by the 2019 Senior Class
Watershed’s 2019 senior class is approaching the end of the college application process, and now—the time between hitting “submit” and receiving a decision—can feel like a kind of purgatory. The Watermark has gathered some of these seniors’ favorite pieces from their application essays to share and celebrate their hard work.
Since I was twelve, when I started writing my first and admittedly rather dreadful novel, I have regularly carried pens around in my shoes. It began as an autumn-to-winter ordeal, a writerly capitalization on the extra storage space afforded by winter boots, but has made its way into the other seasons through the acquisition of high-top Converse and thinner ballpoints. And, though I often end up losing writing instruments as a result of this peculiar habit, and despite one broken ballpoint that resulted in a permanently ink-stained pair of sneakers, I continue to do so—and expect I always will.
"When I was fourteen, I could barely walk up the stairs. I took them one by one, like an old man, because of a condition I later discovered affecting the cartilage in my knees. It was during this difficult time I discovered immersing myself in video games helped by giving me a much-needed escape and introduced me into the world of coding."
I had assembled my tarp-fort the previous afternoon, moved the branches and logs, to lean against the trees and bind together with rope. I pulled the orange tarp taught from all four corners. My instructor complimented me on its quality: “A whole bear could fit in there,” he remarked. If this were a work of fiction, readers would commend the author for their use of foreshadowing.
Like every other morning on this trip, I woke up cold and damp. I lay face-down, attempting to will away the chill that slowly crept through my sleeping bag (which was so old that, when one looked through it towards a light, the like matted insulation looked like storm clouds). The hood of the bag made my face feel as though I was in a public swimming pool: slimy and gritty. My whole body had slid downhill during the night, leaving me only half-covered. I woke up slowly. I could see the light that made it through the bag, tinted orange from its journey through the tarp. Then I heard the grunting.
A whole bear could fit in there. The words echo in my mind.
I strained against my own shivering, willing the beast to move on without taking notice of my burrito-style existence.
As a toddler growing up in Saratoga, California, I spent much of my time exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium, watching the amazing sea creatures swim effortlessly in their habitats. I also spent time exploring the tidepools along the California coast. Every July, we traveled to Vancouver Island where I spent countless hours exploring the tidepools that hug the bottom of the cliffs nearby. Wandering the beach inspired my curiosity for the ocean and the creatures that live within. Watching the waves crashing and the sunlight catching the crests, my mind took me beneath the waves. I had so many questions. Without teeth, how could the starfish eat the mussel? How could a starfish breathe on land? Did any sea creature sleep? By the time I was six, I had discovered my passion - asking questions and finding answers about the ocean. Summer after summer, I set out to discover answers to the questions that occupied my thoughts.
It was 4:30 am, and I awoke for the fourth time that night to water dripping all over me. I gazed up at the ceiling in the dark room to identify where the water was leaking from. I pushed my rusty, metal bedframe and mattress across the soaking wet cement floor to a new location once again—this time in the center of the room. The next morning, I was awakened by aggressive, rushing knocks on the door from my homestay mother announcing that she needed help emptying the water flooding the house. She handed me a bucket, and we got to straight to work.
Because every movement I did required energy, and I only had a certain amount of energy to expend each day, I had to pay extremely close attention to exactly what I was doing in each moment. No longer could I casually grab an object off the table without a thought. Instead, I had to be vastly conscious of the fact that I was about to pick something up. I had to think about the best way I could pick it up, how heavy it was and how long I would need to be holding it. Then, when I picked it up, I had to concentrate on only one thing, holding that object, and whatever it is I was planning to do with it. So, even the act of picking up a glass of water and taking a sip became a careful and almost religious experience. This was my life for over a year. I had to be “on” all the time, in each moment, staying attentive to exactly what I was doing, and how I was relating to my experience. It taught me something that I think very few people in the world get the chance of learning. It taught me to be observant and aware, to think through my decisions critically, and to not act impulsively or ignorantly.
