Crow Canyon

Pleasant View: The Little School (and Town) That Could

Pleasant View student usign an atlatl
Pleasant View Elementary School students practice their spear-throwing skills while using atlatls.

In the 1930s, the town of Ackmen, located about 20 miles north of Crow Canyon, at the head of Sandstone Canyon, boasted a post office, general store, and school.

The school, founded in 1917, was a popular community gathering spot. But in 1936 construction began on a highway to link Monticello, Utah, and Cortez, Colorado, and the route missed Ackmen by more than a mile. Soon residents established "New Ackmen" next to the highway and moved businesses and the post office to the new site. But the heart and soul of the community—the schoolhouse—stayed put.

The community was split. Diehards who had remained in the original town wanted to keep the school exactly where it was, while New Ackmen residents wanted their school close by. After a vote by school district members that favored moving the school, a face-to-face confrontation between the two sides ensued, with old Ackmen residents charging voter fraud. Finally, a second vote upheld the first, and the school was moved. With the addition of the school—the real and symbolic center of the community—New Ackmen was complete.

New Ackmen was soon renamed Pleasant View, and eventually many residents of the old Ackmen community lifted their homes from their foundations and moved to the new town.

Now, almost 80 years later, Pleasant View Elementary School continues to be a focus of the community, and it enjoys tremendous support from the town's residents. When Pleasant View Elementary teacher Jay Stoeckl recently proposed a Crow Canyon school group program for his students—and money needed to be raised for the trip—the local residents, true to form, sprang into action. The Pleasant View Parent Teacher Organization spearheaded fund-raising efforts: concession stands at the local Harvest Festival and the annual agriculture expo in nearby Cortez, as well as an ice cream social, where they sold pineapple and pickle pops (yes, the pickle pops were made from pickle juice!). Funds from the agriculture expo supported school needs beyond the budget, in addition to the Crow Canyon trip.

Jay offered high praise to local parents and his colleagues. “The Pleasant View Parent Teacher Organization is the most involved I’ve ever worked with,” he said.

This spring, 12 Pleasant View students came to Crow Canyon for a two-day experiential learning adventure. Jay was enthused about the trip. “When I was a student teacher in Oregon, we did a five-day trip at a science school, and it was fantastic for the kids.” When he arrived at Pleasant View Elementary a few years ago, Jay said he looked around for a local place to take his students for an out-of-the-classroom learning experience. He found Crow Canyon to be perfect!

With 24 students and two classrooms, Pleasant View Elementary harkens back to the days of small schoolhouses on the frontier—but it is by no means backwoods, and what it lacks in size, it makes up for in heart.

For two years running, Pleasant View Elementary has been recognized for making academic strides, winning the Distinguished Improvement Award from Governor John Hickenlooper. The award is given to schools that exceed expectations in raising test scores and closing growth gaps. Why do students excel at Pleasant View, when larger urban schools sometimes struggle? Jay credits the multiple-grade classrooms. At Pleasant View, younger students learn in the same classroom as their older peers and have the opportunity to listen in on more-advanced classes. But if students are well suited to their own grade level, there is no stigma in remaining there.

But more than anything, it’s the involvement of the parents and the tiny community of Pleasant View. It seems that being small really does have its benefits!

For more information about the history of Pleasant View, read People of the Mesa Verde Country: An Archaeological Remembrance (Westcliffe Publishers, 2002) by the late Ian (Sandy) Thompson. Sandy Thompson was the executive director of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center from 1987 to 1990 and the director of research from 1995 to 1997. He was also an eloquent author who wrote about life in southwestern Colorado.

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