06 Apr


By Marsha Bartulec – Ameritowne, Colorado …Fifth and sixth graders from four Front Range schools–Brighton Adventist Academy, HMS Richards school, Mile High Academy, and Vista Ridge Academy– united on March 31 to run a town for a day.

The students participated in Young Ameritowne, a hands-on educational experience in free enterprise while learning about the basics of banking, economics, and citizenship. Ameritowne is a four-hour event where students physically apply concepts they have learned as they step into roles as town citizens.

The journey to Ameritowne began with teachers covering 25 lessons in basic economics, banking, government, money management, ethics, and philanthropy. All citizens (students) fill out applications and are interviewed for the jobs of their choice. Citizens running for mayor and/or judge must submit a written speech. The candidate with the most votes from other citizens wins.

A few days before the Ameritowne event, students met on the campus of Vista Ridge Academy for training. They were divided into training groups–quality control, management, sales, accounting, and media. Student citizens finished the training by meeting in their business groups, with managers leading team meetings. Reflecting on the training, HMS Richards student Conner said, “It really prepared me for Ameritowne on Thursday.”

Upon arrival at Ameritowne, the citizens were given an orientation about the day’s expectations. Then they went to their shops to prepare for the town to open. All citizens then met in the town square for opening ceremonies. The town hall workers, which included the mayor, judge, and police officers, were introduced by reporters and were sworn in. The mayor gave a speech and opened the town by cutting the ribbon. Once at work, citizens began working as producers, earned a paycheck, and spent their breaks as consumers purchasing goods and services from the businesses.

“One of the lessons students learned was the importance of teamwork,” said Natalie, an HMS Richards student. “When we work together, we can have success! I learned this by having an awesome team.”

Vista Ridge Academy student Luke, learned what it’s like to have a job, “I had fun, but you learn that you don’t always get along with your co-workers. There are ups and downs with a job.”

For others, staying out of trouble was the most important lesson. “My favorite part was not getting arrested,” a student from Brighton Adventist Academy shared.

After leaving Ameritowne, students evaluated the success of their day. Each business group received a bank balance statement to see if they made a profit. They also assessed their spending habits and the choices they made in Ameritowne. Reflecting on the experience, HMS Richards student Suelita has advice, “Learn now; don’t wait until later.”

Sandy Hodgson, Vista Ridge Academy principal, said, “The opportunity to collaborate with sister schools in this real-world learning is amazing. Our students were able to practice skills that will help them be better citizens now and in the future.”

Vista Ridge Academy plans to continue coordinating this event for local Adventist schools biannually.

–Marsha Bartulec is vice-principal for administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photos supplied

10 Nov


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado … Students at Vista Ridge Academy in Erie, Colorado recently took a day off from classroom learning to participate in several community service events.

The day, which the school hopes to be a yearly tradition, began with Herbert Hernandez, Chapel Haven Adventist church pastor, presenting the worship thought on the importance of service. After worship, students began their day of service at four different activities stations at the school.

Activities included decorating bags for Coal Creek Meal and Wheels, packing hygiene kits for the Salvation Army, making cards for the Veterans Center, and picking up trash outside of the school.  The students, working in pairs, transitioned through each of the stations throughout the day.

“My favorite part about today was being able to bond with my little buddies and having fun with them,” remarked a seventh-grader.

A student in fourth grade enjoyed the meals on wheels station. “I think my favorite part was when we got to decorate bags for the people who can’t really make their own food. It was great to know I was helping people so they can eat. It was really fun.”

Amanda Koenig, communications and development coordinator of Coal Creek Meals on Wheels, counted it a privilege to speak to the students about the organization. “It was really awesome to be here and to see the students be so dedicated and committed to wanting to learn about the work that we do and also being engaged in the volunteer activity, which was decorating bags. That is a simple but huge way that volunteers and students impacted folks in the community. Our clients just really appreciate receiving that decorated bag, that little positive message that warms their day with their meal and support services.” Students decorated a total of 131 bags for Coal Creek Meals on Wheels.

