynne Johnson.

The capstone project “is a reflection about their learning and how they have come to understand themselves. How did they learn? What do they know about themselves? How has arts integration helped them get where they need to be? What are their future goals?” says Johnson.


The LISA students “are known for tending to be a lot more risk-takers in their learning,” says Johnson. “My LISA classrooms look different. They tend to be a bit noisier … They’re not just here as sponges, taking a test and going through school. They’re active participants.”

The same is true in the “regular” art classrooms, too. Students were given free rein to design their own art show. During one recent project, students selected a personal favorite quote and decided how to develop art that incorporated it. Advanced students worked on their own, pursuing the techniques and materials that inspire them.

“The key to personalized learning is to learn to be okay with the chaos,” says art teacher Anne McManus. “It’s just the way it is.”


Revisit other Seeing is Believing tours here:

Ferguson High School

High Plains K-8

Seeing is Believing Series: Ferguson High School

Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our second summary of the series, we re-visit Ferguson High School.

Water bubbles gently in glass carafes, coffee grinders whir, a barista shouts completed orders.

The coffee shop sounds are familiar. So is the alluring aroma and cozy setting. But this coffee shop is tucked inside Ferguson High School and the customers are teachers and students on their way to class.

The shop is called Grounded. It was dreamed up by Ferguson students. They developed a business plan, earned a green light from the principal, and put in the time and physical labor needed to transform an old library to a gathering spot.


The coffee shop doesn’t look like a typical classroom, but the students who run it earn course credit. Like any good business, it’s not standing still. There are plans to expand the line of offerings and upgrade the equipment. There are plans to secure a business bank account so the shop can take credit cards instead of the cash-only requirement today.

Learning by doing is one of themes at Ferguson, one of the state’s longest-running alternative schools and one of 91 Alternative Education Campuses in the state.

Ferguson High School was the fifth stop (Thursday, Nov. 30) on Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour. The tour gives district staff and district partners an opportunity to see how classrooms are being overhauled under the districtwide reform toward personalized learning. At Ferguson, the implementation is on a deliberate pace.


Personalized learning upends the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of a room and imparting insights and guiding discussions. Under the personalized model, classrooms look more like comfortable living rooms with a variety of seating choices and desk configurations. And personalized learning encourages students to pursue their interests in specific ideas and topics.

As such, says principal Jason Germain, Ferguson High School is not rushing into the reform. So the school is in the middle year of a three-year journey to adopt personalized learning.

The first year was used to outline competencies, work habits and content expectations for each learning unit. This school year is being used for assessment planning. And next year the work will focus on adjusting the instructional practices in class.

Most Ferguson students, says Germain, are dealing with challenging circumstances outside school. Those issues create barriers to learning in a traditional high school setting.

Ferguson students are at high risk for dropping out—or already have dropped out once or twice and are on the road back. Students who attend Ferguson might be balancing school with a full-time job. They might be young mothers. And the school is familiar with the idea that not every home prioritizes learning or has provided a stable family foundation. Many students have been exposed to child abuse, neglect, alcoholism, drug use and more.

No matter the reasons behind enrollment in the alternative setting, says Germain, the typical Ferguson student is “over age and under credit.” Ferguson “strives very hard to offer a comprehensive high school experience,” he adds, while also recognizing that each path to a high school diploma may follow a unique route.

Ferguson downplays the grind of classwork, homework and test scores. Instead, “we make sure students know what they’re supposed to know,” says Germain, and set a course of learning to acquire the needed knowledge and skills

Students attend classes at Ferguson, usually with small class sizes, and they may also access a variety of district-run online and expanded opportunity programs that happen to be housed in the same converted church. The options include SOARS (Secondary Options for Achievement Resulting in Success), Thompson Online and E3, the district’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program.


Student plans for the future are as varied as the myriad pathways to a diploma—a welder, a psychologist, joining Navy SEALs, a special effects makeup artist, a veterinarian, and becoming a computer repair technician.

No matter the learning style or the journey being pursued, students rave about the Ferguson’s special touch.

“Amazing teachers and great facilities,” says a fulltime Thompson Online student who spends half his year on the rodeo circuit in Texas.

