Social Work and PSD.

DSC_0089 (2)More than ever before, the subject of mental health is being broached from all angles. Poudre School District Integrated Service staff are wholeheartedly accepting the challenge of helping students live a healthy lifestyle. A team of highly educated, experienced Integrated Services staff are hard at work, building relationships and advocating for students with emotional needs. One group working with students mental health needs are our School Social Workers, a dedicated group focused on understanding the whole students.

Lead Social Worker Derrick Searle is at the forefront of school social work. As a Northern Colorado native, Searle’s investment in the Fort Collins community goes deep. After receiving both a Bachelors and a Masters degrees in Social Work, Searle went on to earn a Masters degree in Education with administrator licensure from Colorado State University. He has worked for 7 of his 19 years as a social worker in PSD.

“It sounds cheesy but I wanted to make a difference,” shares Searle. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities for social workers. With 9 school social workers and 2 career coaches, each school in PSD is served. The goal of a social worker is helping people help themselves. They are advocates, encouragers as well as accountability. They are the people to notice and point out the good things students are doing no matter what size accomplishment that may be. They get to know students and what their struggles are. They work with students on understanding their emotions and how to regulate them. They look at the complete story of a student’s life and the best way to reach them.

Searle says there are things that ring true for all student. Behavior is a form of communication, whether it is conscious or subconscious. Student academics and emotions are deeply connected. Kids often ask for love in the most unlovable ways. Defiance is typically a result of stressors that underlie the behavior. Kids want to be good, they want to be loved and cared for and to have friends.

As a team, PSD mental health staff work passionately with a zero tolerance policy related to hurtful behavior, and work toward a better understanding of each individual. Social workers work together with administrators, school resource officers, counselors, deans and teachers on education and advocacy. Together they work to understand why a student is responding the way they are and what the deeper rooted cause may be. They are then able to provide support or a consequence to directly address the why of the problem not just the manifestation.

Derrick Searle says that Poudre High School, where he works, has adopted a great cultureDSC_0069 of inclusivity, openness to new intervention ideas and collaboration. In December of 2015 the PHS community put together a community event addressing mental health. PHS staff came together to address some heavy concerns facing students.

“There is something magical in the intersection of people connecting,” says Searle. This is why he, and his team of social workers have chosen a path of genuine investment into the lives of student in PSD.


Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521


Stove Prairie since 1896.


DSC_0428Through the Rist Canyon, tucked away on County Road 27, there is an unassuming building that is the home of Stove Prairie Elementary School with a student population of 47. This sweet, well-kept school opened its doors in 1896, making it the oldest operating “one-room” school in Colorado.Stove Prairie 1

Stove Prairie is the embodiment of a small, Colorado mountain school with everything from combined grade level classrooms to “critter drills” on the playground (drills to keep students safe from whatever “critter” may wander over). Students are a part of a close knit community. They work and play well together. It feels like a well-organized, relaxed, large family.  For students, it is not strange to have PE, art class, lunch and assemblies in the same room.

Stove Prairie 2

Integrated Service staff for Stove Prairie consists of 2 dedicated professionals. Teacher Kristy Kemp and paraprofessional Sue McPhaul  are holding down the fort and students couldn’t be in better hands. “I love working in the mountain schools. I feel very fortunate to be doing this job,” says Kemp. These wonderful women have become as much a part of the community as those who live there.


“Kristy and Sue are dedicated to serving students with disabilities.  I have watched both go above and beyond to assure that a student was receiving exactly what they needed.  This is all accomplished with great enthusiasm!”  shares Poudre School District Integreated Services director, Sarah Belleau.


Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Autism Spectrum Disorder

DSC_0011April is Autism Awareness month. Over the last 10 years, recognition of Autism Spectrum Disorder has grown significantly. Organizations such as Autism Speaks and the National Autism Association have increased dialogue about what the autism spectrum is and its symptoms and treatments.

According to the National Autism Association, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning.”

