Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative brings together business owners, industry leaders and schools from nine districts
IGNACIO — Three years ago, five school districts decided to join forces and form a nonprofit for the specific purpose of redesigning the way high school academics work in southwestern Colorado. The education system was failing students and this was a problem in all parts of the region. Hardest hit of these students were those in rural areas, with some attending schools in towns so small that K-12 classrooms are all crammed into one building.
“We don’t see a lot of opportunities once we graduate,” said Silverton senior Selene Rhoades. “There are only five seniors in my class this year. We live in a small tourist town. That’s all we know. There isn’t much else.
Students in rural areas of the country already struggling in school have fallen further behind during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Harvard University’s Department of Education. When schools closed in 2020 and classes moved online, many students were unable to attend classes due to weak signals or no internet access. Their academic performance began to suffer even more, and rural Colorado students were no exception.
Jessica Morrison, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative, knew there would never be a better time to reach out to other struggling school districts and begin implementing strategies specifically designed to get those students back on track. the right path.
“There’s one thing we all have in common in these districts,” Morrison said, “and that’s providing equal access to education for every student.”
On Friday, 105 members or contributors of the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative gathered at Ignacio High School with one goal in mind: to provide more career paths for students from isolated communities in southern Colorado. Show them the possibilities of a background in environmental science, hospitality, construction or education. Show them that there are career paths in higher education and vocational education and build those paths with the partnership of today’s industry leaders.
“We want to be able to provide the same kinds of resources to every student to develop their skills, regardless of their zip code,” Morrison said. “Part of the process is to share equipment and other physical resources with each other for a more project-based learning program.”
One thing several school districts will share is an environmental science van equipped with its own lab, so teachers can take their students out into the field to collect and analyze rainwater, snow, and other elements. natural resources, partly to study the effects of climate change. The high-tech van was purchased with part of the $8 million in grants secured by the SCEC, including $3.8 million in funding from RISE (Rural Innovation Stronger Economy).
Key to maintaining the momentum of the SCEC will be the combined efforts of those in education desperate to bring the same quality of education available in urban areas to students in rural areas, and those in local industrial and commercial industries who recognize the need to build a strong workforce. younger generations, as the number of jobs continues to decline.
“I saw the labor shortage coming,” said Troy Dyer, president of Veritas Fine Homes of Durango, who has been a strong supporter of the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative for years. “I’ve seen it coming for a while. You can see it in our people. Most of our residents are over 40 years old.
Dyer views SCEC as a logical progression in education for those in the Southwest.
“It’s all amazing,” he said. “It was quite revealing. There are plenty of opportunities in every industry. Subcontractors have already started hiring students right out of high school. All of this should have happened 10 years ago.
Education and labor representatives from southwest Colorado met in separate classrooms throughout the day, grouped by vocation. Teachers met in one classroom, environmental science in another, hospitality and tourism in another, and so on. gap between their industries and the education of rural students.
“Some of these kids might have a lot more to do with their lives than not do well in school,” said one of the participants during a lively class discussion on environmental science. “This needs to be sorted out. There can be many reasons why they don’t show up to class.
“You need to meet students where they are,” Fort Lewis College director of career services Jeff Saville said during the training session, “not where you want them to be.” .
Selene Rhoades, one of the only students present, was invited to give a keynote address before the day’s activities. She expressed her gratitude for what SCEC has done for her as a rural student.
“Because of that, I was able to take classes at Durango my senior year,” Rhoades said. “I’m going into education, so it’s good to be able to take those specific courses.”
Rhoades already knows exactly what subject she wants to focus on when she becomes a teacher.
“I want to teach science,” Rhoades said with a smile. “Maybe chemistry or geography.”
Rhoades clearly sees the need for nonprofit organizations like the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative.
“More districts should do something like this,” she said. “Kids need to have more opportunities. More career paths. They need to know there’s more than they can do after they graduate.
The newest addition to the nonprofit collaboration is Dolores School District, under Superintendent Reece Blincoe. Blincoe, a Texas native, saw a similar collaborative effort between education and industry in the rural Lone Star State district where he once taught.
“I’ve been doing this kind of thing my whole life,” Blincoe said. “I was a career technology teacher. We were still working with limited financial and material resources.
Blincoe doesn’t see much difference between the students he taught in remote areas of Texas and those in Dolores.
“A lot of these kids don’t know where the target is,” Blincoe said. “Only three out of 38 seniors (in Dolores) had plans for college. They don’t know what to do when they graduate. SCEC is developing systems to address this issue. We need to show the kids where the target is. Bring get them where they need to go.