Ryan Silva learned how to keep up appearances when he was a student at Smoky Hill High School.
The son of a single mother who juggled roles as caregiver, breadwinner and a non-traditional college student intent on earning her degree, Silva shouldered many more responsibilities than the typical high school student. In addition to his academic duties, Silva was in charge of taking care of his younger sister as his mother worked and went to school. The family had to deal with scant resources, making the most of little when times got tough.
All the while, he kept up a brave face, a critical skill for any teenager looking to fit in.
"On the surface, I probably seemed like just a normal teenage kid who was in a good social group and who performed well," Silva said. "People didn't know that for a period of time, we were receiving aid from the government for food. They didn't know that when I got home, I had a lot of extra responsibilities."
Silva, the current principal at Cherry Creek High School, is one of many alums who've returned to roles as teachers, staff and administrators at schools across the Cherry Creek School District. When he was a high school student in the 1990s, Silva had an early inkling that he wanted to pursue a career in education, thanks largely to the members of the Smoky Hill community who took the time to find out what was going on beneath the surface.
Those teachers, counselors, administrators and staff members played an important role outside of the school building, Silva said. They acted as a support system, a guidepost for a future career in public education.
"My mom got to carry the load. There wasn't a second adult, so I would say a lot of teachers filled that void," Silva said. "I didn't know what I wanted to teach, but I knew I wanted to be in a school. I liked school life. I don't know if it would've been the same, if it hadn't been for this school system."
Specifically, the Cherry Creek School District lived up to its reputation for Silva and his family. Before she signed up for college courses, Silva's mother had saved up enough money to put a down payment on a house. Education was at the forefront when she was deciding where to buy.
"She asked the realtor where he would buy for the best schools, and he said somewhere in the Cherry Creek School District. She said, 'Give me options in the district, give me something I can afford,'" Silva said. "I'm really thankful for my mom, that she valued education so much. She was a role model – she went back to school at a later age. Also, she made the decision to buy a home in this district because she knew that this is where the people whom she respected would send their kids."
It all guided Silva's path back to the district. After receiving teaching credentials and a degree in Spanish literature from the University of Colorado Boulder, it only took Silva a year before he found a post in his home district. He took an offer at Cherry Creek High School, partly because it was a full-time post and he wanted to be able to find roots at a single school. On a deeper level, the move represented a homecoming.
Nearly a decade after he started at Cherry Creek High School, Silva accepted the job of principal. In his role, he takes the lessons he learned at Smoky Hill to heart when dealing with a student population of more than 3,000. The teenagers he passes in the halls every day each have their own story; behind every proud exterior is a unique story full of very real challenges.
"What I always try to keep fresh in my mind is that there is so much more than we see on the surface with these students walking in our halls. I don't know if everyone knew what my story was, but a few people at the building did, especially the adults, and they took care of me," Silva recalled. "I'm always aware that we see these kids and we may think that we know what's going on. But there's always a deeper story."
A big part of Silva's job is to make sure that students can share that deeper story as they look to map their futures. It's a task he shares with hundreds of teachers, administrators and staff members in the Cherry Creek School District.