Reading and writing in the trees

When Stephanie Turner gave her Advanced French Seminar students their assignment, she thought they might need some inspiration. And so she led them out of the classroom, across the Colorado Academy campus, and up a narrow ladder where they got to work.

“The assignment was to write a poem about their childhood—in French, of course,” Turner says. “I thought being here might help them because childhood and treehouses go together.”

Ms. Turner’s Advanced French Seminar students work on their assignment.

Yes, the class was writing French poetry in a treehouse, taking advantage of CA’s most recent innovation—an outdoor Reading Platform built high off the ground around two trees. “Being outside, the sounds and the cool shade provide a sense of calm,” says Junior Mackenzie Wagner, as she composes her poem with crayons that Turner brought along in a box of supplies.

“Being up high gives you perspective on life,” adds Junior Marius Frenz. “It lets you forget your worries.”

Mackenzie Wagner and Pedro Olivas-Holguin

The Reading Platform opened at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year and quickly became a popular destination for Middle and Upper School classes. It originated as a gift from students to students, and it was fulfilled by a team of collaborators who, despite some setbacks, wouldn’t give up on the project.

‘A cool concept’

The Reading Platform began as an Interim project for student builders.

The Reading Platform began as an Interim project for student builders.

The Reading Platform project began in Spring 2018 as the brainchild of Upper School Spanish teacher Dave Colodny, who says he had “always wanted to build something on campus.” How much experience did Colodny have building treehouses? Well, he had watched Treehouse Masters, the Animal Planet show about Pete Nelson, a world-renowned treehouse designer and builder. With IT Network Administrator Rory Butler, Colodny pitched the idea of building a campus treehouse as an Interim Project to Director of Experiential Education Forbes Cone.

“I thought it was a really cool concept,” Cone says. “It creates an outdoor learning space, allowing students to work outside the classroom.”

Cone greenlighted the idea, and the Interim advisors and their students, including Tucker Ezrine, Catie Groves, Bryce Harvey, Alex Henry, Ella Marks, Ben Nelligan, Sage Phelps-Fast, Eric Rumsfeld, Maya Rutherford, and Christian Stevens, began sketching a design in pre-Interim meetings. Not one person in the group had ever built a treehouse.

By the time Interim began, the parts for the treehouse had arrived. Then came the heavy lifting.

“We all learned together,” Colodny says. “Some of the students had never built anything, so they had to learn to use tools safely. None of the kids had downtime. They really worked hard.”

What everyone on the project learned was that one Interim week was not long enough to build an ambitious two-tree, two-room treehouse. By the end of the week, the treehouse was still mostly tree, and not so much house.

‘A collaborative effort’

David Frankel and Forbes Cone worked in the snow to advance the project during the 2018 winter holiday break.

David Frankel and Forbes Cone worked in the snow to advance the project during the 2018 winter holiday break.

The treehouse had started as a group effort, with faculty, staff, and students doing the work, along with help from the Operations staff, including Director of Operations Jesse Schumacher, who oversaw the project; Lallo Herrera, who surveyed the site; and Jeff Chipman, who offered advice and guidance. But now Cone had to ask a hard question. “I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to finish it?’” he says. “The alternative was letting the project die, taking it apart, and having nothing to show for it.”

Instead, during the 2018-2019 school year, new members of a team led by Cone stepped up to complete the treehouse. Over the December holiday break, Upper School Science Teacher David Frankel worked with Cone in the snow on the decking, staircase, and railings. And by summer of 2019, Colodny and Cone put the finishing touches on the project, just in time for the opening of the school year.

“This was such a collaborative effort, and I’m grateful for all the help we got,” Colodny says. “It wouldn’t have been completed without everyone who stepped up.”

‘You can enjoy reading anywhere’

No sooner did Ms. Turner’s class descend from the Reading Platform, than Jason Koza’s Middle School Advisory students, each one toting a book, arrived for some quiet reading time. “It’s a beautiful day, and this is a special environment,” Koza says. “It sends the message that you can enjoy reading anywhere.”

Jason Koza's Advisory reading on the platform.

Jason Koza’s Advisory reading on the platform.

His students settled right down and started reading to the sounds of birds and Pre-Kindergarten students playing outside. “I like the breeze and the smells,” says Charlie Michaud.

“We can read and at the same time enjoy nature and trees,” adds Mattias Pereira.

From a wild idea to a reality—the CA Reading Platform showcases how sometimes it takes a village to build a treehouse.