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Big donation boosts STEM learning at Glenwood’s St. Stephen School

Sixth grader Alice Cleaver likes the more hands-on, and less eyes-on approach to science learning at St. Stephen School in Glenwood Springs.

That’s because the new STEM lab microscopes — purchased out of a $50,000 donation from a longtime school supporter — have computerized screens, instead of an eyepiece to view what’s under the lens. 

“I like how the microscopes have actual screens so we don’t have to put our eye on it,” Cleaver said during a Tuesday science experiment day using the new lab equipment.

“I always have fun in science, because you can learn about animals and other new stuff,” she said.

Classmate Elijah Kelley agreed.

“I like that you can learn about space, and animals, and genetics, and DNA, and just how things work,” he said. “I really like the robots, because you can choose between coding it or just driving it around with your fingers, or drawing a path on your iPad and it will do that path.”


The new middle school science lab at the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth grade Catholic school was made possible through a grant from longtime Glenwood Springs resident Chris McGovern.

“The school has benefitted from receiving some master teachers, and I wanted to help build on that,” said McGovern, whose now-adult children attended St. Stephen School in the 1980s and who has supported the school in different ways over the years.

When she inquired about making a charitable donation, the school’s leaders said a modern STEM lab would be of benefit to the school.

“We had a window of opportunity to get it done before the school year started, and I really wanted to make sure the students had a proper room and the equipment to go with it, as part of rounding out their education.”

Jenna Payne, the middle school science teacher at St. Stephen, said the new lab equipment fits her teaching style.

“Since we’re such a small school, it’s great to have all this new equipment,” she said. “I’ve always taught science hands-on, so to be able to have access to whatever I need is pretty fantastic.”

After introducing the new equipment to the students last week, she used Tuesday to introduce some new concepts to her students.

“It’s nice to take a little break from the unit we’re studying and learn something new,” Payne said.

St. Stephen Principal Glenda Oliver said the new lab equipment helps forward the school’s STEM initiative at the same time that the school is raising money for a new gymnasium and school remodel.

“It’s really allowing the kids a hands-on experience with STEM, and they’re also learning how to do some coding with applied math,” Oliver said. 

“It gets to where we see the future jobs are for these kids, where they’re going to have to be able to solve problems and work in groups. Obviously, having computer, math and applied science skills is going to benefit them down the road.”

St. Stephen now serves around 160 students, and has seen a big change in its student population in recent years as the school has begun offering more tuition assistance. That’s also come with the help of donations, grants and foundation support, Oliver said.

As one result, the school now has a student population that is about 66% Latino. About 0.05% of the students are classified as English Language Learners, she said.

“We think that the population of our student body more closely reflects that of our community than it did in the past,” Oliver said. “Another thing that is different is that we have students coming to St. Stephen’s from Basalt, Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Rifle.”


Carbondale bilingual teacher named English as a Second Language Teacher of the Year

Carbondale Middle School teacher Grace De La Sala attributes her career path as a bilingual educator to her own experience as a second language learner.

The daughter of Colombian parents, her family moved to the United States for a chance at a better life and believed education was a way to get ahead, she said.

De La Sala was just named the 2019 English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CABE). 

“As a second language learner, I struggled with reading comprehension and writing in school, but didn’t get the support I needed,” De La Sala said in a press release announcing the award.

“This led me towards becoming an [English language development] teacher and really focusing on the whole child,” De La Sala recounted.

De La Sala has been with CMS, part of the Roaring Fork School District, for 14 years as what’s known in Colorado as a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education (CLDE) teacher. 

“Grace is an amazing teacher and well-deserving of this honor,” Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said in the release.

CMS Principal Jennifer Lamont also spoke to De La Sala’s strengths as a CLDE teacher.

“She has had success helping her students become more proficient and confident as speakers, readers and writers of the English language and within the content area,” Lamont said.

She noted that, in the spring assessments, De La Sala’s students’ growth on the state’s English Language Arts test was 11% higher than the state average.

“Surely, Grace’s relationships with the students and their families have contributed to the success of her students,” Lamont said. 

