Plum Creek Academy has new home

Posted 8/19/09

After 16 years, Plum Creek Academy has a place to truly call home. On the afternoon before the school’s grand opening, Dale Jenkins, principal for …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?

Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.


Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.

Our print publications are advertiser supported. For those wishing to access our content online, we have implemented a small charge so we may continue to provide our valued readers and community with unique, high quality local content. Thank you for supporting your local newspaper.

Plum Creek Academy has new home


After 16 years, Plum Creek Academy has a place to truly call home.

On the afternoon before the school’s grand opening, Dale Jenkins, principal for the past 11 years, was checking that everything was ready.

Plum Creek serves seventh-graders through seniors with emotional problems and students with autism spectrum conditions. For several years, the school used the former Plum Creek Elementary site in Highlands Ranch.

The new school building on Commerce Center Drive in the morning shadow of Shea Stadium, has two wings, color-coded by function. A blue wing serves students with emotional disorders while the autism-spectrum students inhabit a green wing. The classrooms are silent. Not quiet, with the hum of air conditioners and the distant, bouncing echoes of employees working elsewhere in the building, but silent.

“All the mechanical units, the air conditioning and that sort of thing, are mounted over areas that are meant to be noisy,” Jenkins said. “These kids can’t have additional noise and still concentrate.”

Ideally, a student will spend a semester or two at Plum Creek and return to a neighborhood school.

Some do, and others will earn all their high school credits at Plum Creek. Those students have the option of taking part in their neighborhood school’s graduation ceremony, but few take up the offer.

“They don’t do well going to a new place full of people they don’t know,” Jenkins said.

When his students do walk the stage, Jenkins is there, a familiar face on a chaotic, exciting day.

Students at Plum Creek have a full slate of academic classes but also get daily instruction in social skills.

Boundaries, interaction and the basics of getting along in society are reinforced through a start FRESH program that functions as the rule of the land.

FRESH is an acronym for friendship, respect, education, safety and honesty.

“We teach ‘What does friendship look like?’ on the bus, in the classroom and in the community,” Jenkins said. “We show the kids with direct modeling.”

The school focuses an catching students being good rather than being bad. Students earn points that can be used to spend time in a student lounge, with pool tables, air hockey and foosball.

One pool table is a gift of an earlier group of students.

“They wanted to wear hats, and that’s against district policy,” Jenkins said. “So I said they could wear hats on Fridays if they paid a dollar. They paid, and we made enough to buy this pool table.”

Along the blue wing hallways are rooms for group therapy, offices for two social workers and classrooms. Each classroom has adjustable lighting with flicker-free and sound free fluorescent lights. For students with hearing difficulties, an amplification system broadcasts the teacher’s voice so no one student is singled out by having a receiver on his desk.

Each classroom also has page magnifier available.

On the green wing, quiet rooms, a room full of swings, including a cocoon swing to help students feel safe, and classrooms with adjustable lights all will help to make the students as comfortable as possible.

Typically, people with autism disorders have sensitivity to sound, light and touch. Controlling sound and light in classrooms increases students’ chances of success.

School wide, the building is mainly lit with natural light. Only the computer lab, filled with Apple computers, is lit with electricity but the building is bright and airy.

In the green wing, lights are buffered and windows can be covered for autistic-spectrum students.

The ratio of adults to students is two adults, one teacher and one paraprofessional, for eight or 10 students for students with emotional disorders. Each student on the autism spectrum has an aide.

Many of the mostly male students at Plum Creek are athletic. A multipurpose room serves as gym, auditorium and cafeteria.

Embedded in the floor are nine blocks of multicolor tile.

“Can you guess what these are?” Jenkins asked.

The colors don’t match anything in the school.

“They are individual Twister,” he said. “We don’t touch here. We don’t hug and we watch boundaries. Several of our young ladies have learned to get what they want with their bodies. Some students are sex offenders.”

Physical education is important. It burns off energy, stretches muscles and gives students who might struggle in the classroom a place to shine.

“Many of our students are blessed with athletic ability,” Jenkins said.

Competition is kept very friendly. Volleyball is played with beach balls to keep aggression at bay.

“No one gets spiked,” Jenkins said.

Opening Plum Creek in the new location starts Jenkins’ final year in teaching.

His office sports a Harley -Davidson poster and several smaller posters proclaiming peace.

He has taken one long weekend off all summer to ride his 2002 Harley-Davidson Softail to Wichita, Kan., and back. Otherwise, Jenkins has been in the school.

“I’ve been opening Christmas presents,” he said of the equipment for the school.


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.