K-12 Education

Both houses of Congress have now passed versions of the bill that would update the largest federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, for the first time since 2001. They are big, meaty and complicated, and now they have to be reconciled into one messy Dagwood sandwich of a bill to go to the president.

students, nature
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

In science class students learn about the world around them. However, getting kids to make a connection to nature without them experiencing it firsthand is a challenge. That’s why a Western Slope school district in partnership with a state wildlife agency is taking middle school students to the woods. 

Stacy Lischka, a scientist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is surrounded by 15 sixth-graders in a forest on the Grand Mesa. 

She's leading them in lesson on stream ecology. The students are looking for macroinvertebrates, animals without a backbone, in Mesa Creek. 

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Paonia Elementary
Laura Palmisano

A Waldolf-inspired education program in Paonia is a step closer to reality. 

The proposed North Fork School of Integrated Studies has enough students signed up to move forward. 

Delta County Assistant Superintendent Kurt Clay says it will be a school within a school. 

"We are looking at trying to combine that within Paonia Elementary School as a different program or different option for students in the North Fork Valley," said Clay. 

Intent to enroll forms for the K-4 program were due earlier this month. 

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Paonia Elementary
Laura Palmisano

The Delta County School Board has approved a Waldorf inspired education program in Paonia.

For the past three years, a group of parents and educators in the North Fork Valley have tried to open a Waldorf inspired charter school.  

The school board and the state board of education denied their charter recognition.

However, the group worked with district officials and school administrators to come up with a compromise.

It would create a K-4 program inspired by the Waldorf model at Paonia Elementary School. 

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Vision Charter Academy, delta montrose technical college paonia campus
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

A deadline passed last week for several students in the North Fork.

The Vision Charter Academy announced plans earlier this school year to stop all classes at the Paonia campus, reverting back to a resource for homeschooling families.

Avery McJunkin just finished up his sophomore year at the alternative school.  He was one of several students that campaigned to keep the classes going. 

food truck
District 51

In Mesa County, 42 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch.  

During the summer, many of these same kids qualify for a meal program when school is out. 

Usually Mesa Valley School District 51 offers this program at four or five schools, but this year there’s only enough funding to have it at two.

However, this summer the district plans on bringing meals to some students.

With the help of a $50,000 grant from the Western Colorado Community Foundation it purchased a food truck from Denver. 

financial literacy, Centennial Middle School, sixth-grade, students
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Many states require students be taught financial literacy. However, Colorado is one of the few that also tests on it. To help students learn, some schools are bringing outside experts into the classroom. 

Six teams of students are playing a quiz game similar to Jeopardy. The purpose of the game is to gauge the financial literacy of sixth-graders who just completed a weeklong course on the topic. 

"I wish that somebody had taught me this when I was this age,"Autumn Lettau with NuVista Federal Credit Union says.

A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the 2013 death of Claire Davis. She attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

Two former governors, Roy Romer and Bill Owens, joined current Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state capitol to urge lawmakers not to go too far in reducing the numbers of standardized assessments school children take. This comes as legislators are debating several bills to lower the number of exams.

Republican Bill Owens said it's important to have standards and test against those standards to see if students are learning what they should, and to evaluate schools and teachers.

"Our friends from the left and the right for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability," said Owens. "This is stunning to me."

A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.

House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.

"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).

Across New York state this week, some students are refusing to take a test, and they're not getting punished for it. The test is a Common Core-aligned, federally mandated exam, and students, parents and educators are part of what they're calling the opt-out movement.

Opt-outs made news last week in several states: Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, to name a few. The objections are similar everywhere. But no state is posting numbers like New York.

Vision Charter Academy, delta montrose technical college paonia campus
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Vision Charter Academy, a public charter school with three campuses in Delta County, won't offer classes at its North Fork campus next school year.  

Parents of students at Vision’s school in Paonia received the news Thursday via email.

Teri Kinkade the executive director of Vision Charter Academy wrote the letter.

In her email, Kinkade tells parents Vision’s board met earlier this week and decided to no longer offer classes at its Paonia location.

She cites a 'lack of interest' and 'declining enrollment' as reasons for the board’s decision.

Building a giant steel bale feeder is hard. Try it.

Problem No. 1: Unless you live in ranch country, you probably don't even know what it's supposed to look like — regardless of whether you can build one.

Problem No. 2: Arc welding is involved.

