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The negative factor: Why Colorado schools are crying poverty

By Sarah Jane Kyle/The Coloradoan

Students in Lesher Middle School’s science classes don’t always dissect cow eyeballs, frogs or fetal pigs to learn about anatomy.

Some days it’s chicken wings.

Those wings don’t offer any secret scientific advantage for students, but they are cheaper and their bones and muscles get the job done when money is tight and students need hands-on learning experiences.

Sometimes cheaper is what you settle for in a state where lawmakers take millions of dollars from public schools every year to balance the budget, resulting in Colorado ranking among the bottom quarter in state education funding.

In a perfect world, Lesher Principal Tom Dodd would be able to fund new learning experiences and supplies for his students without a second thought. He could always purchase cow eyeballs, frogs and fetal pigs, or maybe even educational technology that would circumvent the need for real animal dissections.

Instead Dodd, the 2017 National Principal of the Year, feels the same crunch as leaders at each of Colorado’s more than 1,800 public schools because of a recession-era decision that changed how the state funds its schools and balances its budget.

While the Great Recession ended in 2009 and U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Colorado’s economy the best in the nation, Colorado public schools lost $830.7 million this school year to a budget-balancing tool called the negative factor. Poudre School District lost $25.8 million — enough to hire 445 additional teachers and pay them each about $58,000 in annual salary and benefits.

That’s how you end up with chicken wings.

Read the entire article here.

‘I am Guy’: A story of survival

By Sarah Jane Kyle/The Coloradoan

No one knows exactly how old Guy Seguele was when militia gunned down his parents and shot him in the leg.

That’s because no one, including Guy, knows his real birthday.

Those kind of everyday details get lost when a boy watches his parents die then flees into the jungle to stay alive.

“I held them both in my hands,” he said, recounting an unimaginable life that included him hiding in Central African Republic for years as a youth.

He stumbles at times while recounting his former life, partly because the story is painful to tell and partly because he only learned English five years ago.

How Guy (pronounced “gee”), who is about 19 years old, came to live in Fort Collins after surviving his country’s civil war is a tale that sounds more like a movie script than real life. It’s a story of courage, resourcefulness, a little bit of luck and the power of a helping hand.

Read the entire article here.

Six months of struggle: Fort Collins family seeks home

By Sarah Jane Kyle/The Coloradoan

Five-year-old Zayden Slone furrows his brow, trying to find the right Lego blocks to make an epic superhero scene come to life. Seeing a slender red stick, he pauses and picks it up, noting how much it looks like a lightsaber from Star Wars — a toy he’s coveted since spying it on a store shelf earlier this year.

Still contemplating his creation, Zayden puts his family’s quest to find a home in simplest terms.

“When me and my mom get our own house, I can have a lightsaber,” he said, returning to the Lego task at hand. He and his mom, Fawn Martin, have been homeless for six months.

With any luck, and loads of perseverance, they will join the minority of successful families from the Faith Family Hospitality program, a collaborative of 30 Fort Collins religious groups that house up to four families for week-long shifts. Less than half — 43 percent — of the program’s families find permanent housing. The rest either quit or are asked to leave because they aren’t abiding by the rules, which include prohibitions on drug and alcohol use.

When FFH Executive Director Annette Zacharias met Martin, she feared the 29-year-old woman wouldn’t make it. Martin didn’t have a high school diploma or a job. She didn’t have family or friends nearby, or even a driver’s license. She had nothing but two suitcases and “this adorable little guy who was smart and funny,” Zacharias said.

Read the entire story here.

PSD mountain schools adapt to educate at 8,500 feet

By Sarah Jane Kyle/The Coloradoan

RED FEATHER LAKES – Bike rides to school, crowded halls and hot lunches are routine for most of the 29,000 Poudre School District students who live in and around bustling Fort Collins.

But for 150 students whose rural schools are tucked among the mountain forests west of the city, critter drills, morning handshakes and hundred-mile commutes are the norm.

Hot lunches are a once-a-week treat.

Welcome to education at 8,500 feet.

PSD’s three mountain schools at Red Feather Lakes, Stove Prairie and Livermore, roll at a much different pace than their city counterparts up to 40 miles away. Up here, grade levels are combined into a handful of classrooms.

Students leave footprints next to animal tracks in snow that blankets the ground even in early May, on school property where it’s hard to tell where the playground ends and the forest starts.

“Their backyard is the mountain,” said Kasey Ross, who drives 75 miles one way from Johnstown to teach a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at Red Feather Lakes Elementary. “They just go climb rocks and play. They seem more like kids used to be than what kids are today.”

Read the entire article here.