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Alumna teaches teens to cowboy up

Ann Moore built a curriculum around cowboy ethics.

Ann Moore never wore a pair of cowboy boots, never owned spurs, never roped a calf. An English teacher at Cherry Creek High School, she taught a course called Reading and Studying for Success, and didn’t blame her students when their eyes glazed over.

“It was an awful title,” Moore says, “pretty hokey material.”

In April 2008, that all changed when a friend mailed Moore (BA English ’81, MBA ’86) a copy of Cowboy Ethics by Jim Owen. It’s a slim volume with beautiful photos, and Moore devoured the book like a bowl of soup on a snowy afternoon.

“I thought, ‘Whoa! This would hook the kids,’” she says.

Inspired, Moore researched the book online and found a website dedicated to it.

“I didn’t even know who I was emailing,” she says. She only knew why.

Moore had 20 kids in her class who were deemed “at risk.” With the national drop-out rate hovering around 30 percent, she wanted her kids to finish on the other side of that divide. And this book, she thought, would help. This code would help them ride a straighter line through adolescence into adulthood.

With limited school funding, Moore couldn’t buy the books. So she sent a note to ask if whoever ran the website could donate to her class.

The next day, the author called.

“I was so taken by her on the phone,” Owen says. “I told her I will give you everything you need and I want something back.”

Owen asked her to design a curriculum that was academically rigorous, included critical thinking, and taught writing and speaking skills. Moore was game. Owen sent books and Moore designed a four-week course in leadership and ethics that’s since grown into a full semester. 

Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Always finish what you start.

There are 10 such principles in the “Code of the West.” And, in Moore’s class, the students come up with everyday examples to illustrate these ideas.

“Ride for the brand,” says 16-year-old Brandi Krutz. “That’s the one that means the most to me.”

Like Moore, Krutz never roped a steer or branded a calf so the principle hooked her on a more personal level.

“My family has never been the most situated or organized,” she says. “Both my parents have been addicts. But your family name is your brand.

“What I learned in Ms. Moore’s class is that I should never be ashamed of my family and I should still be there for my family. Ride for the brand.”

Students in Moore’s Cowboy Ethics class absorb and live these lessons because Moore does not lecture. She invites the students to discuss the ideas and to talk about their lives. Sometimes, Moore kicks in her own life stories — like her time in college.

“I came to DU on a basketball scholarship,” Moore says. “I’m 5-foot 6-inches and at my high school, I was a guard. I wasn’t the best player in my high school. I wasn’t the best player on my team but I always gave my best effort.”

From there, Moore can steer the class to “The Try,” a cowboy term for giving 110 percent. In a world where kids feel pressure to win at all costs, her students have another idea. “The kids say, “If I just give 110 percent, I’m a winner,” Moore says.  

They also get results. After one semester, 78 percent of Moore’s students increased their GPAs by an average of seven-tenths of a point. Nine students raised their grades by an entire point or more on the standard 4.0 scale. After the second semester, 85 percent increased their GPA.

And these were “at risk” kids.

Some, like Krutz, were barely making it through high school. Now they’re planning for college.

“People think this class is about cowboys or riding bulls,” Krutz says. “It’s not. You have a path in your life and why not put some guidelines down to make it a good one? That’s what this class is about.”

Since meeting Owen over the phone that fateful day, Moore has taken the reins as executive director of the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. With Owen, she crisscrosses the country teaching other teachers how to use the curriculum.

For more information, contact the Center.

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