Links between schools go beyond geography

Connections to Arapahoe HS prompt outpouring of compassion

Jane Reuter
Highlands Ranch High School student Alex Macre signs a banner Dec. 18 HRHS students planned to deliver to Arapahoe High School later that day.
Jane Reuter
Highlands Ranch High School was among several DCSD schools that collected money or did other projects to show support for shooting victim Claire Davis and the Arapahoe High School community.
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By Jane Reuter
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Arapahoe High School's location across a county line and in another school district matters little to Douglas County School District staff and students.

In the wake of the Dec. 13 shooting that left one student dead and another critically injured, members of DCSD reached out to the AHS community through dozens of compassionate acts.

It started the Monday after the tragedy, when students throughout DCSD reported to school wearing AHS' black-and-gold colors. From there, students and staff launched a variety of projects.

At Mountain Vista High School, students are making and collecting homemade wind chimes to hang in the trees around AHS. A ThunderRidge High School teacher helped design a "Colorado Strong" T-shirt whose sales so far have generated more than $44,000 in donations.

At Highlands Ranch and Rock Canyon high schools, teenagers signed student-made banners with messages of support. Acres Green Elementary held a pajama-day fundraiser. And dozens of DCSD schools started collections to help offset shooting victim Claire Davis' medical costs.

AHS, located mere minutes from many DCSD facilities, shares much more than a common boundary with the district.

Hundreds of DCSD students previously shared classes and friendships with the shooter, Karl Pierson, and his sister Kristen, Highlands Ranch residents who attended both Acres Green Elementary and Cresthill Middle School before enrolling in Littleton Public Schools' AHS.

Students and staff at Acres Green Elementary know Karl's mother Barbara from her 2008-2010 stint working there as an educational assistant.

Open enrollment means teenagers cross county lines to attend high schools in both school districts. And teachers who live in the two counties also have taught in the neighboring schools, further intertwining the lives of AHS and Douglas County students, parents and teachers.

"This hit really close to home," Highlands Ranch High School Principal Jerry Goings said. "I think everybody has been impacted by it one way or another - whether it's a student that knew (Pierson) personally, or because it happened just down the road in our neighborhood. Because of the nature of the incident and the fact it involved a teacher, it really hit our teachers coming in on Monday morning, too."

Rock Canyon High School students and staff share similar connections.

"Our largest open enrollment group comes from Cresthill," Principal Andy Abner said. "My wife's a teacher at Arapahoe. We have a teacher here whose son goes to school there, and kids who show horses with Claire.It doesn't always seem like a small world when something like this happens."

Focusing on finals helped, Goings said. So did finding ways to help.

"There's been a lot of support for the school," he said. "That's the cool thing."

There's also been support from DCSD schools and staff. HRHS was among many local schools with mental health crisis teams available for students after the shooting.

"Lots of teachers asked, 'Do we need to talk about this?'" student Taylor Garner said. "Our orchestra teacher dedicated the entire class to talking about it."

On Dec. 19, the day before some AHS students were allowed back to pick up belongings, HRHS student senate members delivered their banner to the school. Bold, black letters encircled with the signatures of Highlands Ranch students offered support: "Stay strong, Warriors, Falcons have you under our wing."

"A lot of us have friends who go there," HRHS student Emily Kohn said. "We just want to let them know we're there for them."

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