The CABE award “recognizes leaders, outstanding teachers, and advocates for bilingualism, biculturalism, and biliteracy who play active and useful roles in their communities, as well as in their schools, and have a proven ability to inspire emerging bilingual students of various backgrounds to excel.”

According to her CMS website biography, De La Sala taught special education in Miami, Florida for four years before coming to CMS. 

She utilizes a program called SpringBoard in her seventh grade classroom, which is described as a research-based curriculum that prepares students for college. She also helped create study units to incorporate those lessons for fifth grade.

“Teaching is her passion and being able to have meaningful relationships with students and their families is something that she prides herself with,” according to the web bio. 

De La Sala also recently completed her Masters of Education degree in health and wellness.

“Grace engages her emerging bilingual students with expertise, enthusiasm, and love,” CLDE Director Amy Fairbanks said in the release. “She plans and implements high-quality instruction that is literacy-based and centered on authentic literature.

“Grace is a phenomenal teacher and an equally amazing human being. I am so proud that she is being recognized.”  

De La Sala will be honored during the annual CABE Awards Gala in Thornton on Oct. 11.

In 2017, another CMS teacher, Mary Hernandez, received the same award, and CMS student Alexandra Gallegos Vigil was presented with the CABE Spotlight Award.

Glenwood teacher conference focuses on classroom mindfulness

A two-day teacher education conference hosted by Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs on Friday and Saturday aims to incorporate social and emotional learning in the classroom through mindfulness.

CMC is partnering with MindUP, a program of The Goldie Hawn Foundation, to present the conference at the Morgridge Commons space above the Glenwood Springs Library.  

According to a press release from the college, special facilitators will provide teachers with researched, evidence-based social-emotional learning tools for preschool through eighth-grade schools. 

“Rooted in neuroscience, MindUP gives children and their teachers the knowledge and skills they need to manage stress, regulate emotions and face the challenges of the 21st century with optimism, resilience and compassion,” according to the release.

MindUP’s focus on mindfulness has already been incorporated into the teacher education program at CMC.

Tuition for the conference is waived for CMC student teachers, local educators and CMC instructors who want to use the same tools in their classrooms. 

“We are so grateful to have had such a positive response from our partnering school districts,” Elizabeth Qualman, CMC director of teacher education, said in the release.

As of earlier this week, the conference was nearing capacity.

The conference meets from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Morgridge Commons, 815 Cooper Ave., second floor. Priority is given to teachers within the CMC service area. If extra space is available, tuition is $220 per person.

The conference was made possible through a grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education and by the sponsorships of True Nature Healing Arts and Amoré Realty, both of Carbondale. 

For more information, contact equalman@coloradomtn.edu or 970-569-2960, or visit coloradomtn.edu/foundation/cmc-mindup-conference.

Lack of staff, low student participation cited as two Roaring Fork District high schools end breakfast service

Breakfast service has been suspended at two Roaring Fork District high schools, and a third program is being evaluated amid staffing shortages and low student participation in the high school meal programs.

District officials informed parents and students at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale and Basalt High School that breakfast would no longer be served as of Monday, at least for the time being.

Two district food service managers resigned recently, explained Michelle Hammond, food services director for the district. With a lack of applications to fill those positions, the decision was made to halt the two breakfast programs, she said.

“That doesn’t mean that one day we wouldn’t be able to open the program back up again,” Hammond said.

The decision was not solely due to a lack of staffing, she added, as student participation in all three district high school meal programs, including Glenwood Springs High School, has consistently been low.

At Roaring Fork and Basalt, only about 10 to 20 breakfasts were being served per day, out of a student body of between 350 and 400 students at each school, Hammond said.

Glenwood Springs High, with around 1,000 students, has been serving about 40 students during both breakfast and lunch, she said.

“With open campus, there are so many other food options within walking distance,” Hammond said.

According to Shannon Pelland, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer for the school district, the status of the high school food service programs is constantly being evaluated.

