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.

Weekly Round-Up — Nov. 21

By Kendall Brunette

BOULDER WEEKLY

Federal sequestration cuts hurt ongoing medical research by reducing research grant funding.  According to Boulder Weekly, Christopher Lowry, a scientist in the department of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, is one of many CU scientists who are struggling to obtain funding for their research.  Lowry is researching new treatments for depression and is working toward a vaccination against it.  Although his research has received constant funding since 1995, he now faces the reality that the money will soon run out, leaving his research in question.

THE DENVER POST

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is seeking information about two recent incidents of illegal chemical dumping near Lyons.  According to The Denver Post, authorities found a 30-gallon barrel of zinc cyanide dumped at the Black Bear Inn earlier this month.  Four days later, a 20-gallon barrel of copper cyanide was discovered at an Environmental Protection Agency dump site.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER

CU-Boulder proudly announced the successful launch of its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on Monday, Nov. 18.  The CU-led $671 million NASA mission to Mars will target the role that the loss of atmospheric gases played in changing Mars from a warm, wet and possibly habitable planet for life to the cold, dry and inhospitable planet it appears to be today, according to a CU-Boulder news release.

Boulder County arts educators will carry on, even without Amendment 66 tax revenue

By Jessica Caballero

Supporters of the failed tax-increase measure Amendment 66 touted that the money raised would give administrators flexibility in restoring arts education around the state. So the measure’s resounding defeat must mean a reduction in arts education, right?

Not in Boulder County schools, district officials say, at least in part because the county’s districts didn’t cut arts in the first place.

Before the vote, Douglass Elementary Principal Jon Wolfer said that the passage of Amendment 66 would “enable the district to funnel money towards other school needs that have been neglected in the past.”

Now, a full 10 days after the election, Briggs Gamblin, Boulder Valley School District’s director of communications, says arts education in the district will not need to borrow from other programs to remain.

“We did not cut arts programs as a result of budget cuts, so that part of it did not apply to us,” Gamblin said.

John Poynton of St. Vrain Valley School District said that their arts programs were safe as well. The district had money already set in the budget for arts funding, so those programs will not suffer.

In fact, arts programs throughout the state of Colorado seem to be flourishing.

easelly_visual

In the 2012-2013 school year, music is the most widely offered program in Colorado schools, followed by visual arts, theater and dance.

Here is the breakdown of how many schools offer specific arts programs:

  • Music, 1,645 schools (90.8 percent of all schools)
  • Visual arts, 1,596 (87.9 percent)
  • Theater 612 (33.7 percent)
  • Dance 273 (15 percent)

The study also showed that out of 435 responding schools across Kindergarten to 12th grades, almost half of all schools believe that the funding for arts education has decreased in the last five years.

Yet, the study revealed that half of all schools, at every level, also received outside funding for their arts education programs. Half of the funding that those schools acquire comes from partnerships with other arts institutes and organizations.

The study approximates that only 29,000 Colorado public school students attend schools without any exposure to formal arts education.

The discrepancy in the course offerings in any discipline could be due to the availability of qualified teachers and time for those courses, according to Karol Gates, arts content specialist for the Colorado Department of Education.

“In general, providing full-time, highly-qualified teachers in the four arts areas can overstretch a school’s budgetary constraints. Scheduling issues – lack of sufficient time allotted – for arts programming is also a concern that often occurs,” Gates said.

But not to worry, the study found that on the whole, Colorado school administrators believe in the value of arts education, though emphases have shifted in the past five years.

According to the Colorado Visual and Performing Arts Education Survey published in March of 2008 by Cypress Research Group, formal arts education was available for 93 percent of kindergarten through fifth grade students, 86 percent of sixth through eighth graders, and 83 percent of high school students in ninth grade and above.

In the 2007-2008 school year, visual arts education was the most frequently represented in middle schools and high schools, with music courses in a close second, with theater arts and dance lagging behind by a huge margin.

In elementary schools, 88 percent had visual arts courses, 94 percent had music, only 11 percent had theater, and 20 percent had dance instruction.

In middle schools, 66 percent had visual arts, 61 percent music, 22 percent theater and 11 percent dance.

High schools had the least overall arts instruction. Only 30 percent had visual arts, 26 percent music classes, 9 percent theater and a mere 3 percent had dance classes.

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.

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.