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Collaborative to help showcase educational work in Southwest Colorado

Students in SWCEC’s ECI Summer Institutes are given hands-on learning. (Mollie Lewis/Courtesy photo)
The collaborative provides educational opportunities through their summer institutes and other initiatives

On Wednesday, the Southwest Education Collaborative will be part of an event with the Colorado Education Initiative and the Office of the Governor to provide a “behind-the-scenes look” at what has gone into “cross sector collaboration” to help expand educational opportunities for southwest Colorado’s rural students.

There are estimated to be more than 9,000 rural students in Southwest Colorado, according to SWCEC.

The Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative utilized grants such as Response, Innovation and Student Equity, or RISE grant funds, as well as investments from Rural Coaction and Opportunity Now.

According to SWCEC’s Executive Director Jessica Morrison, Gov. Jared Polis is hosting a RISE roadshow across the state to highlight the organizations who have received the RISE grant and what they are doing with the funds.

“We will be having a welcome and celebration dinner at the Strater Hotel in Durango and will be welcoming over 80 people from across the state to learn about all the work that has been happening across our region through the Southwest Colorado education,” Morrison said.

On Friday, the site visit tour part of the event will take place. This portion of the event will take place at various locations, starting at the Durango Impact Center and moving to other areas that are part of the collaborative, even demonstrating how SWCEC’S ECI summer institutes work.

“We will be showcasing to people across the state all of the different work and models we’ve engaged in,” Morrison said. “There will be a focus on how we have built infrastructure for shared equipment for school districts to share equipment. We will have a panel about governance and how our governance structures help with cross collaboration with and professional development.”

Morrison added that those visiting will be able to engage with students as part of the tour.

“Participants will be able to engage with students that are actually in the summer institute with a project to learn about all of our work-based learning that we are engaging in, and also our job shadows will highlight our regionwide work-based learning database system and discuss how we’ve modeled that work,” Morrison said.

SWCEC, which is a rural intermediary, will be helping others across the state learn how to implement a similar model.

“Since our inception, there have been eight additional rural intermediaries across the state of Colorado, and many of them are coming to this event,” Morrison said. “They are coming to this event to learn about the work that we are doing and then take it back to their own rural communities.”

The granting of the RISE grant originally brought in $3.6 million, but it opened the door for an additional $6 million.

“Now the Southwest is leading the charge in rural communities for this successful model to be implemented in communities across the state,” Morrison said. “The RISE grant has allowed us to bring all of these already dedicated, innovative leaders together.”

“I’m just really excited that other people across the state get to come down and see all of the great work that happens here and that we can be a blueprint for other people in other regions across the state,” Morrison continued. “We’re very grateful to the governor’s office for investing in this idea four years ago that has just skyrocketed the Southwest.”

With the help of these grants, SWCEC has been able to build partnerships with Fort Lewis College, Pueblo Community College, nine local school districts and two tribal nations.

According to the SWCEC, these invaluable partnerships have resulted in new college and career pathways in environmental studies, building trades, health sciences, education and hospitality/tourism.

The partnerships have also provided industry-grade equipment that are shared across districts as a way to prepare students for in-demand jobs, aligned tuition-free college-level courses for virtual, in person and hybrid students, virtual tool connected students with industries that provide work-based learning opportunities and summer institutes that provide “immersive career exploration” that is accomplished through hands-on learning.

According to Morrison, the collaborative was started about four years ago under the under the RISE grant, which was $3.6 million awarded by Gov. Jared Polis.

“This grant was awarded to some of our visionary leaders and educators in the region to try the idea of sharing resources across districts,” Morrison said.

The grant came about to help ensure that rural students are receiving the same resources and opportunities as their peers who are getting their education in metro areas.

“They were like, ‘Hey, students should have access to the same opportunities regardless of ZIP code, and they should have the same opportunities compared to their peers in metro areas,’” Morrison said.

At first, it was started with the two pathways of building trades and environmental studies, but it has grown since to include health sciences, education and hospitality and tourism.

After two years and the RISE grant had ended, the collaborative won an additional $4 million to expand into local school districts, allowing them to work with Mancos, Dolores, Dove Creek and Montezuma-Cortez.