The halls were a buzz at Rocky Mountain High School. It signified the end of the school year coming and school check-out for students who were graduating the following weekend. I was invited to visit the Alternative Cooperative Education or ACE class and learn about gardens they were planting collaboratively with student council for the community. Instead of slowing down in anticipation of the end, RMHS teachers were not only continuing with their great work, but also starting new projects to teach job skills and how to give back to the community. I went into the day already completely impressed by the opportunities they provide for students and their future but I had no idea what a special culture they have created.
ACE at Rocky Mountain High School consists of many moving parts. There is an etching machine, where students make a variety of merchandise which they are able to sell for a profit; there is a concession stand, The Rock Stop, which students in the ACE program run and operate. The list of employment experiences goes on and on. There will be time to talk about all of the wonderful work and real life education opportunities within the program, but that will come at a later date. This article is focusing on the staff who create the amazing experiences for students at RMHS.
Through the many hallways of Rocky, tucked away you can hear the hum of an etching machine and fans. This particular day was filled with excitement for those that were moving on and a sigh of relief for those whose fate had been up in the air. In a classroom full of life I found the desks of Kim Nigro and Patti Haugen. It feels like visiting old friends, even though these are woman I have just met. They are beyond welcoming.
I had an opportunity to witness students coming and going, completing check out sheets which would release them from high school as they knew it. It felt like… a home. The busy day did not stop; work had to continue so that products would be on time and schedules would be kept but when students came to say goodbye work paused. Kim and Patti, as proud as though the students were their own children, gushed over each one who came through. It was sincere and loving. Students had found a home and people who loved them in a critical time between youth and young adulthood. Many who may have little support and encouragement at home came to this room, with these people, and found exactly what they were missing.
Kim pointed out a few young men whom she had known since they were in elementary school. Years ago, when the young men were in elementary school, Kim had been their teacher. Over the years Kim moved on to teach in the high school. The last of those K-5th graders she had once known were bringing sheets for her to sign, signaling the end of their time together. As Kim and Patti talked about their students, I could see their heartbreak for what some students had been through and pride for how far they had come. They beamed as they discussed each student. As students walked away Kim would say, “just keep moving forward, not back.” These simple words carried weight as students knew what she meant and with that left with smiles and two cheerleaders beckoning “we love you”.
When I eagerly accepted this position with Integrated Services, I did so because I believe Poudre School District has some of the finest programs, with teachers who care about students and their futures. Yet this day, I was blown away at how much that love for people drives these two individuals. Kim and Patti chose to finish the school year strong, giving all that they have to their kids. I hope with all of my heart that their students remember that day forever and when the time comes, they reference it as a time they were loved and valued, remembering it with the clearest details.
– Virginia Chevalier
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521