Ernie Pierce believes in the power of positive thinking.
"It's all about believing that something wonderful is going to happen," Pierce said during an 80th birthday celebration held at the district's Educational Services Center on Dec. 7. "Sometimes it does."
Pierce, who started in the Cherry Creek School District as a Home/Hospital instructor in 2002, has seen firsthand how the right kind of attitude can yield tangible and powerful effects. For more than 15 years, Pierce has worked directly with CCSD students who face some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. His role in the district's Home/Hospital program has connected him with kids who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses and students whose academic lives have been derailed by behavioral issues or by pressures beyond their control.
He's handled each case with a trademark brand of kindness, thoughtfulness and empathy.
"My goal is to make everybody happier for whatever length of time I spend with them, whether it's just a transaction in the grocery store or my work with students," Pierce said. "I want to have someone walk away feeling better because I spent that time with them."
When it comes to his work in the Home/Hospital program, Pierce has always sought to achieve that goal via kindness and careful listening. Drawing from the expertise he gleaned from earning his master's degree in counseling, Pierce works to establish a genuine connection with students, no matter their specific circumstances or challenges. As one of the program's teachers who works more with students who've made what Pierce calls "bad decisions," he says those skills are crucial to his success.
"I listen to them with respect and without judgement," Pierce said. "My counseling background really helps me out in terms of being an effective listener and sometimes being an effective problem-solver. It's about letting the kids know that I'm on their side."
That approach has yielded some of the biggest professional and personal rewards for Pierce. When asked about the highlights of his work in CCSD, he's quick to point to a long list of success stories. He counts attending graduation ceremonies and keeping in touch with past students as his greatest accomplishments.
"Seeing them grow, having them invite me to their graduation ceremonies, having them tell me that I'm the one who's had the greatest impact on them in the past year … It makes me feel really fortunate," he said.
The effects of Pierce's kindness and attention aren't limited to students, as was clear during the 80th birthday celebration held for him at ESC earlier this month. His warmth and dedication are just as impactful for his peers and colleagues, who gathered to share cake, conversation and fond wishes. They asked him to put off any thoughts of retirement – they wouldn't know what to do without him; they recalled baseball games attended together and swapped stories about particularly memorable students.
They came to celebrate more than just a co-worker; they came to offer credit to a dear friend.
"Ernie is very special to me," said Lauren Eigner, Home/Hospital Specialist for the district. "He helps kids in some of the most difficult situations in the district and he does it with a smile."
She then addressed Pierce directly before he headed to the cake to blow out the candles.
"We cherish you, and we love you."