Kristen Bayulot, Denver Metro social services director of the Salvation Army, was also happy to spend time with the students. “They were very excited to pack hygiene kits for people who are experiencing homelessness in our community. All the students put together 216 hygiene kits, which include washcloths, hand towels, soap, band-aids, fingernail clippers, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, razors, shampoo, and body lotion.”

Collette Archibald, Director of the Boulder Vet Centers, was very grateful for the help the students gave and appreciated the thoughtfulness of Vista Ridge Academy for the 100 cards that were dropped off at the center.

To finish out the special day, the school held a domino fall. Students collected 150 boxes of cereal throughout the week leading up to Service Day. The cereal boxes were used in a domino run set up in the gym by students. This year’s top butter braid seller pushed the first domino, and all students watched with excitement as each box fell to the next. The cereal boxes were donated to the Erie Community Food Bank. You can see a video of the domino fall and pictures from the day’s event on Vista Ridge Academy’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/VistaRidgeAcademy

Vista Ridge Academy plans to keep Service Day as an annual tradition and looks forward to next year’s event.

–Marsha Bartulec is Vista Ridge Academy vice-principal for administration; photos courtesy of Vista Ridge Facebook page

25 Aug


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado … Vista Ridge Academy kicked off the new school year celebrating in-person classes, an expansion of early childhood education options, and 36 new students.

In response to growth in the community and demand for early childhood education, Vista Ridge Academy expanded its early childhood education program by adding an additional room, creating a dedicated preschool (3-year-olds) room, and a dedicated Pre-K (4-year-olds) room.

After parents dropped off their children, the parents attended the annual boo-hoo or yahoo breakfast. The name of the event represented parents’ feelings toward the first day of school, parents may feel sad to drop off their students, hence boo-hoo, or they may be excited to drop off their pupils, hence yahoo.

Brittany McLachlan, school board member and parent of a kindergartener, is thankful her son can be in-person learning this school year. “We hope our son learns to be brave and be kind. We want him to show Jesus in all that he does and have the best time ever learning new things,” said McLachlan.

Brenda Garcia, a new parent at VRA of a fifth-grader and seventh-grader, is thrilled to have her daughters attend Vista Ridge Academy. “I wanted my girls to try something new. We like the environment, and everyone is really nice,” said Garcia.

After breakfast, the day continued with a dedication prayer service on the soccer field. Teachers and staff were introduced, followed by Herbert Hernandez, Chapel Haven pastor, Geoff Patterson, lead pastor at Boulder, and J. Murdock, associate pastor at Boulder, who led in the prayer of dedication for the school year.

Patterson is excited about this school year. “The staff has done an amazing job getting everything prepared, especially with the addition of new classes, and moving into rooms that weren’t used shows innovative thinking and skill on the part of the leadership. The facilities here are just fantastic. The field and the building are in such good shape and kept up so well. It is a good representation of what a Christian school ought to be.”

Students are happy to be back in school. One student in the first and second grade classroom said, “I love this school! It’s way better than I expected. I can’t wait to come back tomorrow.”

Sandy Hodgson, principal, agrees. “We look forward to learning together with our students and families and pray for God’s blessings on another great year.”

Vista Ridge Academy has 101 students enrolled for the academic year.

–Marsha Bartulec is vice-principal for administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photos by Rebecca Murdock, Marit Guild, and Shondra Cizek

19 May


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado … Vista Ridge Academy was joined by the Erie Chamber of Commerce on May 17 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the expansion of the early childhood program.

Principal Sandy Hodgson is excited about the new opportunities for students and the community. “We are pleased to expand our program to better serve our community,” she said.

Commenting on the expansion, early childhood program director, Sandy Hepp, who has 25 years of experience in early childhood education, echoes Hodgson’s excitement “We are excited and honored to add a second classroom to our program.”

The expanded program will offer a full education program for ages three to five and will be offered from mid-August to late May.