Every year in late August, while Boulder and Fairview High School students are figuring out their locker combinations and preparing for upcoming quizzes, Watershed’s high school community loads itself and eight days’ worth of supplies into each bus and embarks on a journey toward the beautiful Indian Peaks and James Peak Wildernesses. Following this fateful bus ride is a week of climbing switchbacks, pitching tarps, and community-building so classically strong that it would be laughable were it not so effective.
From an expanding student body to a new science lab, from new teachers to a new head-of-school, every Watershed student knows change to be a constant. Within such development, however, seeing a return to foundations is equally as refreshing.
In addition to the standard head-of-school responsibilities, Tim Breen is kicking off his first year at Watershed by “revising, revisiting, and reaffirming” the Design Principles laid out in 2004 by the school’s founders, Jason Berv and Sumaya Abu-Haidar. These ten principles, now unfamiliar to even the lifetime Watershed student, were developed to reflect the best education practices possible based on the founders’ research as graduate students in education. In the words of the founders, they were created “to inform the creation and development of the Watershed School” and to “focus our vision, remind us of what is important, and inform our decisions.”
This review process, consisting of feedback from students, parents, trustees, board members, teachers, administration, and even Jason Berv himself, is closely tied to the idea of culture-keeping amid change. “We’re reconnecting with our history,” Tim explains. “We are very deliberately looking at the founding principles of the school and using those as the jumping off point for the future of the school.”
So, why now? Before Tim started as head-of-school at Watershed, he spent time learning about the history of the Watershed School by looking at the website in archive.org’s “Wayback Machine.” There, he found the ten Design Principles and immediately saw it as an opportunity to reconnect with and revive Watershed’s conceptual foundations. “Sometimes, you internalize things like the Design Principles so much that you stop talking about them until there’s change and evolution among the student body or teachers,” he explains.
For the future of the school, Tim Breen envisions an ever-evolving set of Design Principles in order to continually align the school with the best educational practices and most relevant values possible.
To learn more about the original Design Principles, take a look at the Watershed School website in the Wayback Machine:
During the yearly middle school orientation trip there was one part that really stood out. We had just gotten back from a game of yeti bottle at Rifle Gap State Park. We ate dinner and went to meet with our advisories. We did some fun group activities, but soon the sun set and we all went to our tents for the night. The teachers came by and said it was time to turn off the and lights go to sleep.
Then, in the middle of the night, I heard a loud scream and I abruptly woke up and asked, drowsily, “what is going on?” Once we realized what was happening, nearly everyone was very nervous. About 20 minutes later, Jeff came by with a very scary voice and said, “get your headlamp and get to your advisory bus as soon as possible!” Everyone's shoes and pajamas were soaking.
We all ran to the bus, despite the rain pouring down on our heads, soaking our clothes and chilling us to the bone. For the girls, the buses were all the way across a field of grass and goat heads. Goat heads are little plants that look soft but are actually very pointy and sharp, and easily get stuck in your skin or your clothes. Additionally (as if that isn't already bad enough), they are practically invisible in the dark. By the time we boarded the bus, everyone was grumpy, cold and very, very tired. Nearly an hour later (2:00), everyone went back to their tents. We went to sleep, and in the morning, it was like nothing had even happened.
by Sam Andrews
On March 14th (The one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting), nationwide walkouts were held in both remembrance of the lives lost in the Parkland shooting, and in protest of the lack of regulation that allowed this act of violence to occur. The Watershed School came out in support of this protest, organized by Dani Cooke and myself. This document aims to illustrate as much information as possible about the protest that occurred,as well as its results in Watershed.
What was the Stoneman Douglas/Parkland shooting?
The Stoneman Douglas shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February, 14th, 2018 (Valentine’s Day). Nearing dismissal time, somewhere between 2:10 and 2:30 PM, Nikolas Cruz opened fire on the first floor of the building and proceeded onto the second floor before dropping his weapons and exiting the crime scene, blending in with fleeing students.
