Colorado’s top lawyer, Attorney General Phil Weiser, made a stop at The Hub on Wednesday to meet with and learn from the educators and service providers who run the alternative school program.
The program provides wraparound and educational services under one roof to at-risk students in the Durango School District 9-R. It serves both middle and high school students and provides access to therapeutic services, healthy relationships with adults, alternative learning models, hands-on workforce experience and community building.
“It is about sending people out into this beautiful community that are going to contribute,” Samantha Tower, Hub program administrator and principal of Big Picture High School, told Weiser. “Connection to the community ... there’s a lot of intention behind that.”
Weiser spent roughly an hour with the program’s staff and leadership. The partners behind the program hail from numerous entities and organizations across Durango, and those in attendance included Tower; Jason St. Mary, Hub program director and executive director of La Plata Youth Services; Emily Murphy, supervisor of therapeutic programming at La Plata County Human Services; and Dr. Heidi McMillan, medical director of the Hub.
Consumer protection is one of Weiser’s primary duties, and he discussed some ways his work could benefit programs such as The Hub. The Hub has benefited in the past from funding facilitated by Weiser’s office.
He touted a recent $32 million settlement with Juul as one recent win that could benefit The Hub.
“Juul used social media to push out this message that vaping was cool,” Weiser said. “Colorado, when we filed our lawsuit against Juul, had the highest youth vaping rate in the nation. We have now taken action and we will be giving out money to both schools and nonprofits to address this crisis – keep an eye out for that.”
But beyond the brief victory lap, Weiser spent most of his visit listening and asking questions.
Seated casually on a table before the staff, Weiser queried the assemblage on how they handle the myriad challenges, which include maintaining relationships with the most at-risk youth in the school system, forging partnerships in the community to provide internship opportunities for students or even basic things, such as providing internet access.
Youth mental and behavioral health has been a focus for Weiser, who also is investigating social media platforms Instagram and Tik-Tok for their role in youth mental health.
In an interview with The Durango Herald following the meeting, Weiser said The Hub is the exception, not the norm, in terms of therapeutic educational models across Colorado.
“There are not enough programs like this,” Weiser said. “This is absolutely at the cutting edge of what we need to be doing.”