The Cat’s Pajamas – Boulder’s Bear Creek Elementary educates the entire person

My youngest, Charlie, is 11 years old, (going on 42). He’s the youngest of four children, with attitude, experience and confidence that far exceed his years. After all, the child remembers life in not only two schools, but two countries. When he counts his money (as most kids do), he has to separate the currencies first, and it’s not only two. (We’ve had to renew our US visas in Canada, so he has Canadian currency. I hope he becomes some kind of currency trader. He likes to work out how much he has altogether, so that’s a start.)


Charlie (and our entire family) is blessed because he attends Bear Creek Elementary in Boulder, Colorado. He is finishing his last year, before moving on to Middle School. Bear Creek is one of the top public schools in the state of Colorado. And from my experience across 20 years of different types of education, even with the Pluralsight Review, as a parent and educator, Bear Creek is the best elementary/primary school I’ve ever seen. What makes the difference?

Charlie and his fantastic teacher, Lucy Ewing

All his teachers have been amazing, led by an amazing administration and headed by an incredible principal, Mr Kruger. The community of educators employed at Bear Creek are forward thinking, excited and switched on. They celebrate each other. They celebrate their own gifts. (Two things so sadly rarely seen in education.) They have a passion for what they do and are involved to an extent that they apply for grants and receive awards which they then use to further the work with the kids and the entire school community.

This year, Charlie’s teacher, Lucy Ewing, applied for a grant to teach her grade more about mathematics using textiles and design. Entitled: Project Runway Boulder: The Mathematics of Sewing, Lucy’s grant application outlined how students would use resourced fabrics to create their own lounge pants. Over a series of working sessions, students took measurements, understood drafting the pattern and working with the grain of fabric. They calculated required elastic, and even adapted the patterns to incorporate their own design decisions. Finally, the culmination of the work was a fashion show, with many parents and other students attending to see the fantastic results.

With a few parent helpers (no professional sewers), students were able to understand how clothing is made, and use power sewing machines to create clothing of their own. The thing that really, solidly stuck with me was the collaborative aspects of the learning, and the mutual excitement for each other’s work. What Lucy did was create an educational environment which not only got curriculum across in an innovative way, but which also celebrated and highlighted those most important aspects of building strong individuals for our future. Lucy’s work created a mutually warm, supportive and appreciative environment which reflected and supported the overall community of Bear Creek Elementary. Seeing the kids talk so respectfully about each other’s work, applaud each other’s individuality in their modeling of their final creations, and never once refer to gender (no, not even once) throughout the entire project made my heart smile.

In a couple of weeks’ time, some of the kids will be joining Lucy to show the Boulder Valley School District the results of this work. I really hope they see beyond the pajama pants. The work being done by these educators is not one which relies on embracing new technologies, or on extensive funding. It gets back to the root of excelling at education – innovation, passion and using curriculum as just one tool to nurture what is already within students. Through this kind of educator we will have, I think, a more involved and excited student.

I wish more of this collaborative, supporting, excited and nurturing style that celebrates individuals while also achieving solid educational outcomes was used in tertiary education. I wonder what kind of student would be produced then? Wouldn’t it be great to have educators like Lucy Ewing show university educators innovation in education? I’ll bet everyone – students and professors – could get excited by that.


  • Ms. Ewing is amazing. I get to see her every year for a few minutes when they come to our marching band day at FHS. I’m glad Charlie’s having fun being in her class.

  • I don’t even have kids, and I’ve already heard of the wonder that is Bear Creek Elementary. I’ve been thinking a lot about the most impactful moments, and they were all interdisciplinary like this pj pant activity. One of my favorites was in elementary school, 2nd grade I think. We read a story in reading about a girl baking bread with her grandmother. So, we baked bread in class. I already did bake bread with my grandmother, so I got to lead the class. We learned about fractions while we baked, and it all tied back to this story in reading. Learning experiences like this don’t take a lot of money–just love and planning.

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