“The status of those programs has always been a little up in the air,” she said. “And with the severe staff shortage, we have little choice but to reconsider funding those programs.”

Currently, the district has three unfilled kitchen manager positions and two cook positions.

“While we continue to explore creative ways to attract new employees to these positions, we are faced with the immediate problem of not having enough staff to provide our current level of offerings,” according to the letter that went out to Roaring Fork and Basalt families.

In the meantime, available staff is being moved to where the highest participation is, which is in the elementary and middle schools, Hammond said.

Middle schools in the three district communities have about triple the participation as in the high schools, and the elementary schools see about 10 times the number of students eating school-offered breakfast and lunch, she said.

The school district maintains a staff of 30 food service employees, but most of those positions are part time and do not include benefits, Pelland said.

The starting wage for a cook in the district is $14.30 an hour, and for a kitchen manager is $16.86.

The district has tried to entice employees to create a full-time position by combining a food service position with some other support positions, such as building and grounds, custodial or bus drivers, Pelland said.

Currently, three employees have combined student transportation and cook positions to become full time, she said.

The seasonal staffing shortage has also impacted building and grounds, Pelland said.


CVES’s Bankey named Teacher of the Year finalist

Throughout his teaching career spanning more than two decades, Justin Bankey has nominated many of his peers for teacher of the year. This year, someone nominated him.

“I received an email from a very nice lady at (the Colorado Department of Education) congratulating me,” Bankey said about being notified Monday that he is one of seven finalists for the statewide award.

He was one of 43 nominated, all of whom went through a lengthy application process.

Bankey said the application process was very intensive and extensive, including an essay on a subject he is not use to talking about.

“The hardest part is you have to talk about yourself As a teacher, you’re so use to thinking about the students and supporting the staff, and all the sudden the essay questions are all about you,” Bankey said.

Bankey said one of the things he focused on in his teacher of the year application was his role in revamping the teacher-mentor.

“One of the things I became passionate about last year is helping with the mentor program,” Bankey said.

“We are creating a better mentor program for teachers here. One of the top reasons (teachers leave the job) across the nation has always been besides pay, has been support new teachers feel from admin and staff.”

Bankey said between 19 and 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years on the job.

“I felt pretty strongly about redoing our mentor program here, so with support and working with our head of the program, we have been able to revamp it,” Bankey said.

Bankey said the new program began this year and they are already receiving positive feedback from new teachers.

“That’s been one of my focuses, pretty thrilled to do that. Teaching is a pretty noble profession,” Bankey said.

Last Friday Bankey traveled to Denver for an interview in front of a dozen people, fielding questions.

“Which was kind of nerve racking,” he said.


A 19-year veteran of the Garfield Re-2 School District Justin Bankey has introduced thousands of Silt elementary school students to music over the years.

“My favorite part about being a music teacher is I get to see them as they grow, kindergarten through fifth, I get to know the kids and their families pretty well,”

Bankey moved from Montana to Colorado to teach at Cactus Valley Elementary because the area reminded of the rural area he grew up in Eastern Montana.

“One of the reasons I picked this area is that I’m from a rural community and I really believe in education in a rural community,” Bankey said.

He said his favorite thing about teaching at CVES for the last two decades is really getting to know and being part of the community he teaches in.

“I really feel the support of the community is really awesome for out kids,” Bankey said.

“I have some great friends, we think of each other as family here.”

When he is not teaching, refereeing football or working a the Rifle pool, Bankey spends as much time as he can traveling, camping, hunting and fishing with his wife Jamie and their two daughters.

When asked about what it would be like if he won the awards he was quick to say it was more about his students, school staff and administration.

“For me I feel like if I win teacher of the year it’s not me that won, because I don’t know if I would be the same teacher I am if I wasn’t in this building and this community. So for me personally it about the school I teach in and the staff that I work with and the district I’m in. I really believe in learning all you can and sharing what you know, I really believe in that,” Bankey said.

“It’s more about not just me, it’s everybody. For me just coming here everyday I get to put on my teacher hat and that makes me pretty happy.”

