Introducing the Isabella Bird Community School

Monday, May 20, 2013 Leave a Comment

Our friend Juli Pearson gave us the lowdown on the new Eastbridge Elementary School... Isabella Bird Community School!

Stapleton families have great options when it comes to elementary schools, and our newest addition has some serious wow factor.  Isabella Bird Community School will open in Fall 2013, and there are still slots available for rising kindergarten and first grade students! 

Why is the school named for Isabella Bird?
Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904) was a well-educated English explorer, author and naturalist. She lived a life unlike most other women of the Victorian era. She circumnavigated the globe three times, including 800 miles by horseback through the Colorado Rockies. Her pioneering spirit as a female role model who traveled extensively, wrote about her experiences, spoke out strongly against the discrimination she witnessed, and demonstrated compassion for the poorest societies of the world, along with so many of her other life experiences, apply to classroom teachings about travel, courage, deep reflection, international citizenship, celebrating diversity, and what it means to be a strong learner and a global thinker. The choice of Isabella Lucy Bird is intended to inspire future explorers, dreamers and trail blazers to do great things, well beyond the boundaries of the school’s walls. In the end, she personifies the school’s goal to promote learning for a more informed, compassionate, and unified global humanity.

What “Brand” is Isabella Bird Community School?
Denver Public Schools offers a menu of school “brands” to choose from. Isabella Bird Community School (IBCS) is unique. Its model, developed organically over decades of research and innovative practice, reflects elements and practices from several popular and effective educational models. IBCS offers an inclusive, relationship-based program with curricula, instruction, and assessment differentiated to meet the diverse needs that learners bring with them into the classroom. IBCS makes experiential project-based learning accessible and fun for students. The IBCS teachers integrate literacy, mathematics, science, studies of societies, technology, world language learning (Spanish and English) and the arts with research based instructional approaches and a curriculum that focuses on issues of social justice, environmental sustainability, and personal fulfillment. The approaches used at IBCS are recognizable in other successful programs that promote student participation and learning. IBCS’ teachers inspire minds, bodies, spirits, academic engagement and achievement through compassionate, vigorous and suitably challenging work. 

IBCS organizes its integrated units of study around carefully articulated and recurring themes that bring together all subject matter, and focus attention on developing a “whole child” who exhibits the many characteristics that effective learners share. IBCS organizes learning around experiential projects in which students carry out meaningful fieldwork, research, data collection and analysis, all toward positive change. At IBCS, students roll up their sleeves in active pursuit of answers to their own questions and, in the process, master the requisite knowledge, concepts and skills that are embedded in relevant learning opportunities. The core principles driving IBCS’ curricula revolve around developing a strong school culture, strong leadership and educational program, effective assessment protocols, and hiring and developing high quality teachers. 

An essential piece of the school’s curriculum includes personally meaningful service endeavors tied to global citizenship.  The thoughtful and comprehensive IBCS curricula integrate meaningful community service with instruction and reflection in order to enrich students’ learning experiences, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen the school and outside communities. 

IBCS’ whole child approach ensures that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, and sets the standard for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement while providing for long-term student success. IBCS strives to provide an engaging and vigorous learning experience for all students. The school’s mission is framed by its unique five guiding principles, which were created to ensure the ultimate goal, Academic and Personal Excellence for all.

What Are IBCS’ Five Guiding Principles? 

Compassion and Relationships
The heart of the school rests in building an inclusive community in which caring relationships are formed, and safety and trust are consciously developed, knowing that students are more likely to take the kinds of risks necessary for deep and sustained learning when they feel safe doing so. Teaching a language of compassion, demystifying differences and challenges, as well as teaching the multiple intelligences and brain science, ensures that students ultimately see themselves as learners and thus capable of excellence. When children feel safe they act on their natural desire to explore, to learn, to contribute to the wellbeing of others, to become leaders, and to excel. At Isabella Bird Community School, in order to promote optimal learning continuity and growth and to foster strong relationships and community, students move with their teacher through a two or three year looping cycle. 

Collaboration and Shared Leadership
IBCS values collaboration between all members of the community—children and adults—believing in the power of shared leadership at all levels. Students and families who feel safe and trusted, authentically reveal their uniqueness with integrity and bring their voices into their school lives, thus strengthening the whole community and what can be accomplished in it. When children develop their resilience, flexibility and confidence they are prepared to collaborate and lead, two vital skills in our evolving world marketplace.

