Half a lifetime of memories: Breckenridge Elementary School celebrates its 50th anniversary of bringing community together

Each morning, parents flock to Breckenridge Elementary School to drop off their little ones, bid them farewell and watch as their children walk through the doors to start their day. 

Long after the bell ring marks the start of a day, Kelly Ahern, a first grade teacher at the elementary school, said she can still see parents mingling with each other outside as she peers through the classroom windows. 

This scene has been playing out at the school for nearly 50 years now.

“What makes a community is people who care about each other, care for the bigger picture of the community and contribute,” said Leigh Girvin, one of the first graduates from Breckenridge Elementary. “That’s a big part of what we’re celebrating — is the community that surrounds Breckenridge Elementary School.”

Girvin is a main organizer for the 50th Anniversary celebration of Breckenridge Elementary happening this Sunday. 

Before Breckenridge Ski Resort opened in 1961, any student who lived in Breckenridge was bused to a countywide school located in Frisco, Girvin said. 

Then Keystone Ski Resort and Copper Mountain Ski Resort opened, and families streamed into the county.  

According to Girvin, Breckenridge was the first town to break off from the countywide elementary and get its own.

Breckenridge Elementary opened in November of 1972, with an innovative new design. 

Though it was almost 50 years ago, Girvin said she still remembers walking into Breckenridge Elementary for the first time.

“It smelled like a new school,” Girvin said. “Brand new carpet, brand new paint, new furniture … it was just pristine.”

The school was built in a horseshoe shape, with an open-concept style with no classrooms that, according to Girvin, didn’t last long. 

That design, though, is something current principal of Breckenridge Elementary, Ann-Mari Westerhoff, said speaks to the spirit of the school. 

“It’s kind of a hub here,” Westerhoff said. “Everyone comes on to the playground, and it gives parents and kids a chance to form friendships and interact and really enjoy the community.”

Ahern echoed something similar, based on her experience at Breckenridge Elementary. 

While Ahern is a first grade teacher at Breckenridge Elementary, her ties go further than a career. 

Ahern grew up in Breckenridge and was the second generation of her family to attend Breckenridge Elementary. She attended from kindergarten to fifth grade in the early 1990s. 

Now, her daughter is a first grader there, too. 

“It definitely had that very small town feel,” Ahern said. “Many of the families not only went to school together, but we also participated in soccer and skiing and went camping on the weekends. So you really kind of grow as a larger family within that community.” 

Though she left for eight years, Ahern wanted to come back. 

“I think it took me moving away to realize how special it was here,” Ahern said. “When my husband and I decided that we wanted to start a family, we knew we wanted to be here and raise our kids in this community.”  

Girvin said the same thing about leaving Summit County. She went to college in Massachusetts and said it took moving away to realize how special her childhood was. 

One of Girvin’s favorite memories of her year at Breckenridge Elementary was recess. Carter Park, across from the school, was an integral part of her day. During the winter, Girvin said students were allowed to sled down the Carter Park ski hill.

Girvin said one of the most important parts of the 50th celebration is the continuity that the school has granted to the Breckenridge community. 

“Fifty years is a milestone in a place like Breckinridge which is so transient,” Girvin said. “So many people come and go from this community … so when you have an institution that has provided continuity to the community, educating your children for all these over all these years, that’s really worth celebrating.”

Girvin said at least one of her classmates from the 1972-1973 school year plans to attend the event with her. 

The gathering will be held on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Breckenridge Elementary from noon to 4 p.m. 

Girvin said activities will be held at both the school and Carter Park interchangeably, with bouncy houses, face painting and chalk art for kids. 

For adults, Breckenridge Brewery will provide drinks, and tours of the school will be offered as well. 

At the end, a birthday cake will be cut to represent the school’s milestone. 

“That building just holds so many memories for so many people,” Ahern said. “I think getting everyone together to celebrate that is going to be really special.”