At 3:00 PM, the school was officially declared an active crime scene, and after further investigation, the Broward County Police Department confirmed 17 deaths and at least 15 injuries, making this event one of the deadliest known school shootings in world history.
Why do we consider this shooting to be indicative of a larger problem?
Nikolas Cruz has now been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Prior to the attack, he legally obtained at least ten firearms including those used in the shooting, passing multiple instant background checks despite his extensive violent criminal history including reports of child/elder abuse, domestic disturbances, and public disturbances.
The Broward County Police Department received multiple (estimates range from 23 to 45 calls) anonymous tips regarding safety concerns surrounding the suspect. Still, nothing was done to restrain his access to high-powered firearms and assault weapons.
How has this event affected the U.S?
Historically speaking, many of the mass shootings that have occured in the U.S have drawn short-lived media attention that has died down without causing much impact on our national legislation or way of life. However, this does not seem to be he case with the Parkland Shooting.
Recently, the U.S has been experiencing a massive surge in activism, and the reaction to the Parkland shooting is a prime example of this. Since the shooting occured, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—as well as many others across the country—have started multiple movements. These include the #ENOUGH movement as well as widespread organized protests and walkouts which have already instigated adjustments to legislation surrounding gun control in Florida through their demand for change.
This protest today has been directly precipitated by the efforts of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and is meant to help continue the forward push that they have started.
What are Watershed students doing about this issue?
In order to help push this movement further, many of us will be participating in multiple forms of protest.
The first way in which we will be protesting is simply by walking out for 17 minutes during the school day (one for each of the victims who died in the shooting). This not only sends a message to those around us about how we feel, but also simulates how a school day might look in the future if we do not successfully incite change.
The second way we will be protesting gun violence is by holding a write-in and flooding our senators’ and representatives’ offices with messages, requests, opinions, and demands including:
What were the results of our efforts on March 14?
Overall, 57 members of the Watershed community participated in the walkout itself. Over sixty letters addressing the role Congress should play in the gun control movement were written by the community; based on the total number of members of faculty and student who attend the Watershed School (110 members), slightly more than 51% of the school participated in the walkout, while over 60 individuals—including parents, teachers, students, administrators, and even grandparents—participated in the write-in.
The protest can be considered even more successful when it is taken into account that March 14th coincided with Watershed’s senior ditch day, and no 12th grade students were present on that day, meaning that Watershed had at most 98 potential participants present. Under the circumstances that we take into account the missing seniors, 58% of potential participants attended the walkout.
Most importantly, however, the effects of the protest move far beyond the immediate Watershed community.
How you can help further?
If you want to help further, you can do so by continuing to protest by yourself, or along with many of the already-organized protests occurring in the future. Such events include:
The greatest way that we can honor the memories of those lost is to make sure that this never happens again. Thank you for the contribution and support that you have shown, and thank you for any work that you may do in the future.
To contact our Colorado Senators:
Michael Bennet (D): Website: https://www.bennet.senate.gov
Phone number: 1+(303)-455-7600
Local office address: 1127 Sherman St., Suite 150, Denver, CO 80203
Email: ( Use “Contact Michael” link on website)
Cory Gardner (R) Website: https://www.gardner.senate.gov
Phone number: 1+(303) 391-5777
Local office address: 721 19th Street, Suite 150, Denver, CO 80202
Email: (Use “Contact Cory” link on website)
To contact our House Representative:
Jared Polis (D): Website: https://polis.house.gov/
Phone number: (202) 255-2161
Local office address: 1664 Walnut St., Boulder, CO 80302
Email: ( Use “Email Jared” link on website under “Contact”)
To donate to the victims:
To fill out a pre-written form of a letter to a senator:
On Monday, March 19, head of school Greg Bamford responded to student concerns about a lack of transparency and confusion around the intentions behind Watershed’s increasing enrollment in an all-school community meeting. The idea for the presentation originated with the student council, who had been asked by many students to address larger class sizes over the past few semesters.
