A Learning Process: How Boulder Valley schools found strength through the floods

By Lauren Maslen

Hallway chair races, classroom dance parties, and group sing alongs. Morale boosters like these were the ingredients that helped boost the spirit of some teachers and students across Boulder Valley schools after floods poured through their classrooms in September.

“Some children donated their life savings – their piggy banks – to the Crest View fund,” Merlyn Holmes, a parent of a Crest View Elementary first grader, said. “They were aware that this was a big deal and they were really happy to have a school to go to and to help.”

When heavy rains and disastrous floods hit Boulder County in September 2013, they not only impacted educators all over Boulder Valley School District, but students as well. Teachers and staff were able to keep their cool, though. They not only handled the event well and managed problems as they arose, but they taught valuable lessons to their students along the way. Lessons like: how does a rain cycle work? Why is rain good for our planet and how could it be harmful in a flood? And maybe most importantly: how can we help our community?

This lesson wasn’t just one for the kids. It was one for the adults, too.

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Briggs Gamblin is Boulder Valley School District’s director of communications and legislative policy. This wasn’t the first flood Boulder experienced, he said, but it was unique in the challenges it presented. The floods blocked off access to all of Boulder’s major canyons. This made BVSD’s job of getting help to the schools, students, and teachers difficult, but even more imperative.

Boulder Valley School District is the seventh largest school district in Colorado. Over half of BVSD’s buildings were damaged in September’s floods and four of those buildings received, “moderate to severe damage,” according to a letter written by Superintendent Bruce K. Messinger to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. The total damage to the school district totaled close to $5 million.

Included in Messinger’s letter was a cost estimate submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Among those costs? An alternate program site for Crest View Elementary School students, food spoilage, fiber optic network damage, reconstruction, remediation, and clean up.

Officials realized the challenge that lay before them on Thursday, September 12. “The one school that really sustained some damage beyond that which could be handled by our maintenance people was Crest View Elementary School,” Gamblin said. Although the flood waters were initially controlled with tarps and sandbags in doorways of the building, they burst through on three more occasions. This flooded 85 percent of the building and kept kids out of school for over two weeks.

Crest View Strong

Merlyn Holmes was woken by a phone call during the night of September 12th.

“Our first thoughts were, ‘Oh goody, we have a rain day!’ We were a bit slow on the uptake. It seemed more like a snow day than an emergency,” Holmes said.

Holmes’ property is safely nestled near a retention pond not far from Crest View Elementary. “We watched that retention pond fill and drain and fill and drain repeatedly. It was really very beautiful and peaceful,” she said.

As the day progressed, however, Holmes and her family quickly realized the severity of the rain. The family walked to the Broadway underpass near their house, and realized the flood waters were raging.

“Our big question was: where were these waters going?” Holmes said. “It was only later the next day that we visited Crest View and we were shocked at seeing all the flood damage. There was a waterfall going through the playground.”

Holmes’ 6 year old son, Landryk, was out of school for two and a half weeks. “We did a lot of juggling at that time with work schedules and trying to figure out what would be best for our son,” she said.

An alternate program was made available through a partnership between BVSD and the YMCA. Teachers and some substitutes held classes at the Lafayette YMCA, including kindergarten enrichment teacher, Jill Williams, whose class became very interested in learning about rain.

“It was only natural to look out the window and talk about something we were experiencing and feeling depressed over, together,” said Williams. She shared the book “What Makes Rain: the Story of a Raindrop” with her kindergarteners.

Video of Crest View Elementary students in Jill Williams’ kindergarten enrichment class, courtesy Jill Williams.

Williams said that other teachers connected with their students during the flood in a multitude of ways, including video lessons and websites set up with lessons and educational material.

Buses were provided for students to attend the program which was offered at $50 per day to families and at no cost to those who self-identified as being on free and reduced lunch programs.

Volunteers offered to help at the school, said Gamblin, but because of health and safety concerns, professionals had to be brought in to do the job first. 13 days of non-stop construction and repair work aided in recovering the school from much of the damage. “Machines were clunking away at Crest View at 3 a.m.,” Gamblin said. “The neighbors were great. They also suffered damage and they were very supportive.”