Students can expect social and academic development, which includes phonics, reading (with a therapy dog), math, and handwriting. The children will also learn about the Bible, attend weekly chapels, and take classes in music, physical education, technology, and art.

Vista Ridge Academy aims for each child to become comfortable in the school setting, feel that learning is fun, and find joy in who they were created by God to be, setting up a firm foundation for the rest of their education.

— Marsha Bartulec is vice principal of Administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photo supplied.

12 May

Exhibition of Learning Nights at Vista Ridge Academy

By Marsha Bartulec  — Erie, Colorado … From seed germination to saving our planet, and Rube Goldberg machines to self-exploration, learning is happening at Vista Ridge Academy. Students confidently explained their work in video presentations as each classroom held a virtual Exhibition of Learning Night for their family and friends.

Exhibition Nights are a great way to see Vista Ridge Academy’s real-world, “project-based learning” curriculum in action.

The third and fourth grade classroom published a book together of their endangered animals. Each student illustrated a picture of their endangered animal and wrote a report for the book.

Third grader, Hugh, enjoyed recording his presentation for his classroom’s “Animal Showtime.”

“I pretended to snorkel of the shores of California and shared facts about endangered vaquitas. Vaquitas are a porpoise, a little smaller than a dolphin, and there are only ten left in the wild,” Hugh said.

The fifth and sixth grade classroom learned about Rube Goldberg, an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor. Goldberg is best known for his popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in an indirect and overly complicated way, also known as Rube Goldberg machines.

Sixth grade, Lilly, enjoyed building a Rube Goldberg machine with her partner. After three weeks and about an hour or two a day Lilly’s team had success with their machine.

“The task we chose was to put toothpaste on a toothbrush. We used duct tape and cardboard to make ramps, dominoes, and string. I learned by trial and error and that it will not work on the first try,” Lilly, commented.

Exhibitions are an important component of project-based learning and assessment and provide a comprehensive view of each student’s knowledge and mastery of essential skills and content standards.

Click below to watch each classrooms Exhibition of Learning.

Preschool & Pre-K: Seed Germination


Kindergarten: Taking Care of our Planet, in honor of Earth Day


First and second grade: Review of Old Testament Bible Stories and Memory Verses


Third and fourth grade: The Animal Showtime – Endangered Animals


Fifth and sixth grade: Rube Goldberg Machines


Seventh and eighth grade: World History Final Projects


–Marsha Bartulec is the Vice Principal of Administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photo supplied.

15 Apr


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado …Students experienced a special week-long worship event at Vista Ridge Academy during the first week of April, where they were able to connect with God through lessons, stories, prayer, and fun, including an ending to the week which involved eggs being tossed from the roof.

The week of worship was sponsored by the RMC youth department team, which is visiting schools across the conference to encourage youth to dive deep into the theme “Fully Alive.”

One third grader’s favorite part was the theme song, This is Living, from Hillsong Young & Free. “The theme song at the beginning of each day was amazing! I liked doing all the hand motions,” they remarked.

Each day, a new theme was introduced based on what it means to be fully alive with Jesus. They included, “Because God loves the world, He sent us Jesus”; “Because God sees me, I know that I am his child”; “Because God values me, I value myself”; “Because God is with me, I can do what is right”; and “Because God loves me, I can love others”.

The week ended with some science and fun as Kiefer and Jessyka hosted the school’s annual Egg Drop event. All students, from preschool to eighth grade, were invited to participate.

Students were given instructions and parameters two weeks prior to the event to create a device that would keep a raw chicken egg intact when dropped from the school roof. While Kiefer dropped each device from the roof, Jessyka helped students see if their egg survived. Those students with an egg that survived received a dress down pass, meaning that they were able to have a dress down day at school.

“We always have such fun at VRA! The kids have such a fun and loving energy and the teachers always make us feel right at home, said Jessyka Dooley, RMC assistant youth director. “Kiefer and I especially loved getting to help with the egg drop. We’re so excited to see so many of the VRA students at Glacier View Ranch this summer.”