Other finalists

Other nominees include Richard Green (Shelledy Elementary School, Mesa Valley School District No. 51), Claudia Ladd (McMeen Elementary School, Denver Public Schools), Machin Norris (Franklin Middle School, Greeley-Evans School District 6), Erika Siemieniec (Sand Creek High School, School District 49), Hilary Wimmer (Mountain Range High School, Adams 12 Five Star Schools) and William Yerger (Horizon Middle School, School District 49).

Bankey said he will find out next week whether the committee will come for a site visit, and the winner will be announced by Oct. 31.

“These seven teachers serve as inspiring examples among the thousands of teachers across the state who every day go above and beyond to teach our children,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s Education Commissioner, according to a news release. “These finalists are dedicated, innovative and pushing our students to new heights. Any one of them would make an excellent Colorado Teacher of the Year.”


CMC announces board candidates

Two candidates from Glenwood Springs are running to fill an open seat on Colorado Mountain College’s board of trustees in an election Nov. 5.

Both candidates seeking to serve eastern Garfield County on the CMC board are well acquainted with the college.

Mary Axelson of Glenwood Springs was a professor at CMC for decades, teaching education and developmental sciences. Axelson was not available for an interview.

Marriane Virgili, the former director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, also has strong ties to the college.

She chaired the campaign committee for ballot question 7D in 2018, when voters approved to allow CMC to retain revenue that would have been returned to taxpayers due to the Gallagher amendment. She also testified at the state legislature when CMC was seeking approval to offer 4-year degrees.

“I’ve been a fan of the college for some time. I’m the first child in my large extended Italian family who went to college,” Virgili said.

Virgili said she believes in access to education, and recognizes the importance of board leadership.

“I view education as the key to success, and I believe it should be accessible to everybody,” Virgili said.

Kathy Goudy, the current trustee for district 2, is term-limited after this year.

Four other seats on the board of trustees are on the ballot in November, but the only other contested race is for the Lake County board seat.

Voters will also be asked whether Salida should join CMC’s taxing district.

According to state law, “voters both in the district being annexed and those throughout the college district must vote in favor of the annexation,” CMC said in an August press release.

Salida is part of CMC’s service area, which covers three counties, but it is not part of the six-county taxing district.

Residents attending CMC in Salida pay nearly $100 more per credit hour than those who live within CMC’s taxing districts.

The current property tax level for CMC’s district would be applied to Salida residents if the ballot measure succeeds.

“(Adding) the Salida School District to the CMC district would have no impact on current taxpayers within the CMC district,” CMC said in a news release.


Local nonprofit Project PACK hopes to fill hundreds of backpacks with community donations for RE-1 children in need

When three mothers learned that numerous children experiencing traumatic events were in need of supplies, they wanted to help — and knew the community would, too.

“I got into a brainstorm with my three friends,” said Roaring Fork Valley resident Amber Wissing. “Seeing the need in the community and knowing that people really do have a heart to give, we wanted to find a practical way to bridge the gap.”

Subsequently, Wissing, Mandy Chamberlain and Katrina Epp formed Project PACK, which stands for “Provide a Crisis Kit,” four years ago.

The local nonprofit, which operates under the Two Rivers Community Foundation, supports a number of local agencies including all RE-1 Schools.

Now through Sept. 16, Project PACK with the help of Alpine Bank will collect emergency supply donations for RE-1 school children in need.

“We have an initial goal of being able to pack 300 backpacks,” said Wissing. “People may drop off supplies at any Alpine Bank from Basalt to Glenwood during their regular business hours.”

Those supplies, intended for students up to 18-years-old, include: blankets, socks, underwear, pajamas, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, water bottles, snacks and gift cards.

“We do only accept new items,” said Wissing.

Volunteers will then sort through those new items and fill already purchased backpacks with them.

Those backpacks will then go to the Family Resource Center, which will supply them to RE-1 children in need.

“The plight of these children may not be visible to many of us in our community, but their need for our support is real,” Alpine Bank Glenwood President John Stelzriede said in a news release. “Alpine Bank is proud to lend a hand to this important initiative.”