Anything that was absorbent had to go –  materials, books, shelving, drywall, and carpets. What could be salvaged was loaded into unmarked cardboard boxes for teachers to sort through once they were allowed to return to the building.

Home Depot built shelving for teachers and puppet theaters for the kindergarten classrooms. Numerous businesses and other schools donated supplies and books to Crest View. “KidKraft donated free items to the kindergarten teachers, so I received a dollhouse for my room,” Williams said. SERVPRO, the company in charge of cleaning and restoration of the school also threw a Halloween party for their own staff and Crest View faculty.

The school’s outdoor vegetable garden and its Habitat and wetlands areas are still damaged. Asbestos and mold tests are continuing to be conducted throughout the year. And until recently, hot lunches were prepared off-site and brought to the school for lunchtime.

But is the school back to “normal” yet?

“Kids are so adaptable at this age,” Holmes said. The students were able to settle back into a day-to-day routine of learning, “even when they were on concrete floors and had no books on the shelves.”

“Crest View’s community is amazing and [principal] Ned Levine is even more amazing,” Williams said. “We never could have recovered without either of them. But we’re still not recovered. I think it won’t really be right until spring and maybe not completely normal until next fall.”

Crest View was a challenge. At that point, we didn’t know how big of a challenge it would be,” Gamblin said.

Jamestown Elementary School was also a challenge for BVSD, but for different reasons.

The school was used as an evacuation center for the town and “will need some soap and water,” Gamblin said. Jamestown’s challenge is on a different level than Crest View’s, however.

The school is intact and the students are learning. The town, meanwhile, faces an overhaul, leaving the school to play a waiting game. “We’re just waiting for full-town service access,” Gamblin said.

A Home for Jamestown Elementary 

Jamestown, Colo. suffered extreme devastation after September’s floods. With only some roads recently repaired, structures still damaged, and a water distribution system that remains offline, the town’s school, Jamestown Elementary, was forced to relocate for the year.

Beth Brotherton is the principal’s assistant at Jamestown Elementary School. After September’s floods, Brotherton decided to remain in her home in Jamestown and with her students.

Jamestown West recently settled into its new home for the year in Glacier View Ranch at Colorado Mountain Conference Center in Ward, Colo. The school currently has 14 students in first through fifth grade and two instructors, including Brotherton.

Meanwhile, Jamestown East is located in a classroom in Community Montessori in Boulder. The classroom is home to six students in third through fifth grade, and one part-time kindergartener. The students’ teacher from Jamestown Elementary went with her students to their new classroom in Boulder.

Many families from Jamestown Elementary are open-enrolled and their homes are located above the mountains. They received minimal water damage, Brotherton said. Shortly after the flood, The families met to discuss what would be best for the town, their children’s education, and for the well-being of each of their families.

One first grader’s family offered their home to use as a school. The fire department helped bring in tables for students to work on. Carpets were removed and a cork floor was installed.

On the first Wednesday back in class, 16 children showed up to their new classroom. “We stayed there for six weeks and we taught there for six weeks,” Brother said.

Volunteers came to teach music lessons twice a week. Recess was held in the backyard with a swing set and fort, and the kids ate lunch at the picnic tables outside.

This temporary school was something the children will remember forever. It couldn’t last, though. “The district brought us all together and asked us what we wanted. We knew we couldn’t legally stay there,” Brotherton said.

BVSD planned to use modular classrooms on the property of Glacier View Ranch. But between high costs, wind, and the trouble of transporting the modulars along the severely damaged roads, officials quickly realized this wouldn’t work.

The district negotiated with Glacier View Ranch to use a building on the property. “A beautiful log cabin, actually. It’s as big as Jamestown Town Hall,” Brother said.

Brotherton said that learning is definitely happening at Glacier View Ranch. The building is “very homey… It’s a good place for the kids.”

“It really is amazing how well it’s working out,” Brotherton said. “We feel really safe up there. The district really took care of us. They did a good job.”

A Lasting Impact

Gamblin said that between flood insurance, money from FEMA, grants from the state, and funds raised by the Colorado non-profit Impact on Education, virtually all of BVSD’s losses will be covered.

“One of the things about a crisis is that people don’t stop and ask, ‘Is that my area?’ People just do it. People organize quickly and they identify needs quickly,” Gamblin said.

