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With many people wondering whether traditional schooling is going the way of the chalkboard, the mimeograph machine and the overhead projector, some educators are preparing for what seems like an inevitable evolution.

Two El Paso County school systems are among 14 statewide to receive grants under Colorado’s new $32.7 million Response, Innovation and Student Equity, or RISE, Education Fund, using federal emergency relief money for education.

Grant winners are charged with addressing learning challenges related to the economic, social and health impacts of COVID-19 and promoting innovation.

In the first round of grants that Gov. Jared Polis announced last month, Peyton School District 23 received $852,541 to develop a program to improve postsecondary and workforce readiness among high school students.

Third Future Schools, a public charter school network that includes the Academy of Advanced Learning in Aurora along with Coperni 2 and Coperni 3 in Colorado Springs, was awarded $723,000 to reimagine school by advancing its “one classroom, three locations” instructional model and providing credit to students for life experiences, not just academic learning.

A committee of parents, students and education leaders from around the state reviewed 85 applications in the first round, said the governor’s press secretary, Conor Cahill.

In addition to improving student learning, the grants are intended to help close equity gaps and enhance operational efficiencies for pre-K-12 schools and higher education campuses.

Priority was given to schools that serve rural communities, those that are struggling academically and schools that are working on closing academic gaps between students based on income, race or ethnic group, as well as English language learners and students with disabilities.

A second round of funding has drawn 115 applicants, Cahill said, 47 of which had applied in the first round but were not successful.

The governor’s office will announce winners of the second distribution on Jan. 22.

The small, rural Peyton district, located 20 miles northeast of Colorado Springs and enrolling 600 K-12 students, wanted to try something fresh and innovative to see where a novel approach could lead, said Mary Krisko, career and technical education director.

“We saw some of our staff really excelling at remote instruction, picking up the technology rather quickly and enjoying it, and we wanted to expand on that,” she said.

A voluntary pilot program will start next semester with up to 15 high school juniors and seniors, who will attend classes two days a week in person and two days a week remotely.

The remote portion will combine students doing schoolwork at home and working at internships, apprenticeships and job shadowing in the community.

Instructional periods both at school and off campus will be flexible. Students may come to school for one or two periods, for example, and then leave for an internship at a local business, Krisko said.

Students also will learn practical knowledge, such as how to balance a bank account, create a budget and apply for student aid for college.

“Sometimes students leave high school and don’t know how to structure their time do daily life skills,” Krisko said, “and they don’t do well in college or at a job.”

The hybrid model with a flexible learning schedule is intended to fill in the gaps.

The grant money will fund salaries of five teachers and one coordinator, Krisko said. The program is designed to accommodate more students next school year. Teachers now are developing the curriculum.

Figuring out the next step after high school, whether it’s a technical and trades program, two- or four-year college or the job market, is one emphasis, Krisko said. Increasing the district’s matriculation rate beyond 60% is another goal.

Peyton Superintendent Tim Kistler thought of the idea for the hybrid model and presented it to board members last year, Krisko said. Although it was discussed, the concept never went anywhere, she said.

Now, it’s being given wings to take off with the intention of landing as a permanent option for students.

“We hope students learn how to budget their time, realize they are responsible for their learning and assess the right career path for them,” Krisko said. “It hopefully will help students be more successful in the college classroom or going into employment.”

Third Future is expanding and upgrading its teaching models at all three school sites starting next semester, said Michele Moore, executive director of strategy and innovation.

The network was the first school system in Colorado Springs to reopen for in-person learning in July, offering live classroom teaching that’s also live-streamed to via Zoom, and virtual-learning only, which about 10% of students are doing. 

The charter school network founded by former Harrison D-2 superintendent Mike Miles also is using the grant to incorporate experiential learning for credit, Moore said.

As COVID restrictions ease, students will be able to count learning a musical instrument, traveling, sports participation, attending community events and other activities toward their educational achievement.

The education reform network strives for two years of academic growth in core content in one year of schooling for all students, regardless of their levels. Expanding a project-based learning model also will receive money from the grant.

The emphasis will be on improving the instructional model, closing achievement and equity gaps, and teaching students how to learn, Moore said.

Grant money will pay for additional staff, technology such as smartboards and laptops, and experiential education opportunities, such as hiring the Colorado Springs Conservatory to provide music lessons.

“We’re focusing on creating a new education system for students delivered in a high-quality way,” Moore said. “We’re tapping the village, the communities, so we can take care of the whole child.”

This content was originally published here.