Greg cited finances as the primary reason for such growth, explaining that increased enrollment allows for more financial independence within the school (without which May Terms and mid-semester travel might not be possible). Increased enrollment allows the school to follow a trajectory of ceasing dependence on certain outside donations in favor of more autonomous self-reliance.
Many students, especially those who have attended Watershed for more than two years, express concern over the limitations imposed by larger class sizes on opportunities for field work and student-teacher interaction. However, there is also widespread agreement that these limitations are typically overcome, as mid-semester travel opportunities and incredibly exciting May Term options remain available.
Additionally, with a larger student body, more intellectual and cultural diversity is fostered within our small school community. The difference in the social scene within a school of one hundred and a school of thirty is massive, and many students, especially those in high school, appreciate the social flexibility offered by a slightly larger educational environment.
Perhaps the most important piece of information students took away from Greg’s presentation was this: the school’s growth is intentional. It is part of a clearly-mapped future plan that was created with Watershed’s best interests in mind; one which will adapt accordingly as Tim Breen assumes the role of Watershed’s head of school.
by Nina Auslander
This month, I interviewed students at Watershed who are pansexual and asexual to learn more about their experiences. They are represented by the aliases Ace Ventura, Ace of Spades, Skillet, and Non-Stick.
(If you are confused by these aliases, let me clarify: “ace” is a nickname for those who identify who are asexual, and “pan” is short for pansexual. Therefore, the asexual interviewees went with aliases that started with “ace,” and the pansexual interviewees went with aliases that are used to describe different kinds of pans.)
Before I begin this interview, here are some LGBTQIA+ terms you may not be familiar with:
Asexuality: a lack of sexual attraction
Aromanticism: a lack of romantic attraction
Pansexuality: Sexual attraction to all genders
Polyamorous: a relationship with multiple partners
Monogamous: a relationship with a single partner
Queer platonic relationship: A relationship that is neither sexual nor romantic but involves deep emotional commitment similar to a that of a long-term romantic relationship.
Sexual attraction: attraction to someone centered on future sexual interaction
Romantic attraction: an attraction centered on future romantic interaction
Platonic attraction: attraction that is neither sexual nor romantic can take a few forms;
Sensual attraction: attraction for someone centered on physical intimacy
Aesthetic attraction: attraction centered on aesthetics (looks), but not in a sexual way
Emotional attraction: attraction centered on emotional intimacy or openness
DSM: Diagnostic statistical manual of mental disorders
#1: What is your sexual orientation and romantic orientation?
Ace Ventura: Asexual, aromantic.
Ace of Spades: Asexual, aromantic.
Skillet: Pansexual, aromantic.
Non-stick: Pansexual, questioning.
#2: When did you first notice your romantic feelings strayed from the "norm"?
Ace Ventura: I always figured, “Oh, I’ll get a crush on someone later. I haven’t hit puberty yet, so that’s why. Then, I was at a summer camp in the Tetons, and all of the girls were giggling about boys. Then, one of them asked me if I had a crush on any boys. I told them “Nope.” One of them asked if I was gay. I didn’t think I was gay, either. Finally, one of the girls asked if I had ever had a crush on anybody, at all. “Not yet,” I responded to her. One of the “experienced” girls asked if I was ace. And it just fit.
Ace of Spades: I put the label on [my sexuality] in seventh grade—because I finally found a label for how I had been feeling. Access to labels was hard.
Skillet: When I never had any (laughs). Well actually, it was when people asked me out, and though I liked those people, I didn’t like that [romantic] attraction. I found it annoying and irrelevant.
Non-stick: When I was a little hatchling and all I wanted was to make out with all of my friends (laughs).
#3: What stigmatizations do you want to break down about your sexuality and romantic attractions?
Ace Ventura: The difference between asexuality and celibacy can be explained using a bar of chocolate. Think of someone who is celibate as someone who avoids the chocolate because they’re dieting. An asexual is just one of those weird people who doesn’t like chocolate.