Holmes said that although there is always room for improvement, she was impressed with how BVSD handled the situation.

“The one area where I hope all this will have a lasting impact on the children is in not taking things for granted and being grateful. I know we parents feel that and I’m sure the staff and faculty do, too,” said Holmes.

Homestar Child Development Center was temporarily relocated to Longmont after September's floods. // photo by Lauren Maslen

Homestar Child Development Center was temporarily relocated to Longmont after September’s floods. // photo by Lauren Maslen

The Colorado education round-up for November 23

BVSD and Louisville Elementary School

The Daily Camera reports that after experiencing a growing increase in yearly enrollment, Louisville Elementary School is under the microscope of neighboring school districts, including Boulder Valley. School district officials are examining if Louisville’s strategies may be successful in BVSD schools.

Farm to Table Grant

 In an attempt to bring more locally sourced, natural food and products to schools around the country, the USDA awarded Farm to Table grants to 71 projects in the United States. Four projects were awarded grants in Colorado, including $98,000 to Boulder Valley School District, the Daily Camera reported.

FAFSA ‘unnecessary’ say experts

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet sat before a senate committee to discuss simplifying the application for federal student aid on Wednesday, Nov. 20th. Bennet was not alone in questioning the need for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, during a senate hearing which examined “critical issues in post-secondary education,” the CU Independent reported.

The Colorado education round-up for November 15

By Lauren Maslen

CU-Boulder’s annual Diversity Summit

CU-Boulder held its 19th annual Diversity Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 13 and Thursday Nov.14. This year’s summit was entitled “Building the Road Map” and allowed summit speakers, campus leaders, and the public to discuss how far the university has come and what steps it will take in the future to increase campus diversity. 

Dazed and confused

The Denver Post reports that pot usage among Colorado high schools students has increased since the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana. School officials say that students see the drug as safe, widely available and acceptable, and “cool.” Although numbers are not yet available, marijuana use among high school students at school appears to be increasing nationally, according to The National Institute of Drug Abuse.

To infinity and beyond 

Students from Crest View Elementary visited CU-Boulder’s campus on Monday, Nov. 11 for a sneak preview of the CU-led MAVEN mission to Mars, complete with tours and experiments, lunch with two astronauts, rocket building, and a launch party. The students won an international art competition last year under the instruction of kindergarten enrichment teacher, Jill Williams. Photos of their artwork will be hurled into space aboard Monday, Nov. 18’s MAVEN launch.

You settled here: how the Boulder Tattoo Project inked and linked a community forever

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project gets tattooed at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project gets tattooed at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

By Lauren Maslen

Where can you call home? Is it the town your family lives in? The city you grew up in? Or maybe it’s where you choose to raise your own children. Do you choose your home or does it choose you?

Line 77 of the “Boulder Zodiac,” a poem written by Anne Waldman for the Boulder Tattoo Project, reads “you settled here.” This phrase rings true for many participants of the Boulder Tattoo Project, including the project’s manager, Chelsea Pohl. These participants all had a word or a phrase from Waldman’s poem inked onto their bodies as an ode to Boulder.

“The rest of the world is just not as perfect. It’s contradictory: it’s easy to live here, yet it’s challenging. It’s challenging to become an adult here, but it’s a desire,” Pohl said.

Pohl originally hails from Lexington, Ky. She started the Boulder Tattoo Project as an offspring of the original Lexington version. Her husband, Vincent Bachert, welcomed the task of inking over 200 project participants in the couple’s studio, Claw and Talon, with the help of several other Boulder tattoo artists.

Two-hundred Boulderites were brought together through the collaborative efforts of Pohl, Waldman, and many others along the way. These tattoo artists were essential in manifesting the art, poetry, and above all, the feeling of Boulder’s interconnected community, onto project participants’ skin.

In May 2013, Pohl summed up her 13 years of experience in Boulder along with her feelings about the town in her “Love Letter to Boulder.” She also set forward her intentions for the Tattoo Project.

“I think if I’m going to ask people to commit so permanently to their love for this city, I better be clear that I love this city just as deeply as I’m expecting them to,” she wrote.

A Blessing or a Curse? 

