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Colorado Dept. of Education members visit Riverview Elementary School

Susana Cordova applauds career pathway programs at Durango High School
Durango School District 9-R Instructional Specialist in Sustainability Education presents details about the SOIL outdoor learning lab with Colorado Board of Education member Stephen Varela on Oct. 26. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Colorado State Board member Stephen Varela and Commissioner of Education Susana Cordova visited Riverview Elementary School this past Thursday to check out Durango School District 9-R’s Seeds of Inspiration Learning Lab.

Having recently being appointed to her position as commissioner of education, Cordova wanted a chance to visit the schools in all parts of the state. Cordova was in Durango earlier this fall, visiting both Animas High School and Mountain Middle School.

Students from Animas gave her and members of the state board a tour around the new school building on Sept. 28. Student ambassadors had the opportunity to share details about what made Animas unique and special with its project-based learning environment.

Similarly, students from Riverview Elementary showed the state education department employees around campus last week.

In addition, the district also took this time to showcase what it’s accomplished with the SOIL outdoor learning lab.

The first phase of SOIL was recently completed, and a grand opening ceremony was held on Sept. 30.

Phase one involved implementing a 700-foot water line from the elementary school to the garden at the west end of the parking lot. It also provided electricity for the garden’s future phases in addition to laying the actual garden beds.

About 24 education garden beds, 50 community garden beds and four wheelchair accessible garden beds are already in place, with more wood materials for additional beds scattered about the plot.

The district is currently moving forward with the project’s second phase, which intends plant a 1,400-square-foot grow dome just east of the garden.

Both Varela and Cordova were impressed by the school and the district’s outdoor learning lab. However, Varela did comment how many of Colorado’s rural districts are not as fortunate.

When it comes to the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today Grant, he said there can be some disparity between wealthier school districts and rural districts with less funding.

“If you’re from a small area and your superintendent is your principal and your bus driver, when do they have time to write that competitive grant? When you got DPS or St. Vrain, they have full departments dedicated to grants,” Varela said.

Cordova was impressed by the community engagement that both charter schools and 9-R schools have conducted in the area.

“A takeaway for this area, is what a deep commitment there is to creating a learning experience for kids, wherever it is, that really reflects how you get kids engaged,” Cordova said.

She credited the district for passing Bond 4A, which allocated funds to build the district’s IMPACT Career Innovation Center, contributed to the building of the new Animas High School building as well as Mountain Middle School’s 2022 building addition and other renovation projects within the district.

She shared a similar sentiment to Varela about the difficulties rural districts have acquiring funds.

“There are some parts of the state where it's just a lot harder to get the kind of financial support. And so, it's a real testament to the people here that they've made that commitment,” Cordova said.

She said career pathway development is a trend that many schools are pursuing funding for.

“I was just incredibly impressed at Durango High School to see all have the different pathways,” she said. “You walk into a room and it doesn't feel like you're in a high school.”


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