Ace of Spades: All the time I hear, “It’s just a choice to be asexual, you haven’t found the right person yet.” Many people think that celibacy is the same thing as asexuality, but it’s not. I’ve also heard a lot of the same rhetoric of homophobia used against people who are asexual. But the thing that bothers me the most is that being asexual is still currently classified as a medical disorder is the DSM, called Hypoactive Sexuality Disorder.
Skillet: A lot of people aren’t sure about the difference between pansexual and bisexual. People who identify as pansexual is defined as “someone who is not limited to sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity,” while people who identify as bisexual are defined as “someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women.”
Non-stick: I agree with “Skillet”: pansexual people aren’t promiscuous, we just don’t care about your gender.
#4: What’s your ideal relationship, platonic or otherwise?
Ace Ventura: I think I would like to live with someone who loves me for me—who doesn’t have any sexual or romantic expectations they need fulfilled. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever have a romantic attraction to someone, but then I wonder if that’s just societal programming telling me that I will want to live with someone.
Ace of Spades: Well, sometimes I think about the tax benefits that come with marrying someone. (laughs). My ideal relationship is a queer platonic relationship, which has many definitions, but to me, it means a very intense friendship with a deeper commitment.
Skillet: A mostly platonic polyamorous relationship would be ideal.
Non-stick: I am the same person as “Skillet.”
#5: Have you ever experienced any discrimination as a result of your sexual or romantic orientation?
Ace Ventura: People have told me that “I’m just trying to be queer.”
Ace of Spades: Well, of course. But the most hurtful is asexual exclusionary, which is when people who identify as asexual are excluded from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Skillet: Guys who know I’m pansexual are less likely to want to be my friends because they’re worried I’ll be attracted to them.
Non-stick: Oh yeah. People not believing it’s not a thing. A kid came out as bi at my old school and nobody wanted to be friends with him. I’ve had the same thing happen where girls don’t want to be friends with me because of [my being pansexual].
Interviewed by Nina Auslander
Nina: How many languages do you speak, and in which order did you learn them?
Nadia: I started learning French when I was very little, so I guess that was my first language. I spoke French with my dad, and Italian with my mom. When I went to preschool, I learned English, and it’s now the language I’m most comfortable with. However, I’m fluent in all three languages.
Nina: Do you find it easier to travel than your classmates?
Nadia: Yeah. Because I know Italian, it was easier for me to pick up Spanish. When I went to Guatemala, I had only taken a semester of Spanish in seventh grade and a semester at Watershed before going on the trip, but I was able to understand what everyone was saying in Guatemala, even if I couldn’t always speak it.
Nina: Do you ever find it challenging in your head to keep the languages straight?
Nina: Do you find that each language brings with it its own culture?
Nadia: Well, there is a difference between Quebec French and France French. My grandparents are French, so my accent growing up in Quebec was a little different from everyone, more of the traditional french accent. In Quebec, the French has a lot more slang and is a little more messy.
Nina: Do you miss having more languages around you? Here, it’s rare to speak more than English, but in Quebec, almost everybody speaks at least two languages…
Nadia: I actually don’t miss it all. In Quebec, almost everything is in French, so it was hard for English speaking families to get around. There was sort of this feud between the French-speaking Quebec and the English-speaking Quebec... the French resented the English because it was them keeping things from being fully French. So it’s weird in a good way not to be surrounded by that anymore.
Nina: Do you dream in different languages?
Nadia: No, not really. I used to have thoughts in French when I was little, but now it’s just English.
Nina: Do you want to learn anymore languages?
Nadia: I want to learn a language that doesn’t have the latin roots. I want to learn a language that’s completely different, like German. I was in Munich this past summer and it was really cool.
by Nina Auslander
What is your background? How did you get interested in education?
