History of Catalyst High School

The unique educational model of Catalyst High School is built upon the success of Chinook Alternatives, a program that Catalyst’s Founder Ed Porritt largely created for the Boulder Valley School District starting in 1998. At the time, Chinook’s mission was to prevent and reclaim high school drop outs. It was in Chinook that the contract based, month-long block schedule, one-on-one teacher-student interaction model of learning was born and evolved. Before funding issues closed Chinook in 2004, the program helped 258 students — who otherwise likely would have dropped out – to graduate high school.

After Chinook closed, parents and educators continued to call Ed, asking about what high school options there were to fill the void for sensitive, highly capable students who did not fit inside the box and were tragically falling through the cracks. Eventually, a group of concerned citizens and Chinook Parents started to meet with Ed to plan the possible reintroduction of the highly successful school experience that they valued so highly. A needs assessment was conducted by an independent researcher, who verified that a need for such a school indeed did exist in this region. With a full team of former Chinook teachers, Catalyst opened its doors in August 2007, as a nonprofit high school to serve under-achieving, high-potential students. Since its inception, Catalyst has continued to evolve rapidly, with new ideas from new research and new teachers, and with more support for students whose mental and academic needs require a more personalized and responsive educational experience.

In May 2010, Catalyst High School earned the highest level of accreditation offered by NCA CASI. As of June 2010, Catalyst had served over 80 full-time students. For a majority of these students, Catalyst was the second, third or fourth high school attempted. Of these 80 students, 76% of them found success, having graduated from Catalyst or transferred later to a larger, traditional public school after a successful rebuilding experience at Catalyst.

Student Profile

Our student body is characterized more by the diversity of who it includes than by who it does not include. For example, in terms of ethnic diversity Catalyst enjoys a larger percentage of students of color than the Boulder County norm. In terms of interests and talents, the Catalyst student body has included but has not been limited to competitive athletes representing nearly a dozen different sports, accomplished singers, song writers and musicians, social activists, writers and poets, mechanically and technologically focused students, as well as students going into movie and film-related arts. Catalyst students cross the spectrum, from those who test at average academic levels to those who have been identified as talented and gifted and twice exceptional. Many students have real strengths in some areas while also having significant deficits in other areas.

Our students have had a variety of experiences. Over one-quarter of our students have been adopted or live apart from their parents. Over one-quarter of our students say they were bullied or harassed at a previous high school. Two-thirds of our students report that depression (including bipolar disorder) or anxiety has interfered with their success in high school. Twenty percent of our students say they have experienced post traumatic stress from trauma or from the loss of someone. Nearly three-quarters of our students say that low grades in high school did not reflect who they really are and what they really know and can do. Over one-third of our students have participated in wilderness programs or lived in a boarding school.

Learning to manage stress and being happy to have found a school that “fits” are common themes among our students. The Catalyst student body tends to be kind, supportive and welcoming. It is composed of individuals whose uniquenesses and personal challenges have created a sense of empathy, respect, and compassion toward others. We often see one student redirecting another student or quietly offering support and counsel. Students (as well as staff) have been known to disrupt the learning environment with laughter. Of course, as teens they can be rude or insensitive, and their moods can change without a moment’s notice. Also, they are entirely capable of making impulsive, unwise, self-destructive decisions. For times like these, they have the support of our highly skilled counseling department.

Students Who are Unlikely to Fit or Be Accepted

Catalyst High School will not accept students who test positive on our required screen for the illegal use of drugs or a student with an active and responsible parent or guardian who does support Catalyst’s policy regarding illegal drugs. (For details, see the Catalyst Illegal Drugs Policy.) Catalyst is not a place for students with a significant likelihood of doing harm to themselves to others. Chronic bullies or those who are hostile toward others will not be accepted. Nor will students who lack empathy toward others or exhibit socio-pathological traits. Catalyst does not accept fire starters or students diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Conduct Disorder, or moderate to high degree of psychosis. Catalyst High School considers admittance one application at a time. Catalyst reserves the right to refuse admittance to anyone. Further, the Catalyst Student Admission Policy reserves the right to disenroll a student immediately if it is discovered that important information about the student has been withheld during the application, interview, vetting and enrollment process.

Finally, it should be noted that Catalyst has admitted, but subsequently found limited success working with some who fit the following descriptions: a student who is repelled rather than attracted to establishing close personal relationships with teachers; a student with extreme ADHD coinciding with a history of significant substance abuse; a student considered non-verbal with extremely limited social skills; a student who is able to provide only limited written or typed answers on the Student Application for Admission and limited verbal responses to direct oral questions during the interview processes.

Rolling Admission

Catalyst operates with a rolling admission policy, which allows students to apply at any time. If accepted, the student may be able to begin attending school within days. Because of our contract-based instructional model, we are able to engage students immediately in learning, using their strengths, passions, and interests as a starting point. Our five-week blocks allow a student a sense of accomplishment within weeks, or even days, of admission.

The heart and soul of Catalyst
is truly in the people who embody
our community.