20 under 40: Morgan Kraska, Steamboat Springs High School | SteamboatToday.com

20 under 40: Morgan Kraska, Steamboat Springs High School

About 13 years ago, Morgan Kraska, 35, was rafting tourists through whitewater near Tahoe, California, when life took an unexpected turn. A friend recommended that the new college grad teach art at a small school in Squaw Valley.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Kraska says from her current classroom at Steamboat Springs High School. "I literally wrote my syllabi in the rafting office. I was 22 years old, and the students were 18. It was a tumultuous ride."

Not to be deterred, Kraska got a teaching certificate to go along with her art degree, ending up in Yosemite High School in California. Charmed by all the Coloradans she worked with in her rafting days, she decided to hit a recruitment fair in Fort Collins in 2008.

"I interviewed with 15 schools, and Steamboat said they didn't have a position but thought I'd be a good fit for the community," Kraska says. "A few weeks later they called with a job, and I moved out here with my golden retriever."

An avid outdoorswoman and rock climber, Kraska immediately hit Butcherknife, a little "crag" outside of Steamboat. That's where she met one of her best friends, fellow teacher Greg Johnson. He says Kraska has transformed the high school's photography program.

"She does a great job in making the students a part of the community … when they're done with her classes they're almost job ready," says Johnson.

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In fact, Kraska was first hired as a general art teacher, but her photography talent soon won out.

"She started the AP photography program and had instant success with her student scores, averaging one of the highest scores an any AP class at the school," says Johnson.

Kraska's biggest challenge was taking over the yearbook. Once again she found herself "back pivoting" the raft.

"At the time, I didn't understand what a yearbook really was. It was more like a scrapbook instead of a form of journalism. We've been trying to take it to the next level."

Sure enough, within four years, the prestigious Colorado Student Media Association commended the Steamboat Springs yearbook, and the students are hoping for national recognition this year.

"The students are getting real-world work experience, using Adobe Suites, learning about deadlines, approaching people … so many different skills," Kraska says. "But I love making connections with the kids most … knowing you can make a difference in their lives … helping them grow up."

In the meantime, Kraska and husband, Pete, who works for outdoor manufacturer Big Agnes, have found a new passion in the form of a little house they bought in nearby Oak Creek.

"We're always excited when we do something to enhance the house and don't break anything," Kraska says.

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