I became interested in teaching toward the end of my college experience. I had really fallen in love with physics and sharing that passion through teaching seemed an obvious choice. I was also probably influenced by the fact that my father was a teacher and administrator in schools his whole career. I quickly found the work in schools to be invigorating. To me, working with students is incredibly rewarding — helping them learn and grow into citizens who will help make the world a better place.
What are some approaches towards education that you have from your old school that you plan on bringing to Watershed?
I don't really think about bringing approaches from White Mountain to Watershed. I really want to learn about and support the best of what is already happening at Watershed. That said, at White Mountain we are working on having students more involved in discussion about program improvements. I would want to be sure that students have a proactive role in helping to shape the educational experience at the school.
What aspects of Watershed most excites you?
I am particularly excited about the work the students and teachers do at Watershed. By wrestling with big questions and engaging in the community, it becomes clear that education is not about memorization and recall, it's about about preparing for life in our complicated world. It seems to me that Watershed students learn not just about the world, but in the world and for the world.
What aspects of Colorado excite you the most?
I have been intrigued with Colorado since childhood — the beauty of the mountains, the wide-open spaces. This is a bit hokey to share, but in 4th grade everyone had to choose a state to do a report on: I chose Colorado. As an adult I have hiked and camped in Rocky Mountain National Park and skied at Vail, Snowmass, and Copper Mountain. I have also spent time in Denver and Boulder and really enjoy the culture and the openness of the people I've met.
At this point, do you see yourself bringing any major changes to Watershed? If so, what do you believe the school can improve upon the most?
As I mentioned above, I really hope to learn more about the strengths of Watershed before making any judgments about changes. In general, I feel that the best way for a school to evolve is to really identify the strengths, and work to build upon those strengths.
Do you have any plans to address the lack of economic and racial diversity at Watershed?
This is an important part of Watershed's future work, and I am glad to see that it is an active conversation at the school. I'm bringing no specific plans, but I know from my experience here at White Mountain that it is an all school endeavor — everyone has a role to play as we wrestle with resources and working to be sure the community is welcoming and supportive of all.
If you recall any exasperated cries coming from the 9/10 classroom at the end of last year, you must know that such passionate distress had a great deal to do with a fifty-eight page report covering one of the most complicated issues facing the U.S. political scene in recent years: immigration. After all, if 535 highly-educated politicians who manage public policy and legislation as a career can’t find a solution to an issue, who better to do so than a class of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds?
Last year, in the chronological epicenter of the U.S. immigration system’s most tangled debates, the 9/10 expedition (WS graduating classes of 2019 and 2020) spent an entire semester in an in-depth study of borders and biodiversity. This course culminated in a complex environmental and human impact study of the Trump administration’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border. Through the work of humanities teacher Pablo Stayton and science teacher Hannah Nelson, this examination of topics, which ranged from drug trafficking to the tourism industry in Big Bend National Park, caught the attention of local politicians including Boulder-based Congressman Jared Polis.
On October 16th, 2017—one semester and a summer break from the report’s completion—a group of fourteen students jumped back into last year’s hard work for a meeting with Congressman Polis (sporting his signature business suit and worn, off-white New Balance sneakers, of course). During this meeting, we summarized the 58-page report and briefly outlined the context of the course. We then answered a number of questions from him and a legislative aide about the report and our conclusions about the proposed border wall’s potential impact.
Congressman Polis also shared some of the immigration-related decisions Congress is currently facing. Namely, the Trump Administration has provided an ultimatum in response to the majority’s opposal to the wall’s construction: if Congress approves the construction of a smaller section of the proposed border wall, DACA will not be repealed as has been stated previously. (It is likely that, following this decision, DACA recipients would be able to obtain legal status in the United States through some sort of vetting process.)
In this meeting, we were given the unique opportunity to share our well-researched understanding of the proposed border wall and its its implications; we also gained insight into the decisions Congress is facing currently in respect to the wall. Though written by a class of ninth- and tenth-graders, there is a definite possibility that this impact study will result in a powerful impact of its own.
View the complete Environmental & Human Impact Study here: