The corner of South Holly Street and East Belleview Avenue looked very different in 1966.
Now a picturesque stretch of developed land surrounded by miles of well-established suburbia, the parcel was a post on the wild frontier of the Denver metro area in the third year of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency. The land offered unimpeded views of the Front Range to the west, the plains to the east and the southern route to Pike's Peak. The year the doors opened at Cherry Creek West Junior High, a new school that hosted middle schoolers from the Cherry Creek School District's rapidly growing student population, Colorado was a very different place.
For all of the changes the Denver metro area and the Cherry Creek School District have seen in the past 50 years, the school on the corner of Holly and Belleview has retained its fundamental character. Now West Middle School, its students, staff and administrators have kept up a lasting commitment to achievement.
"I think best of what West has always been – a traditional, high-achieving school where we care about kids – goes on and on," said Principal Katherine Bergles during West Middle School's formal 50th birthday celebration held at the school on Aug. 19. "It just persists."
Even so, a lot has changed in 50 years, and the celebration offered all members of the West community to reflect on the past, the present and the future of one of the Cherry Creek School District's oldest middle schools. West Middle School teachers, staff and students came together to organize the party, which featured historic photos, vintage school spirit wear and other mementos pulled from the past five decades. From black-and-white photos of West student delegations in Washington D.C. from the 1970s to old staff photos and images of vintage cougar mascots from the school's first years, the party paid tribute to the past.
"We've been talking about this celebration for about 18 months," said Bergles, adding that one of her first projects after taking on the role of West principal in 2014 was planning this special birthday party. "I've been working with my PTCO and my faculty – we really revved it up over the summer, making displays and getting all of the archive material out of the walls of West."
Bergles and the rest of the West community completed a true historian's task in putting together the celebration. They reviewed hundreds of photos and studied up on the history of the district; they reached out to alums, teachers and staff members from the whole of West's history.
Those efforts showed during the celebration, as West community members from several generations filed through the doors. All of the surviving principals were on hand to welcome former students and teachers; alums who now have children and grandchildren at the school interacted with current students.
The celebration was a way of acknowledging the passing of time, but more importantly, it was a way to reassert the core value that's always been at the heart of the school.
"The most important part of doing this celebration was that we had the kids here," Bergles said. "I wanted be sure that our dignitaries and our returning community members saw today's kids here. West is about them."