Kiefer Dooley, RMC youth director, reflected on the week. “I had a blast connecting with the students at VRA for the week of worship. [The first four days] were online, so we met over Zoom and the kids saw us on TVs in their classrooms. On Friday, we zoomed into the classrooms from the school and helped with the egg drop in person! I was honored that the kindergartners wanted to “meet me in real life instead of on TV” and that the first and second graders wrote a song for me. It was a lyrical masterpiece, consisting entirely of my name in different melodies and harmonies. Overall, we were thrilled to make connections and encourage the students to live in the Fully Alive way of Jesus.”

–Marsha Bartulec is the vice principal of administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photos supplied

01 Apr


By Marsha Bartulec … Erie, Colorado … Participants in the annual Vista Ridge Academy (VRA) scholarship gala traveled “around the world” during the virtual event.  The evening affair featured ten unique desserts from different parts of the world.

Some 50 participants were invited to the event and were given the option of picking up a dessert box or having it delivered.

Brittany McLachlan began the virtual event by sharing her connection to VRA across the years, going from student-to-student teacher, to current parent and board member. VRA teachers introduced themselves from their classrooms and announced the winners of the drawings for six items: iPad, $250 Target gift card, The Grey House basket, a custom address sign, a photography session with Brittany McLachlan and tickets to the Denver Zoo.

Boulder Adventist church senior pastor Geoff Patterson presented a worship thought on why parents send their children to a Christian school and Rebecca Murdock interviewed teaching principal, Sandy Hodgson.

Hodgson reflected on how the school year has been different this year and shared information on the scholarship program.  “One hundred percent of our students benefit from subsidized tuition due to the support of our constituent churches–Boulder church and Chapel Haven church. Beyond the subsidized tuition, about 25% of our students receive financial aid each year.”

The evening culminated with the Virtual Auction hosted by Mr. E., a.k.a. Boulder church associate pastor James Murdock. The items auctioned included themed baskets from each class from Italy, the Middle East, Hawaii, Mexico, Germany and Puerto Rico. Kodo Kids store donated a Rainbow Peg Board and Northland Violins donated a violin for the auction.

Because of the generous support of Avista Adventist Hospital and several local businesses (Brew, COSTCO, Crumbl, Daylight Donuts of Dacono, DP Sweets, Trader Joes and Whole Foods), all event costs were underwritten, and every dollar raised went directly to scholarships. The evening events raised more than $7,500 toward the scholarship fund.

–Marsha Bartulec is vice principal of administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photos supplied

04 Feb


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado … Third and fourth graders at Vista Ridge Academy finished studying the story of Ruth in their Bible class based on the Encounter Elementary Curriculum. The learning objectives for the unit included becoming familiar with the biblical story of Ruth; understanding the ideas of hospitality, loyalty and caring for others, and introducing the agricultural way of life that was prevalent in Ruth’s time: the planting, harvesting, and use of wheat for food.

Rebecca Murdoch, the 3rd and 4th, 5th and 6th grade Bible teacher, started the unit by giving everyone a little bag of wheat berries, watching a video on how wheat was historically harvested, and then giving students the opportunity to “grind” the wheat berries into “wheat flour” at little stations around the classroom. The students soon realized how long it takes to grind flour, and how long it must take to plant and harvest it. They could not imagine waiting that long to make something like bread or flour cakes, or something else that Ruth’s family probably ate.

At the end of each unit is a celebration of the unit’s completion. Rebecca thought baking bread with the students would be a fun application. When Rebecca mentioned this to Wanda Hart, the school office manager, Wanda told her about a bread-in-a-bag recipe she had done with VBS kids that was a success.

“I wanted Rebecca to finish the unit with something that would make the kids feel accomplished which they could take home with them after the work they put into it,” said Wanda.

Together, they planned the bread-in-a-bag activity. They bought the ingredients, prepared ingredient bags for each of the students, and walked them through the process in class. Each student had their own zip-lock bag which they filled with ingredients, then mixed and kneaded the dough. After class, teachers let the dough rise, baked it, and showed the students pictures of the process before handing out their beautifully-baked mini-bread loaves.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how attentive students were. They wanted to make sure they did everything correctly in order not to wreck the bread. They asked a lot of questions and were pretty dedicated to kneading the bread for the full amount of time required,” said Rebecca.

At the end of the activity, a couple students said this was their “favorite Bible class we have ever done.” And one said they wanted “to do stuff like this all the time”.

Rebecca appreciated Wanda’s suggestion and posted the bread-in-a-bag recipe on the Encounter Elementary Curriculum Facebook group page so that other teachers could use the idea for this unit. “A few teachers responded they are going to try this activity with their class, so I’m excited to hear how it goes for them as well,” she explained.

For the next unit, third and fourth graders are learning about religion. Students will be able to answer the questions, “What is religion?”, “Are there other religions and which religions do our families come from?” This unit will allow students to identify their personal beliefs at this point in their lives.

–Marsha Bartulec is the vice principal of administration at Vista Ridge Academy. Photos by Rebecca Murdock.

09 Dec


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, ColoradoAt Vista Ridge Academy, arts play a crucial role in building strong minds. In addition to weekly music and art classes, VRA offers opportunities for students to participate in choir and Strings of the Rockies program, funded in part by Avista Adventist Hospital.

The Strings of the Rockies program helps students learn that effort, partnered with perseverance, leads to success. Through training in technique and reading music, students are able to strengthen parts of their brain that would not otherwise be developed.

In preschool, the main goal is to develop a love a music by teaching students to have a trained ear to hear low and high pitches, and through listening to different musical styles, they can maintain a steady beat, as they clap, march and stomp to the beat.

In Kindergarten, they are given wooden violins, and start to learn musical techniques.

First through fourth grade students have learning stations, which include learning to read music, ear training, and listening stations.

Strings of the Rockies Program Director Holly Curtis says a big part of the program is character development.

“Playing an instrument is not always easy. Violin is one of those instruments that can be difficult. Through learning to persevere and stick with it, I feel in my own life it developed so many different character qualities in me that I wouldn’t have developed otherwise. Learning to play violin connects different pathways in the brain, and as students are growing as a person, they get to have that experience with music to help develop their character as well,” says Curtis.

The violin class, over the years, has performed for various church and local community events including Avista Adventist Hospital, Chapel Haven Seventh-day Adventist Church and Northglenn Hispanic Seventh-day Adventist Church. They have also performed for the annual Christmas and Spring concert programs.

During this year’s Christmas program, student violin performances will be pre-recorded and shared at the Christmas program on December 17 via Zoom.

–Marsha Bartulec is the VP for administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photo by Greg Floyd (photo taken during 2018 Christmas program)

28 Oct


By Marsha Bartulec – Erie, Colorado … Vista Ridge Academy students lined the school driveway on Friday, October 23 to honor the pastors of their constituent churches with an appreciation parade.

Honorees of the parade were greeted with student-created posters and were cheered as they drove by the crowd that had assembled.

J Murdock, Boulder pastor, brought his extra hand to give fist bumps to the students as he drove by. “I love any chance I get to see the students,” says Murdock.

After the parade, each pastor was presented with a gift basket filled with some of their favorite things.

Reflecting on the event, Herbert Hernandez, Chapel Haven pastor, said, “We really appreciate all the gifts. Thank you for doing this.”

With pandemic restrictions, pastors haven’t been able to be on campus much this year; but they still have had the opportunity to participate and lead the students in chapel every Friday via zoom.

Principal Sandy Hodgson is thankful to have supportive pastors. “Seeing the excitement of [the] students as they celebrate our pastors in some small way was a blessing,” says Hodgson.

Both the VRA staff and students are looking forward to the time when they can all be together again for chapel in the library.

Marsha Bartulec is vice principal of Administration at Vista Ridge Academy; photos by Marsha Bartulec