Problem No. 3: Getting it right requires some serious math.

Colorado Shakespeare Festival, acting
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Bullying is still an ongoing issue and telling kids to be nice to each other isn't always enough. That's why educators are getting creative.

In Colorado, some schools are using Shakespeare to get kids talking about violence and bullying and what they can do to prevent. 

More than 120 students are sitting on the gymnasium floor of Paonia Elementary. 

These third through sixth graders are here to see a play. 

On average students in Colorado classrooms take more than two-dozen assessments before they graduate, in some cases up to four times a year according to the Colorado Education Association. Critics say it actually means less time for overall learning.

A bipartisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take remains in limbo at the state Legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don't know when it will be rescheduled – if at all.

A bipartisan measure to reduce testing for students in Colorado's public schools is not proceeding as planned through the statehouse. Senate Bill 215 [.pdf] was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee Thursday. No longer, it was pulled from the calendar before the hearing.

"We just need to make sure we get the policy right," said state Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), a sponsor of the measure along with Senator Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood).

The sponsors are unsure of when SB 215 will get a hearing. The bill would eliminate mandatory assessments in the 11 and 12th grade and reduce redundant tests in the earlier grades. It has been billed as the major school testing reform bill of the session.

For many years, if a public school district wanted to serve students apples or milk from local farmers, it could face all kinds of hurdles. Schools were locked into strict contracts with distributors, few of whom saw any reason to start bringing in local products. Those contracts also often precluded schools from working directly with local farmers.

State lawmakers are officially at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. What needs to be done before the end of the session? Lawmakers will need to pass a balanced budget, and along the way grapple with some hot-button issues such as school testing requirements and police reforms.

"Most of the big work is ahead of us, what happens for the first half is kind of getting ready for it," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).

Patrick Neville was a 15-year-old sophomore at Columbine High School in 1999. He was on his way to a fast food lunch when the shooting started.

Two students, armed with guns and pipe bombs, had stormed the Colorado school, on their way to killing one teacher and 12 students — some were Neville's friends.

Neville, now a Colorado state representative, says many of Columbine's teachers and faculty acted heroically that day.

But, he says, "I truly believe that had some of them had the legal authority to be armed, more of my friends might be with me today."

For Whitney Bischoff, high school was tough. On the first day of her freshman year, a childhood friend committed suicide. Things weren't any better at home — her father died when she was 7 and her mom was an alcoholic with an abusive boyfriend.

She had a hard time making friends.

And when all the stress threatened to overwhelm her, she, too, considered suicide.

"I thought family was everything," Bischoff says. "I thought, if I didn't have family support – what am I going to do? Suicide seemed like the only way out."

Like many schools across Colorado, Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder has seen an increase in overall drug incidents since recreational marijuana became legal.

While public schools aren't required to report marijuana incidents separately from other drugs such as cocaine, evidence compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News suggests more students are using marijuana.

Listen up, cub reporters. Lesson 1: Never miss an opportunity to catch a good story. I was doing important hop research at my local craft beer emporium, aka my bar.

"This red IPA is great. What is this again?" I asked the bartender.

"That's Line 51. From Oakland. The owner, P.T., does it part time. He has a day job." What's he do? I asked. "He's a schoolteacher."

Bingo! Secret teachers, you can't hide from this NPR Ed sleuth, no sir.

Cody Roark, Nick Cunningham, pathways, Mesa County Valley School District
Laura Palmisano

A year after recreational marijuana stores opened, Colorado is still trying to determine the impact on youth who aren't legally allowed to use pot.

Recently released data shows that in the last school year drug incidents in Colorado middle and high schools reached a ten-year high and certain districts standout in the data including the Mesa County Valley School District.

Mesa County District officials say they are trying to address the problem through more education. 

Grand Junction High School, counseling center
Laura Palmisano

A year after recreational marijuana stores opened, Colorado is still trying to determine the impact on youth who aren't legally allowed to use pot.

Recently released data shows that in the last school year drug incidents in Colorado middle and high schools reached a ten-year high and certain districts standout in the data.

Last year, Mesa County Valley School District 51 also reported more student drug cases than it had in the past ten-years.

Since Colorado has embraced legal retail marijuana sales, schools are grappling with the best way to discusses it in the classroom amid changing attitudes.

"When it's legal for your parents to smoke it or grow it, that changes the conversation," said Odette Edbrooke, the Health Education Coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District.

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