In some cases, children may not be able to return home because of a family crisis, homelessness or disclosure of abuse.

Project PACK, with the help of the community, provides those children with necessary supplies through those traumatic events.

“We are hoping to finish strong here in the last couple of weeks,” Wissing said of the collection drive.


Basalt choir teacher arrested on charge of alleged sexual contact with student

A teacher at Basalt High School was arrested Wednesday on a charge of alleged sexual contact with a minor, according to booking records at Garfield County Jail.

Brittany Marie von Stein, 26, of Carbondale, was charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, a felony, a jailer in the booking office said. She was released after posting a $10,000 bond Wednesday evening.

Von Stein was taken to the jail Wednesday afternoon after an arrest on a warrant, according to the jailer. No information was immediately available on the circumstances of von Stein’s arrest.

Von Stein, who leads the choir programs, is a resident of Carbondale, which is why she was booked into Garfield County Jail.

The Basalt Police Department was leading the investigation of von Stein as of last week after receiving information from the Roaring Fork School District and an individual regarding a possible relationship between the teacher and a student at the school, Police Chief Greg Knott previously said. He declined to identify the teacher last week.

On Wednesday, Knott referred all inquiries to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. A prosecutor did not return a message left Wednesday from The Aspen Times.

Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said last week that von Stein was on leave for reasons that he wouldn’t discuss because it was a personnel matter. He said she would be replaced if she were unable to meet conditions necessary to return to her position this month.

“We need to know that no district policies have been violated in a major way or, if even in a minor way, we’ll have to take a look at that,” Stein said Friday.

He wouldn’t discuss the nature of the potential policy violation.

Von Stein was highly regarded after joining the Basalt schools in 2015 and heading the choir programs at the high school and middle school. She was credited with a drastic increase in the number of students participating in the program. As it grew, she focused on teaching at the high school.

Von Stein received the 2018 Outstanding Young Educator Award from the Colorado Music Educators Association.

“This prestigious honor is given annually to music educators in their first five years of teaching who have shown significant proficiency in the classroom and respect in their school community,” the education association said at the time.

Von Stein graduated from Ohio State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in music education and minors in vocal performance and theatre.


Education Briefs

Local student graduates from Aviation Challenge

Noah Smith of Glenwood Springs recently attended Aviation Challenge Mach II at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, home of Space Camp, Space Camp Robotics, Aviation Challenge, U.S. Cyber Camp and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Official Visitor Center.

The weeklong educational program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while training students and with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving.

This program is specifically designed for students who have an interest in military aviation and the mechanics of flight. Students learn principles of aviation and put their knowledge to the test in a variety of flight simulators. Taking the role of fighter pilots, Noah and team ran control systems and scenario-based missions as well as trained in water and land survival. At the end of the week, Noah and crew returned in time to graduate with honors.

Contested races set for three Roaring Fork School Board seats

There will be a contest for three seats on the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education in November, though not all the names will be on the ballot.

According to the district’s elections official, Angie Davlyn, based on candidate filings by the Aug. 30 deadline, two challengers will be joining incumbent Shane Larson in vying for the District D (north and west Glenwood areas) seat.

The other two candidates who filed nominating petitions are Amy Connerton and Jasmin Ramirez.

Two candidates each filed valid nominating petitions for the District B (west Carbondale and west of the Highway 82 corridor), and District C (south Glenwood and Spring Valley/west Missouri Heights area), seats. They are Natalie Torres and Maureen Stepp, respectively.

Two additional candidates also filed their intentions to run for the Districts B and C seats, but did not turn in enough valid signatures, Davlyn said. As a result, those candidates, Matthew Cova and Molly Peterson will be official write-in candidates for those respective seats.

The current District C representative on the school board, Mary Elizabeth Geiger, is not running for re-election. And, the District B seat was left vacant in June when former board member Matt Hamilton moved from the area and resigned from the board.

Local school board seats will be decided in the Nov 5 election.