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State awards $3.6 million for learning collaborative in SW Colorado

Money will help students interested in building trades, environmental science
Fort Lewis College, Pueblo Community College Southwest and five school districts in Southwest Colorado have received a $3.6 million state grant to bolster their classes in building trades and environmental sciences.

Fort Lewis College, Pueblo Community College Southwest and five regional school districts have received $3.6 million in state funds for a partnership to pool resources to build stronger educational pathways for people interested in building trades and environmental sciences.

Plans call for sharing resources – everything from instructors to equipment and buildings.

Students in the school districts would also have access to building trades certificate programs and associate degrees offered at Pueblo Community College and classes and research opportunities in environmental sciences – studies in areas such as water quality, soil quality, pollution mitigation and others – at FLC.

“We’re excited about this. Everything is starting to come together. This grant will help put in place plans we’ve been working on for more than a year,” said Bayfield School District Superintendent Kevin Aten.

Durango School District 9-R, Bayfield Public School District, Ignacio School District, Silverton Schools and the Archuleta School District are members of the Southwest Colorado District Collaborative.

Efforts to develop robust curriculum in building skills was a natural for Southwest Colorado school districts given the shortage of skilled labor in home building, the growing population and the dearth of affordable and attainable housing, Aten said.

The school districts decided to add a concentration on environmental sciences given strong student demand and because environmental science skills are in demand regionally, he said.

“We started examining how we could share resources, equipment, facilities and instructors to provide more innovative and comprehensive training,” Aten said. “For instance, in the building trades, the teacher in Ignacio is a fine cabinetmaker, and my guy is strong in plumbing and electrical. Well, you need both to build a house, and we started to look to see if we could collaborate in some manner.”

Besides bolstering curriculum in building trades and environmental sciences, Aten said creating the collaborative will create an entity that can apply for grants and other philanthropic gifts, and he said work is ongoing to create a nonprofit with a separate board of directors around the collaborative.

FLC is serving as the fiscal agent for the RISE grant obtained from the state.

Future plans will be for the school districts to bolster their curricula in health sciences through the collaborative, Aten said.

The Southwest Colorado District Collaborative is one of the first grant recipients in Gov. Jared Polis’ Response, Innovation and Student Equity Fund.

“The RISE program provided the ideal opportunity for educational institutions in the Southwest Colorado Collaborative to come together to serve the needs of our diverse students and our local business community,” said FLC President Tom Stritikus.

The past planning work by the collaborative to leverage their cumulative resources was particularly impressive in obtaining the state grant, which involved a competitive application process.

“The whole idea was: How do we, as small districts, come together to ensure shared services and collaborations to benefit student outcomes?” Stritikus said. “So the genesis of this was really how do we come together as the educational institutions in the region, that maybe have limited services because of our rural nature, and pool services to best serve students?”

In September, Polis announced the $32.7 million RISE fund to support high-needs school districts, charter schools and public institutions of higher education to address learning challenges related to the economic, social and health impacts of COVID-19.

The competitive grant program seeks to create educational partnerships that provide innovative ways to help the state’s most disadvantaged students.

Polis said he believes RISE will plant ideas among Colorado’s educational entities that will leave students in a better place during and after the pandemic.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education describes RISE, which uses federal stimulus money from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, as an incubator of ideas that advances student learning.

Polis has said he wants RISE grants to encourage new models of learning and ideas to better the educational experience of students and to find ways to strengthen the connections between high school, college and careers.

“We are so thrilled to be able to provide well-deserved resources to implement inspiring projects, partnerships and ideas,” Polis said in a news release issued by FLC.

LaTitia Taylor, Southern Ute education director, said the grant will aid regional efforts to overcome obstacles for students.

“Bringing this type of education straight to the schools and tribes will break the rural and COVID-19 barriers for students,” she said.


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