Meaningful and Inclusive Curricula
It is important that the different curricula have relevance for students and that they are differentiated and made accessible in a variety of ways in order that all students can successfully and joyfully participate. Deep levels of knowledge, skill, understanding, connection, and unity are accomplished through vigorous inquiry and project-based learning which includes multiple and varied experiences with subject matter including the arts, along with exploration of issues grounded in social justice, environmental sustainability and ultimately personal fulfillment. When children’s learning directly applies to their lives they are more likely to own the information, retain and expand on it, and teach it to others.

Service Learning and Global Citizenship
IBCS creates opportunities for students to find purposeful pursuits in every moment, no matter the age, recognizing that contributing to the wellbeing of others is a powerful motivator and thus an important way to engage students in maximal learning. Emphasis will be placed on service learning and the development of global understanding and citizenship. When children participate in global service projects and learn other languages, it engages their authentic interest in other world cultures, develops deep understanding of different beliefs and values, and encourages their compassion for all human beings, as well as for the earth’s environments.

Health and Wellness
IBCS creates a culture in which not only physical health and wellness are emphasized but social, emotional and personal wellness as well. The school provides multiple and regular opportunities to support students’ and families’ need for happiness, gratitude, and celebration. When healthy eating and exercise are a daily part of children’s lives, and when their personal wellness needs are met, their emotional and physical wellbeing are promoted, both now and into the future.

Who are the leaders?

In the words of the leadership team, “We will love, respect, learn from and teach every child and family who comes through our doors.” Denver Public Schools hired a dynamic trio to lead the school—lead administrator Sonny Zinn (right) and lead teachers Jeff Bushnell and Traci Bushnell (left). Together they have a combined 75 years of experience teaching and leading schools both here in Colorado and abroad, in Indonesia, China, and Republic of Congo.  These three educators have worked together in harmony for years; IBCS is not a “new” school they are creating from scratch, but is instead the culmination of their wisdom, experience, and best-practice research and teaching that began in the 1980’s. 

Hiring, developing and retaining extraordinary teachers is a priority at IBCS.  The leadership team is committed to hiring teachers who also view themselves as lifelong learners. IBCS’ collaborative model of teachers coaching teachers and team planning encourages staff to support one another and learn from each other’s strengths.

Sonny, Jeff and Traci most recently worked together at Boulder Horizons K-8. Similar to Stapleton, Boulder is a community with high achieving, assertive and passionate parents who have strong views about their children’s education. Both communities seek best practices in academics, and many of us desire second language instruction, experiences that expand our children’s views, and that develop their global understanding, and a school culture that fosters compassion and respect.  Sonny, Traci and Jeff’s success at Boulder Horizons is not only reflected by the school’s high test scores and community accolades, but especially by the devotion of their former students and their families. One of these parents (Liz Gordon) recently shared with me, “Your community has no idea how amazing these folks are, and what they will do not only for kids, but for parents in a community!” 

Where is IBCS?
The Isabella Bird Community School campus will be located at 26th Place, Kingston Street and Lima Street in Stapleton, across the street from the Bluff Lake Nature Preserve.  Designed in collaboration with the award-winning architecture firm Humphries Poli (, the building is both “green” and state-of-the-art, full of modern elements and light-filled spaces that promote joy in learning. 

IBCS’ outdoor space reflects its integration of the arts, health and wellness, outdoor education and environmental responsibility. Its campus design includes an outdoor amphitheater, community gardens, several outdoor picnic areas, sprawling sports fields, and ways for students to collect rainwater, grow food, and create artwork that evolves over time.

While awaiting completion of this beautiful, state-of-the art building IBCS will be located in the current Monarch Montessori/ Samsonite building at 11200 E. 45th Avenue (just off Peoria and I-70) for the 2013-2014 school year.

Interested in Enrolling Your Child?
Our community is beyond fortunate to have IBCS as another wonderful education option.  Enrolling or transferring your child now guarantees his or her spot when the new building opens in August 2014. There are still spots available for rising kindergarten and first grade students, and the school will grow one grade level each year. ECE4 and second grade will be added when the new building opens in 2014.

Please contact The Office of Choice and Enrollment Services (OCES) in the Butler Building at North High School (located NW of main building) 2960 N. Speer Blvd Denver, CO. 80211; phone number -720-423-3493 for enrollment and transfer information. 

To learn more about The Isabella Bird School, or to meet us in person, please contact us at our office in: 
Mitchell Elementary School, 1350 E. 33rd Ave, Denver, CO. 80205, 
Office phone: 720-423-9900. 

Please help us spread the word!