KUSA - Wednesday is the last day of school for students in Jefferson County. And at one of the schools, it's the end of an era.
Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis is saying goodbye to his students for the last time.
"I'm looking down that hallway and I see 35 years just pass away before my eyes," DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis started at Columbine in 1979 . He was a social-studies teacher and a coach. The north Denver-native became principal 18 years ago, and he was at Columbine on that fateful day in 1999 when 12 students and one teacher were killed.
"I saw a community come together to rebuild," DeAngelis said. "I saw a community come together that was more passionate and caring and taking care of each other."
But DeAngelis says Columbine is so much more than tragedy, it's a family. He treats his students that way, delivering personal messages to them. One is an annual tradition in which he delivers a speech entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," pushing students to engage in a discussion over whether it is right to talk about religion in schools.
That's just one example of the personal touch DeAngelis has put into his 18 years as principal. He says he's going to greatly miss the students, some of whom affectionately refer to him as "Papa De." That's the name he would always use in his annual pre-end-of-school assembly. He calls it Papa De's Life Lessons. This school year, the lesson was about taking bold steps and facing fears.
DeAngelis faced his own fear of heights by "flying" over the school assembly. He promised himself, at the end of his career that he would fly over his last assembly. It's a fitting way to end his 18 years as principal.
On the final day of classes, DeAngelis arrived at the school at 5:15 a.m. to give him quiet moments before the day began.
"I just needed that time in the building because I knew once teachers started arriving that I would have no time to myself," DeAngelis said. "I needed the time to reflect and it was good."
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."
DeAngelis will still be around. He will work part time as a school-safety consultant for the Jefferson County School District.
He hopes that he left a legacy where all Columbine students feel like they are a part of a family.
"I was hoping that when they walk out of here, they realize you treat people the way you want to be treated," DeAngelis said.
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.
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