In the Eyes of the Principal: Part 1

Gwen Hansen-Vigil’s memories from quarantine, insight on the making of this year and her thoughts now that it has arrived.


On March 12th, Cherry Creek Schools announced schools would be shut down due to Covid-19. This one-week extension to spring break quickly escalated to the end of in-person learning for the 2019-2020 school year. Everyone found themselves in a state of isolation, confusion and searching for answers. 

What would the rest of the school year look like? Would seniors get a graduation ceremony? Surely we won’t be dealing with this next school year, right? There were, and still are, a million unknowns. All eyes looked to Gwen Hansen-Vigil.

Vigil following mask guidelines while talking to a student. (@weareeaglecrest Instagram)

“I listened to some podcasts pretty regularly, so I was very aware in January into February. In fact, I was in the car with my son, who was listening to the same podcast and he said, ‘Mom, that seems like exponential transmission’. When you could hear the numbers, you could kind of see the possibilities,” said Vigil. “I would say that the structures around us nationally [were] not moving in a direction we needed, to be responsive to the degree that we later learned later into February into March.”

Eaglecrest came to this revelation too: the world was not going to be the same for a while- or maybe, ever. The events we looked forward to every year were just not possible; Sports and activities were gone.

“I think we point to a couple of different dates. When the World Health Organization determined that it was a pandemic, that announcement, I think, was pretty pivotal for most of us. Within the next 24 hour time period, we saw just different large organizations start to make a shift,” said Vigil. “So when the NBA had to shut down [their] games, I think that was just one of the things that was more high profile; most people were aware of that.”

Going beyond the Eaglecrest bubble, the world also shut down before our eyes. No more were the days of going out to eat at restaurants or going to the mall on Saturday morning with friends; a societal shift had effectively taken shape. 

“We had to change just our perspective and our patterns. I think what was difficult during that time was and still continues to be difficult. I’m just feeling so disconnected,” said Vigil. “We had the ability through screens and all the mechanisms we were using in the spring to be connected, in what I would call the two dimensional world, but it was missing. I’ll speak for myself- I felt really hollow. We’re making the best of a situation. But it’s challenging.”

Some refused the challenge, but most accepted with a sense of duty. Masks, once a weird thing Billie Eilish wore, became the new normal. Standing closer than six feet to a stranger felt awkward and tense. Social butterflies became introverts. 

Eaglecrest and CCSD faculty had an added duty: school. During a regular school year, teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. During a pandemic, their job gets all the more difficult. This difficult task of finding new ways to teach was partnered with seeing their students somber. Yet, they didn’t give up.

Eaglecrest students walking down the new Covid-19 friendly hallways. (Jeremy Garza)

“What gave me a lot of hope was just all the ways I was seeing people creatively respond. We rallied in so many ways and to put school up and into place and even as heartbreaking as it really was to not have some really pivotal experiences for our seniors,” said Vigil. “When we did the car parade for our graduates, I don’t think there was a dry eye in either of these parking lots, it was just so incredible to see our kids and to see our community come together in that kind of a way to say, ‘we celebrate you, we see you.’ I would say so much hope comes from the ways that we’re just figuring it out.”

Everyone was just trying to figure it out without always knowing what they needed to figure out. The simple things in life came back to the community almost overnight. 

“We were eating at home a lot more and we divided up who was going to take the lead for different meals in our family- plan the menu, cook the meal. That was a lot of fun,” said Vigil. “But our oldest daughter was able to shift to working remotely and our middle child was back home- so we were all in the house together. That was a gift of time and togetherness that, in the difficulty of it all, provides you some strength.”


The 2020-2021 school year approached as the extended summer faded fast. Vigil approved of the way the education system took on this year. Everyone in education was looking to answer the hardest question they had faced: how to teach in a pandemic. 

“We Got This”: Eaglecrest’s 2020-2021 school year motto. (@weareeaglecrest Instagram)

“I appreciate how much our decision making in the state of Colorado and at the district level have been driven by information and in resources and nobody’s done it alone. I have appreciated just that grounding in our decision making,” said Vigil. “In terms of this summer, I also appreciate the level of problem solving and the level of willingness to consider different models.” 

With each new idea, the public would become increasingly restless and upset over the coming school year. Eaglecrest faculty took each new decision and planned accordingly the best they could -just for it to change again. They took it one step and one day at a time, and never lost that twinkling hope of teaching.

“Throughout the summer, there were different models that were considered and that we were undertaking. So we would start to plan for one and then we would shift to a different one,” said Vigil. “I think, for us here at the school and in this circumstance, we [were] very grounded in what problem are we trying to solve? Because if we can identify what problem it is, the solution follows.”

Vigil and the rest of Eaglecrest took every problem and sought out solutions quickly and effectively. Not all of them were easy, but their never-ending drive is the reason we are able to walk the halls again. 

“The whole time I saw nothing but a can do, like we got this. We’ll figure this out. There was so much energy and passion driven around keeping people safe and paying attention to what the data [said] in terms of how we transmit and what kinds of things we need to do,” said Vigil. “Paired with knowing how important it [is] to connect with kids. I knew we could figure it out.”

The new changes, including one-way hallways, mask mandates, and partial remote learning, have seemed to truly help stave off an outbreak. 

“It’s been smooth. You’ve seen it. Our community has been so responsive to what we need to do in order to increase the chances that we’re going to stay in person. And I’m very hopeful,” said Vigil. “I’m very hopeful we’re going to be able to keep this going.”


As a student, sometimes it feels like being a teacher is a job for some people and it’s not their passion. That is what separates a good employee and a good educator. Through the pandemic, it became clear we have good educators in our building.

“I felt that from the beginning, we have such incredible teachers. They have the most incredible commitment level. And that they are really about kids and really about learning. And [they] will do what it takes,” said Vigil. “I don’t think we knew that before, but I think we know that now- that we have just incredible professionals that really care about the work that they do.”

A class having a lesson outside. (@weareeaglecrest Instagram)

Between faculty and students, everyone wanted to feel bonds again. Quarantine separated everyone, Vigil’s biggest goal of the school year was to bring everyone together again. 

“We have common needs around connection. We have the common needs to be learners, to be curious [and] to stay engaged. What is even clearer now is how, although we have those common basic needs, we each can find our way differently,” said Vigil. “It doesn’t have to look the same for everyone and I don’t think we’ve ever thought that- in fact, I know we haven’t. But it’s been highlighted even more that people can find their way differently.”

Everyone’s different path is equally important, through all of this that has become apparent. 

“The resiliency of our students and compassion for each other, always strong, but so onstage right now,” said Vigil. “I also think we’ve always been [a] very kind hearted student body. People just reached out to each other and [took] care of each other in very different ways.”

During Vigil’s tenure as principal of Eaglecrest, she has learned more about the youth and human relations than the average human. She is still learning and has discovered a lot about herself the past year. 

“I think that one of the things that I learned about myself is the importance of transitions and bookends and the things that feed our souls that we didn’t know were super important. Like, even just the pure pleasure of making tea in the morning and putting it in my to go cup and to enjoy that cup of tea on the way to school [and] to physically go to be with all of you and to see your faces coming in,” said Vigil. “We do what we do in education because there’s such fulfillment in what we’re doing.”