People often ask the question, “What does autism look like?” While this can unintentionally seem to be a loaded and offensive question, it does not have a simple answer. Autism Spectrum Disorder is exactly that, a spectrum. Google dictionary describes a spectrum as “Used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points.” This wide range allows for the focus to be less about a diagnosis and more about an individual. In Poudre School District, education is about the student first with a diagnosis offering additional pieces to support an understanding of the student from a clinical standpoint.

According to, “Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have intellectual disability (IQ less than 70), and many have normal to above average intelligence. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means.”

Awareness builds better understanding, and better understanding leads to greater acceptance. April awareness is a great opportunity to kick off the conversation.



Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Rocky Mountain High School Geo-Dome

Congratulations Rocky Mountain High School ACE program on an amazing grand opening for your Geo-Dome.



Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Fort Collins High School ACE program.

DSC_0387Klyd’s Closet sounds like the name of the newest Fort Collins boutique, however it is not new and it is not a boutique. It is an amazing little thrift/consignment shop run by the Fort Collins High School Alternative Cooperative Education program.

Klyd’s Closet got its name six years ago when it was founded because it was literally run out of a closet. Over the years, their space has expanded and sells merchandise such as healthy snacks, gently used donated goods, consigned items, and pieces created by students in other programs. The store gives students job, tendering and sales experience. In addition to Klyd’s Closet, ACE facilitates jobs in the FCHS cafeteria and ACE coffee shop. The goal is to expose students to a variety of jobs to help them find what connect with them. Students begin their work experience within FCHS and when ready, generally during their senior year, have the opportunity to apply for internships in the community. This semester, two students have internships with private companies in Fort Collins.

Program success can be directly attributed to the wonderful Integrated Service staff at FCHS. Director of Integrated Services Sarah Belleau says, “Cathy Hettleman has a ready smile and displays great enthusiasm when she talks about her students and their work experiences.  She has provided creative solutions for students needing a more diverse experience.”

ACE teacher Cathy Hettleman is an energetic advocate for students, who believes in their potential for the future. She knows all too well that students with special needs are told what they cannot do. Her mission is to help them discover what they can do and where they will find success post-high school. Integrated Services paraprofessional Patty Daniels shares, “my favorite part is that we are able to support so many different kids. We are able to help so many different needs. The day just flies by. I love the variety.”

Klyd’s Closet is a student run organization and is always looking for donations and/or consigned items. Local businesses are welcome to consign items with the FCHS ACE program. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Cathy Hettleman at

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Fossil Ridge High School ACE program.

DSC_0031Fossil Ridge High School staff is a well caffeinated, happy group thanks to the Alternative Cooperative Education program at FRHS. As part of the entrepreneurial curriculum of the ACE program, students learn the ins and outs of running a coffee cart. Not only do they learn barista skills and cash handling, the service has expanded to accepting online orders from staff for students deliver!

In addition to the coffee cart, the Fossil Ridge ACE program runs the concession stand during school sporting events and holds an annual geranium sale called Bloomtown. In the spring DSC_0041each year, students in the ACE program purchase plant starters which they grow in the Fossil Ridge High School green house. Students then transplant the flowered plants into nice pots to sell. As a group, students chose a charity and donate a portion of their plant sale proceeds. This process teaches students real life job skills as well as philanthropy and what it means to give back to the community.

ACE teacher Joe Allen has fostered an atmosphere addressing the “whole student.t” Each day, he checks in with his students and staff by asking them to rate their mood on a scale from 1-10 and then gives them the opportunity to share why. This has created a platform for students to express how they are feeling and what their particular needs may be that day. Allen coaches students in all areas of job readiness including things that would be easily overlooked by many of us, like thank you letters after an intern completion.

Director of Integrated Services for Poudre School District Sarah Belleau expalins, “calm is a great word to describe Joe Allen.  His calm demeanor makes it easy for students to connect with him.  Also, the coffee cart that Joe established at FRHS is a popular spot for many staff!”


Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Poudre High School ACE program.

Poudre High School is alive with professionally made banners. The source of this school spirit is none other than the Alternative Cooperative Education program’s Sign Shop. PHS students that take either economics or personal financial literacy through ACE are eligible to work in the Sign Shop as paid employees, earning credit toward graduation. Not only does the Sign Shop make banners, they are able to also create decals, t-shirts and other promotional items.