During the mid-19th century, Chief Niwot was a leader of the Southern Arapaho tribe in the area that is now the Boulder Valley. Upon the arrival of white settlers searching for gold in 1858, Niwot supposedly cursed all future settlers. This is now known as “Niwot’s Curse.”

“People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty,” Arapahoe Chief Niwot supposedly said in 1858 – or so the legend goes.

And how do you get rid of such a curse?

“Go up to a certain part of the Flatirons and eat some dirt,” Pohl said. “That’s the only way to get rid of the curse.”

While some may call Niwot’s words a curse, others only read them as a blessing.

One tattoo recipient regaled fellow ink enthusiasts with Chief Niwot’s tale at Claw and Talon on Saturday, Nov. 2nd during one of the busiest days of the shop’s week-long tattooing marathon. Participants also shared stories about why they chose their specific word or phrase from Anne Waldman’s “Boulder Zodiac.”

boulderwordcloud

Why Ink?

Tom Klenow is no stranger to ink needles; his arms are home to full, colorful tattoo sleeves. Originally from Fargo, North Dakota, Tom said recently moving to Boulder gives his tattoo and the project more significance, “in the sense that I feel more at home here than I ever did in North Dakota.” Up the Boulder was his chosen phrase.

Lisa Roberts got her tattoo on the side of her right foot. It was her first. “I’m getting who. You can make it mean anything,” Roberts said. Although not originally from Boulder, Roberts has lived in in the town for over 25 years and said it’s “home.” Boulder was her number one reason for joining the project.

Kim Goldman received over surface just below her left collarbone. “It’s a unique phrase and a unique spot to get it,” she said. “It will have meaning for me… someday.”

Sean Held and Sierra Held are father and daughter. They were tattooed together on the project’s second day. Sean got the phrase keep scales aligning on his shin while Sierra chose go asymmetrical along her thigh.

“‘Asymmetrical means nothing’s the same: be unique, be yourself; be awesome. It’s hide-able, but also show-able,” Sierra said. Her father had a different reason for his chosen phrase.

“I always work hard at being the best person I can be. I’m balancing back and forth between the things I need to do and the decisions I need to make,” Sean said.

Jessika Fleck’s forearm is now labeled, “your mind stays.” She wrote about the meaning of her tattoo on her blog, harking back to an accident she had two years ago in which she hit her head. At times, Fleck said, she thought she was losing her mind.

“No matter how many loops the roller coaster has or if you happen to hit your head on a window, your mind can’t be lost or stolen,” Fleck wrote.  

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

Forty-five Boulderites were tattooed on Saturday. Despite the constant flow of people waiting for tattoos in Claw and Talon that weekend, the artists maintained their excitement. “Their attitudes are amazing. They’re getting the energy of the people,” Pohl said. “They’re juiced on it.”

Stories like this are what make the whole project worth it to Pohl. During the first weekend of tattooing for the project, word of mouth spread as participants began posting photos, blog entries, poems, and Facebook posts as odes to their tattoos and the Boulder Tattoo Project.

“I cried out of joy, because that’s what makes it worth it – when people share their stories. I’m hoping we’ll get more of that,” Pohl said.

Where do you call home?

To participate, project volunteers had to meet certain criteria, including but not limited to: “Consider Boulder home” and “love Boulder,” the latter being the number one motivator for participants.

“We were told Boulder is a very transient town,” said Kremena Todorova, one of the founding artists of the original Lexington Tattoo Project. Todorova said that although she and Kurt Gohde, her partner in the Lexington Tattoo Project, were primed to feel this way before visiting Boulder, they also spoke to many project participants who are Boulder transplants.

“It gets harder to stay here as you get older, because you have more responsibilities,” said Pohl.

“I have settled here, and it’s like a settling. It’s a work in progress and it’s a challenge to leave my hometown and to drive my stake here and hope it stays. I definitely feel like it’s my home, though.”

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The Colorado Education round-up for November 8

By Lauren Maslen

Boulder Valley School District

Boulder Valley School District is in the running for a nation-wide $90,000 grant which would pay for a farm-to-school coordinator in BVSD schools, along with further education for students about healthy eating habits, according to the Daily Camera. Almost half of Colorado schools currently participate in farm-to-school food programs, and BVSD currently spends 25 to 30 percent of its food budget on local food and products.

