History

From its origins in 1970 as the Colorado Junior Republic (CJR), a boarding school for boys in grades 9-12, to its current manifestation as an exceptional coeducational college preparatory day school for grades K-12, Dawson has been an institution in Boulder County that continues to carry forth the vision of its founder, Jerry Henderson, “Nihil Sine Labore,” or “Nothing Without Labor.”

The Beginning

When opened in 1970, the CJR was a summer school for underprivileged children. After expanding to a year-round school, the students would spend summers at Stapps Lake, near Ward, and spend the school year at the Lafayette campus. Students lived here year-round, worked jobs around campus and at the lake, and earned currency through their labor.

These young people were not called students, but “Citizens,” and the community grew crops and raised livestock needed to generate business within the community. The Citizens even had their own government, called Town Council, and justice system. 

An industrious student body, Citizens attended class, worked the farm and ranch, prepared meals, built structures on both campuses, flew airplanes, and ran theatrical and athletic programs.  By successfully working with peers and within the community, Citizens could work their way up to become a Privileged Citizen, or Young Adult, which earned a status of trust and responsibility, and special privileges. 

The 1980s

In 1980 the school was renamed in honor of Henderson’s father, Alexander Dawson Henderson. Responding to increasing demand for a rigorous academic program, the school focused its sights on becoming a college preparatory private school.

It was that year that Henderson Hall was converted from the Colorado Health Education Center to the boys’ dorm and the now World Languages cottage became the girls’ dorm. The school changed its academic philosophy, and the name change served as a way to attract a different kind of student, one looking for a traditional college preparatory school.

The 1990s

A decade of impressive physical growth, the school grew from 26 students in grades 7-12 to a population of 386, grades K-12, and was now an independent day school.

Henderson Hall was remodeled to eliminate the dorms and to create classroom spaces. The fall of 1996 marked the end of the boarding program. The Middle School was built, and a curriculum was designed. The Athletics Center was erected and the Lower School was christened in September 1998, in the same location that had been occupied by the famed water tower, a mainstay on the Dawson campus until 1995.

2000-Present

A decade of programmatic growth, experiential learning has been increasingly ingrained into the educational landscape of the campus. Athletic programs are more competitive with 22 championship banners earned during this time period.

Mandarin was added to the world languages curriculum in 2007, and two years later, the language immersion program expanded into China. The Speech and Debate Club launched that same year, and has earned four state championships. Odyssey of the Mind teams were annually on the world stage and FIRST Robotics, in the national spotlight.

With its technology integration in the classroom, along with Middle School environmental science and malaria eradication, the school is committed to finding cutting edge ways to enhance learning.

In 2009, the Board of Boulder County Commissioners lifted the school’s enrollment cap to allow 460 students and in the fall of 2010, the school opened with a vibrant 452 students.

The school’s first class of “lifers,” those who have attended Dawson from grades K-12, graduated in 2011. 

Through four decades of growth, respect, compassion, courage, and integrity, we continue to strengthen our commitment and relationships to students while preparing students for the world they will inherit. “Nihil Sine Labore” has morphed from working the land for CJR currency to academic rigor, serving the community, and developing artistic and athletic excellence. “Love of the Land” has taken on a more global meaning through experiential education and on-campus sustainability.

Henderson’s commitment to the education and character development of young people, and his vision for a school that was similarly dedicated to these principles, continues to stand the test of time, while providing a useful context for the work we are doing today.