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Patriot Elementary: Colorado Pro Patria Honoree & 2023 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award Finalist

Miranda Lopez
Principal Cannon and teacher Ms. Stutz accept award

The first thing Kiani Stutz, a former fifth-grade teacher at Patriot Elementary, will tell you about the school is that it is full of phenomenal people and has an amazingly supportive community. Add to that the deep understanding they have of the military and military life, and that made it the best place for her to work while also serving as a sergeant in the Reserves.

The support the Patriot Elementary family provided to Kiani over the course of her 2021-2022 deployment is the reason she nominated the school, located on the Fort Carson Army installation, for the 2023 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. This award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve. It is the highest in a series of employer recognition awards given by the Department of Defense. This year, 1,863 companies were nominated for the award nationwide, and Patriot Elementary was named as one of 30 employers to be a finalist.

The Patriot Elementary community buoyed Kiani throughout her preparation for deployment. The students in her class, the fifth-grade teaching team, and the Patriot administration team all had to prepare for her absence. School administrators were helpful during the entire process. 

The school was also supportive of Kiani while she was deployed. The substitute in her class kept her connected to her students, helping to set up FaceTime and also coordinating to send her gifts from the kids in class. The substitute and fifth-grade teaching team kept her involved in and connected to life at the school as much as possible.

While federal law only requires that an employer hold a (any) job open for a member of the Reserves who has deployed, Patriot and FFC8 both committed to holding Kiani’s specific teaching position for her return. This gave her a sense of peace and comfort while deployed, knowing exactly what she had to look forward to upon her reintegration.

When she returned back to work, the Patriot Elementary staff and community made it feel like she had never left. School administrators let Kiani take the lead on how soon she would be able to return to teaching and what she was able to handle. The staff and parents who are military spouses at the school knew how she would be feeling upon her return home and supported her in the unique way they know how. 

Included in the award nomination was a recognition of the role that the district and its Human Resources department played in Kiani’s journey. FFC8 Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Joel Hamilton, is a retired colonel in the army and understands both worlds – education and the military. The HR team helped support the school and Kiani with policies in place for teacher evaluations, reviews, pay, retirement planning, and more. 

In addition, the Colorado Employer Support of the Gard and Reserve (ESGR) Committee recently completed their own review and assessment of the 31 Colorado employers nominated for this national award. They presented Patriot Elementary with their Pro Patria Award at the Annual Employer Awards Ceremony on Saturday, July 22. This is the highest award that can be conveyed by a State Committee, and only three employers are selected each year.

While in the past, whole school districts have been recognized for a Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, this is the first time an individual school has made it to the final rounds of recognition. Kiani says the nomination was one way that she could express her gratitude and appreciation for all that the school did for her. Learn more about the award online at View the official press release for the award and the 2023 finalists at The FFC8 School Board recognized Patriot Elementary for their achievement at a meeting on August 23.

Principal Cannon and teacher Ms. Stutz holding the award and posing
2023 Pro Patria Award Plaque