CU-Boulder

It may become more difficult for out of state students to gain in-state tuition at CU-Boulder. Students seeking in-state tuition can currently claim emancipation; however, changes in documents may prevent many students from applying for emancipation. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, “A student who successfully establishes emancipation and earns residency pays roughly 67 percent less in tuition than out-of-state students.”

Amendment 66

Amendment 66 failed with a resounding no throughout Colorado earlier this week, ending in disappointment in Boulder County where the education amendment passed. Districts throughout the state are moving forward and picking up the pieces of Amendment 66 to see what works for tax payers and what doesn’t, said the Denver Post.

Amendment 66 fails statewide despite scant approval in Boulder

By Lauren Maslen

Boulder voters eagerly await results at the Hotel Boulderado's Election Night Party on Tuesday, November 5th.

Boulder voters eagerly await results at the Hotel Boulderado’s Election Night Party on Tuesday, November 5th.

While some are saying it never had a chance, others are still confused about the whole thing. What was Amendment 66 and why didn’t it pass in Colorado?

In Boulder County, it was a close call: 50.82 percent in favor to 49.12 percent opposed. Throughout the state, however, the measure failed 66 percent to 34 percent.

An issue of heated debate throughout Colorado, advocates say the proposed tax increases in Amendment 66 weren’t just beneficial for students, teachers, and schools, but necessary for Colorado’s education system.

Meanwhile, opponents to the amendment argued that the tax increase is just that. The money may be needed for certain failing school districts, opponents argued, but the amendment would raise Coloradans’ taxes unnecessarily.

In a city well-known for its educated population and well-off school district, voters celebrating election results at Boulder’s Hotel Boulderado wavered one way or another as well on Tuesday night.

“That’s disappointing,” said Micah Parkin, a Boulder City Council candidate who finished sixth, just one place off from earning a spot on the council. Parkin has two young daughters in the Boulder Valley School District; however, she was more concerned with other issues on election night, particularly the Xcel Energy-backed initiative that would have shut down Boulder’s move to take over the city’s utility franchise.

“I’m just glad about 310,” she said. “I’d rather see that get voted down than myself voted in.”

“What’s Amendment 66?” asked several other party-goers at the Boulderado when questioned about the amendment. This question may have been a reason for many “no” votes, reported the Daily Camera.

A “progressive income tax structure Colorado abandoned in the 1980s” would be used with the Amendment, the Daily Camera reported. Coloradans making $75,000 per year or less would be charged an income tax rate of 5 percent towards the new education amendment while those making over $75,000 per year would be taxed 5.9 percent.

Making national news, Amendment 66 would have raised Colorado taxes by about $1 billion and would cost families approximately $133 per year. The new measures would reportedly have provided full day kindergarten across the state, smaller class sizes, funding for classroom technology, charter schools, and more.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stands behind the amendment. Amendment 66 provides complete transparency regarding teachers, schools, and the education system, Hickenlooper said.

For a full explanation of Amendment 66 and the 2013 Boulder ballot, check out Under the Flatirons’ 2013 Voters Guide.

The Colorado education round-up for November 1

By Lauren Maslen

Boulder Valley School District

The Kids Helping Kids program brought students from Broomfield’s Coyote Ridge Elementary to Crest View Elementary in Boulder last week to help with flood damage. Coyote Ridge students collected books, supplies, and other donations to help their peers at Crest View. The school was closed for about two weeks after experiencing massive flood damage in September.

CU-Boulder

A recent study by economists at CU-Boulder showed that, “high-performing foreign-born Ph.D. students improve the ‘creation of knowledge’ in U.S. universities.” CU-Boulder Professor Keith Maskus said providing entrepreneurial visas would benefit the U.S. economy and its technology industry.

Amendment 66 news

Frank Bruni gave a breakdown of Amendment 66 in a recent op-ed column in The New York Times. Bruni said the amendment provides parents with “transparency” and “accountability” of their children’s schools and teachers.

Still confused about Amendment 66? Check out Under the Flatirons’ 2013 Voter’s Guide” by Lars Gesing, including an explanation of the proposed Colorado education amendment.