Columbine means more than tragedy

9NEWS follows Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis through his entire last year as principal and as an educator.

Nelson Garcia, KUSA

Rebel with a Cause: DeAngelis the educator. 9NEWS at 10 p.m., 5/18/14.

JEFFERSON COUNTY – As sure as the sun rises over Columbine High School, Frank DeAngelis has been there for the last 35 years. But, this is his final school year, and he wants students to know Columbine is a school that is not just about tragedy. It's about family.

"It doesn't matter if you hang out at the skate park. It doesn't matter if you're a football player or if you are a cheerleader. You're all Rebels," DeAngelis said.

When DeAngelis announced plans to retire at the end of this school year, 9NEWS launched a project to follow DeAngelis from the first day of school this year through the last. The project is called "Rebel with a Cause."

His cause was changed 15 years ago when 12 students and one teacher were killed in one of the most memorable school shootings in American history. So, for the past 15 years, he has worked to show that all students at Columbine are linked to one another using a carabiner for each student, symbolizing a link in the school chain.

"It's a climate or a culture we have created," DeAngelis said.

The long-time principal wants students to experience tradition and school pride. But most of all, the former social-studies teacher wants students to have lifelong educational memories.

"I made a vow that I would never allow myself to distance myself from the kids," DeAngelis said.

For the last 20-plus years, DeAngelis would go into English classes and deliver a speech called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards. He liked to push the boundaries of public education and engage students in a discussion of whether it's OK to discuss religion in public schools.

Ever since Frank DeAngelis was a social studies teacher, he started a tradition at Columbine High School to create a unique learning experience for students. He delivers the speech “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” written by Jonathan Edwards.

"I came into the school in 1989, and they had established traditions that are still here," Gina Doucett, a Columbine High School English teacher, said. "Kids look forward to being a part of that."

DeAngelis also believes that part of being an effective educator is getting to know the students as people. He walks around the halls during the lunch hour talking with teens about life, about cell phones and about academics.

"He's really good with the kids," Celeste Renn, a Columbine senior, said. "He's good with interacting. It means a lot to me as a student knowing that our school principal truly does care."

When it comes to the teachers themselves, there is something unusual at Columbine. Out of the 90 teachers on staff, 28 of them are alumni, with a direct link to DeAngelis.

"These are all students that I either taught - or I was their principal," DeAngelis said. "They are all teachers here at Columbine now."

The principal for the last 18 years believes that just reinforces the idea that the entire Columbine community is a family.

"If you were to ask teachers, I'm sure they would say I was a teacher's principal," DeAngelis said.

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Stories on DeAngelis will run through Thursday on 4 p.m. at 9NEWS and 9NEWS at 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. on June 7, 9NEWS will air a one hour documentary called "Rebel with a Cause" which includes expanded material not seen in the previously-aired stories.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)