For another student the flexible schedule allows him to work shifts that run until midnight. The fact that Ferguson doesn’t ask for homework means he doesn’t fall behind.

Another student, who recently transferred to the school, lauds Ferguson’s intake program, called “Scholars,” for orienting students to Ferguson’s climate, culture and expectations. Students may arrive at Ferguson from a variety of backgrounds and different schools, she says, but they really watch out for each other.


“It’s really nice being able to work at my own pace,” another Ferguson student shares, “If you’re able to work independently,” she adds, “you’ll be successful.”


Revisit High Plains K-8 Seeing is Believing event here.

Plickers: An Almost Tech-Free Solution to Quick, Formative Assessment

Looking for a low-tech, easy-to-implement tool with high-yield results?  Give Plickers a try.  No more logins, passwords, and user accounts for each student.  All that’s needed is a teacher account, and printed Plickers cards.   The same set of cards can even be used for multiple classes!
Plickers allows you to collect in-the-moment data for targeted instruction.  Print the cards, post the questions, then scan the room with your phone as students hold up their cards.  It’s really that simple.  Get even the quietest students to participate, and shush those that over-volunteer responses.  Visit for more details.
By Jeannie Sponheim

Valentine’s Day Program Has Its Heart In Thompson

Throughout the month of February, it’s hard not to feel love in the air with numerous celebrations occurring in Loveland. Among activities of interest, the Fire and Ice Festival lights up downtown and the internationally recognized valentine re-mailing program hand-stamps messages to sweethearts around the world.  Another widely recognized tradition can be seen while driving the streets of Loveland: giant red hearts of love notes between families, couples, friends and businesses hang throughout town. Have you ever wondered how they are made?

The hanging of hearts started around forty-five years ago by the Loveland Jaycees. Originally, the hearts only included generic sayings such as, “Be Mine,” “True Love,” and “Always.” In 1992, the Thompson Valley Rotary Club (LTVR) took over the program and started adding personal love messages. What was once a fun night of Rotarians getting together to create a few dozen hearts quickly became an enormous project with hundreds of hearts being requested. During this time of growth, the hearts were painted in Jeff Allen Young’s barn, who was a Loveland resident and LTVR member. Noticing they needed help, Jeff’s daughter Holly recruited fellow classmates as a part of the National Honors Society at Thompson Valley High School (TVHS).  Since 2001, the TVHS NHS students have hand-painted all of the hearts hanging in town.

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Today, the Valentine’s Heart Program is capped at 360 hearts. On December 26th, the application for the program is opened to the community. Last year, the hearts sold out by January 14th and this year the hearts sold out even faster on January 8th. Working closely with the city, which hangs the hearts around town, the students have roughly two weeks to hand-paint 360 hearts.

Each year, the hearts are recycled. Students start their process by repainting all of the wood hearts bright red. Afterward, students carefully begin reading the messages people have submitted. Even though each submission is limited to 25 characters long, one-by-one the students figure out a way to make every single heart special.

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We recently sat down with Tamara Julian (T.J.), who has led the Valentine Heart Program for the past four years. When asked about the students’ involvement with the program, she said, “It’s everything. For the kids, it brings about creativity and volunteerism. They have so much pride in what they do and how they’re doing it. They remember exactly which sign they created and the story behind it.” The program has grown so large that T.J. is considering reaching out to other clubs at Thompson Valley High School to discuss the possibility of helping next year.

The Valentine Heart Program is a win-win for everyone. Every year, all proceeds from the hearts are given back to the community through various organizations of LTVR’s choosing. Students also have a chance to learn about volunteerism while keeping this wonderful and longstanding tradition alive. Isabelle Johnson, current TVHS NHS 2017-18 student said, “My favorite part about painted hearts is getting to drive through town and see hearts that I remember painting hanging on the light posts. It’s pretty fun!” The next time you drive around town you may notice hearts that are kissing, glowing or decorated in other unique ways. Individually and hand-crafted, TSD students bring these beautiful stories of love to life.

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A special thank you to the Loveland Thompson Valley Rotary for heading the Valentine Heart Program and continuing to involve TSD students in this beloved community tradition!