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Alumni Feature: Mother and son attend The Colorado Springs School their junior and senior years

May 15, 2019

Jan R. '19 with his mother, Lorraine Leist '88. Both attended The Colorado Sprin

Alumni Feature: Mother and son attend The Colorado Springs School their junior and senior years

An invitation to join an elite hockey team in Colorado Springs led to an unexpected surprise for Jan R. ‘19, a high schooler who was living in the Boulder area at the time. It opened the possibility for him to attend The Colorado Springs School for his junior and senior years, just as his mother had.

I was so excited when we figured out Jan could go to CSS,” said his mom, Lorraine Leist ‘88. “My experience at CSS fit me and enhanced me in ways that no other school has. The way in which the faculty invested in me is something that I treasure. I remember really being pushed to be creative in ways I had never thought before.”

She wanted the same for her son. He does best with active, hands-on learning.  

Jan, whose name is pronounced Yahn, grew up sharing his time between his parents’ homes and the hockey rink. Playing for the Colorado Springs Tigers AAA meant he needed to live near the team, about two hours from his parents. It’s tradition for high school players at this level to move away, live with billet families and focus largely on the sport, sometimes doing online schooling.

But for Leist, a member of the CSS Board of Trustees, education came before hockey. “I was clear I was not letting my son go away at 16 years old unless it was exactly the right educational environment and exactly the right home environment, just period,” she said. “Everything had to work out.”

Leist reached out to CSS Science Teacher Greg Johnson and his wife; Johnson had been her teacher roughly 30 years ago. She had something important to ask the couple she had remained in touch with: could Jan live with them during the school year?

With open arms, they took him in,” Leist said. “To have Jan at CSS is knowing he’s in a caring environment where education is highly valued. He’s in this world that is holding him as a whole person and pushing him to grow and learn and become a better leader, a better writer, a better artist. The outcomes have been phenomenal.”

Jan R. '19 creating fish in glass torch-working class.

Jan, who graduates on May 23, doubts he would be attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall if it weren’t for CSS. “Art was an interest when I came here, not a way of life at that point like it is now,” he said.

He had been focused on a college with hockey until he stopped playing after a shoulder injury his junior year. His focus shifted to art, something he was drawn to as a boy. Jan spent much of his childhood in his grandfather’s garage, where they welded, created, and built with anything that came their way.

At CSS, his artistic side was fueled by the bond he formed with Hans Wolfe, who teaches Middle School and Upper School Art.

Mr. Wolfe threw me into what was already going on without really knowing where I was as an artist, and he trusted me enough to let me go ahead and do it. The thing I like about him quite a bit is he’s not just an artist. He’s a material scientist, and he’s willing to tell you how it works: what the melting point is, what its chemical structure is, how it works in relation to this other substance. It’s very interesting,” Jan said. “I’ve had many conversations with him about many different things that I have very much enjoyed.”

Jan R. 19 in the CSS art studio. "Art was an interest when I came here, not a wa

And that kind of relationship with teachers is one of the reasons his mom wanted him at CSS. It mirrors her own time at the school.

Small class sizes helped me to create lifelong relationships with faculty who cared deeply about intellectual, social and emotional growth, and development,” Leist said. “These relationships remain strong — so much so that Greg Johnson did not hesitate when I asked if Jan could live with his family.”

Leist enrolled at CSS the summer she and her family moved from the East Coast. She credits the school for helping her discover herself.

I learned to think critically about all that I studied and about the world. As a result, I formed an identity as someone who could develop and articulate my own views,” she said. “This confidence helped my transition to college and enhanced my capacity for learning in higher education.”

In 1992, Leist received a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She worked for IBM and several start-up companies until Jan was born. Several years later, she answered a subtle whisper that had become a call to attend seminary.

Leist, an ordained minister, received a Master of Divinity degree in 2007 from Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She later left parish ministry and is currently a hospital chaplain, specializing in palliative care chaplaincy for people with serious and chronic illnesses.

At the May 2018 CSS graduation, Leist presented the Margaret White Campbell Award. She was a past recipient of the award, which is given by the Upper School faculty for academic excellence, leadership, service to the CSS community, and general character. This year’s ceremony will be especially moving for Leist.

It’s going to be emotional,” she said. “I’m looking forward to my son not just graduating from high school but from CSS, where I went too.”

When Jan R. graduates on May 23, 2019, he and his mom, Lorraine Leist, will both

Jan, who has regularly visited his parents on weekends, enjoys hearing his mom’s stories from when she attended the school. He knows they’ll both being sharing CSS memories for a long time.

I couldn’t be more grateful. There are so many teachers here who love what they do and really care about their students. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to finish my high school learning,” Jan said. “As difficult as it was to move away from friends and family at 16, I’m so glad that I was able to have this experience. There’s something special about this place for sure.”

This is part of an ongoing series focusing on CSS alumni whose children attend the school.


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