By Deb Risden
Five El Paso County Colorado District 49 schools receive Title I funds, which are federal dollars that supplement state funding for schools: Evans Elementary School, Falcon Elementary School of Technology, Odyssey Elementary School, Remington Elementary School and Horizon Middle School.
Title I resources are allocated based on poverty rates of students in the schools and school districts. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title I was developed “to ensure economically disadvantaged children receive a fair, equitable and high-quality education, by helping to close academic achievement gaps.”
One of the requirements for the funding set by the Colorado Department of Education is that schools maintain a family and community engagement program with a goal of increasing academic achievement.
The D 49 family engagement program has many facets, one of which is employing a family engagement liaison who works directly with families, teachers and school administrators to bridge a gap between the school and the family.
Karen Parks, family engagement teacher on special assignment, said, “The goal of the liaison is to be able to come in and support and be side by side with our families so they can support their children.”
The schools conduct family engagement events that are academically focused, such as math and reading nights, back to school nights and public library resource nights. “Having parents attend school literacy nights or math nights will get an idea of the curriculum taught and what their children do in school. We want them to come away with skills to help them at home with their students,” Parks said. “This is when we want to work alongside (with) and really help families. We don’t want to be a separate entity. They are their child’s first teacher, and we want to partner with them and support that.”
Parks said much of the work done by liaisons involves providing resources to a family. “If a family is struggling, we can remove that barrier so they can focus on getting their child to school and supporting them,” she said. “We see the families as our partners, and we want them to feel like we are their partners in supporting their child’s learning.”
Stephanie Ramirez, family engagement liaison at Falcon Elementary School, said being a liaison starts with getting to know the families so she can be aware of a need when it arises. “I know these parents, I know their struggles, I’ve talked with them,” Ramirez said. Needs can range from food insecurities, rent or utilities payments, housing and transportation issues, to name a few. The necessities include learning resources and helping the family become familiar with the curriculum.
Ramirez said she observes students when they come to school. She notices if a child isn’t wearing socks or a coat on a cold day, if their shoes are too large for their feet, if they are wearing the same clothing two days in a row or lacking in general cleanliness. Ramirez said she will call the parent and offer to fill a need, such as providing a winter coat. “Most of the time they accept the coat. Sometimes they say they forgot it in the car and will borrow a coat,” she said.
Liaisons keep some resources in their schools like coats, gloves, boots, toiletries and school supplies, all provided through donations. Other needs are met through partnerships and collaborations with organizations.
Woodmen Valley Chapel has been a long-time supporter of D 49 schools.“They are amazing,” Ramirez said. “They bring me weekly food bags full of cereal, snacks, fruit cups and spaghetti noodles before the weekend so they have food to eat at home.” During the holidays, church members provide toys and gifts for families in need.
The schools also conduct parent workshops and host after-school programs for students with working parents who are not at home when school is out. Girl Scout troops have conducted programs after school. Care and Share Food Bank has provided cooking classes. There is also an art club and a Lego club. “Anything that keeps the students here at school, occupied and engaged,” Ramirez said. “A lot of our parents appreciate that because some of them do work far away in the Springs and spend a lot of time commuting.”
Care and Share Food Bank visits the district with the Mobile Markets program, bringing food from different grocery stores that is free for the whole community, not just families with students who attend D 49 schools.
Schools also receive donations from local businesses and individual families. The district has a listing on the CarePortal, which is an online platform that connects people in need with resources like church groups. Ramirez uses the CarePortal when she knows of a specific need such as grocery cards, gas cards, bus passes, furniture, propane, firewood, help with a utility bill or auto repairs. The liaisons will work with homeless families to get hotel vouchers when shelters are full.
The D 49 Sand Creek Zone is in the process of developing a family resource center where families can go in person to pick up clothing and food. The center has already received many clothing donations and is working with Care and Share Food Bank to establish a food pantry at the location.
Ramirez said many people have never heard of a family engagement liaison. She said the liaison staff is well-trained, receive strong support and work together as a team. She sees the difference firsthand with students and their achievement levels. “Growing up, I didn’t know if my parents had that support at the school that I went to. This job overwhelms me with joy,” Ramirez said. “I’m there to remove any type of educational barrier they may experience.”
The district welcomes individuals or businesses interested in partnering with them to help families in need. Anyone can reach out to their local school and speak with the liaison or an administrator if there is no liaison. Karen Parks oversees the program for the district; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or assistance.
Wrestling at Vista Ridge
The girls VRHS program began in the 2017-2018 school year. Vista Ridge is the only girls wrestling team in District 49, made up of athletes from Falcon High School, Sand Creek High School and Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, as well as one athlete from Peyton High School.
Vista Ridge High School Girls Wrestling Accolades:
2023 State Championships, 6th place as a team
2023 Region 2 Team Runner-up (only 0.5 points from 1st place)
2022 State Championships, 5th place as a team (only 4 points from 3rd place)
2022 Region 3, Team Champions
Cheyenne “Bubbles” Dyess, 100 lbs. weight class
– 21-15 senior season record
– 4x Colorado Girls Wrestling State Qualifier (first in Vista Ridge history, boy or girl)
– 66 career wins
– Alpha Wolf Team Captain
– Committed to wrestle at Colorado Mesa University
Lou “Tadpole” Newel, 130 lbs. weight class
– 31-16 senior season record
– 2023 State Placer, 3rd
– 50 Career Wins
– Alpha Wolf Team Captain
Kaydence “Baby Face” Bonewell, 140 lbs. weight class
– 32-7 senior season record
– 2x State Placer, 6th (2022 & 2023)
– 90 career wins
– Alpha Wolf Team Captain
Paige “Pit Bull” Faler, 155 lbs. weight class
– 19-5 senior season record
– 2022 State Placer, 6th
– 2x State Qualifier (2022 & 2023)
– 59 career wins
– Beta Wolf Team Leader
– Committed to wrestle at St. Mary’s University
Hayden “Lucy” Newberg, Vista Ridge HS, Sophomore, 105 lbs. weight class
– 2x State Placer: 2022 5th and 2023 2nd/State Runner-up
– 62-12 career record
Abby “Sassy Pants” Wilfong, Peyton HS, Sophomore, 110 lbs. weight class
– 2022 State Qualifier
– 52 career wins
Zaria “Plot Twist” Bautista, Vista Ridge HS, Junior, 125 lbs. weight class
Ali “AliGator” Evans, Springs Studio, Junior, 170 lbs. weight class
– 3x State Placer: 2021 3rd, 2022 6th and 2023 3rd
- 80-11 career record
“I believe for women’s wrestling to continue to grow at the collegiate level and youth (K through 12) — we have to start producing more female coaches,” said Eric Everard, head coach for the Vista Ridge girls wrestling team. “Developing the next generation to go into coaching is very important. We want the girls who are competing now to be comfortable taking on the role of a wrestling coach … female coaches for the generation is very important.”
Wrestling will resume again in mid-November through mid-February.