“At PHS, the ACE program is well known for their sign shop.  Students work hard to create professional signs that are located in the community and in PSD.  Integrated Services signs were made by the PHS sign shop and we frequently hear positive comments about them,” says Poudre School District Integrated Services Director Sarah Belleau.

Wendy Tomaschow and Wendi Bryner work together to create two sides to the ACE program. Wendi Miller teaches the instructional classroom portion while Wendy Tomaschow runs the business side of the Poudre ACE Sign Shop (P.A.S.S.). Students are able to experience what it is like to be an employee in a functioning business as well as what it looks like to take on greater roles as an entrepreneur.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Rocky Mountain High School ACE program.

The Alternative Cooperative Education program at DSC_0356 (2)Rocky Mountain High School is a
constant buzz of students and machines. Their visionary and teacher, Kim Nigro, is in constant motion. She and the Rocky team have built a culture where everyone is welcome and cared for. They are focused on preparing students for the future after high school.

work is a mix of classroom instruction/projects and hands on work experience. As with many ACE programs in Poudre School District, the Rocky ACE program seeks to provide students with the opportunity to try out and build on skills in a variety of job trades. Rocky’s entrepreneurial section of the ACE program is called Rock It. Rock It runs a variety of businesses, including a snack shop, merchandise etching, t-shirt printing and gardening in their brand new Geo-Dome.

Poudre School District Director of Integrated Services Sarah Belleau shared, “RMHS is known for the entrepreneurial opportunities that the ACE program provides.  Kim Nigro is creative in establishing small businesses that the students in the ACE programs run.  Kim’s ACE class is full of enthusiastic students who can describe their businesses to anyone who enters.”

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Centennial High School ACE program.


DSC_0058The fast paced, condensed schedule of Centennial High School is unlike any other in Poudre School District. As an alternative high school option, Centennial operates on an abbreviated hexter schedule. For Centennial, the focus of the Alternative Cooperative Education (ACE) program is job/life readiness for high functioning at risk students.


Each Centennial student goes through the ACE program fulfilling either personal financial literacy or economics requirements. ACE teacher Cassidy Montoya has created a fun, energetic, fast-pace and informative environment complete with intermittent “brain breaks.”

Director of Integrated Services Sarah Belleau says, “Cassidy works with a wide variety of students who may have struggled in a traditional school settings. She has diligently worked to find meaningful internships and experiences for students. Cassidy’s relationships with her students are strong which in turn helps her when finding meaningful experiences.”

Unlike other traditional programs, Centennial does not have a full time, student run business. With the shortened schedule, students have a few weeks at the end of the semester to experience different jobs. However, throughout the semester Cassidy Montoya runs a snack shop for ACE that will fund a scholarship for a graduating senior.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Do you know ACE? You should!

As small children we dream of careers like cowboys, princesses or astronauts. The truth is that for most of us, becoming a princess is an unlikely profession. Instead of what we will become, our focus shifts to when we will enter the workforce. At Poudre School District, we want students to be the most prepared they can be whenever, the time comes. When a student is supported throughout school with special education services, life and job preparation are critical to post-education readiness. One way students can be prepare is through Poudre School District’s Alternative Cooperative Education program (ACE).

ACE is a nationwide program designed to foster job readiness skills, entrepreneurial skills and career awareness in and out of classroom settings. PSD students fulfill required credits in economics and/or personal financial literacy classes with class course work and on site entrepreneurial experience. Often students participate in internships in the community.

With passionate teachers and dedicated paraprofessionals, each ACE program has created unique entrepreneurial opportunities. Educators become equal parts job/life coach and cheerleader. Each of the four comprehensive high schools as well as Centennial High School participate in the ACE program through the support of PSD’s Integrated Services department. “ACE provides a lifelong pathway to graduation and employment for students with a disability and those considered at risk,” according to Career and Tech Education Coordinator, Kathy Hanson.

To learn more about each site’s ACE program, click the links below:

Poudre High School

Rocky Mountain High School

Fort Collins High School

Fossil Ridge High School

Centennial High School