Successful partnerships benefit schools and community

Illustration courtesy Reynolds Ash + Associates

Pagosa Springs High School offers multiple pathways to graduation aimed to help students be better prepared for what they want their future to be, whether heading off for postsecondary education before embarking on a career or heading into the workforce a little sooner.

The school’s career and technical education (CTE) program has grown over the years and now includes five pathways: agriculture, food and natural resources; building trades; business; computer science; and health science.

Those pathways encompass training to help lead students into careers in fields such as recreation and the outdoors, hospitality, tourism, government work, food service (restaurants and catering), property management, landscaping, greenhouse construction, game design, firefighting, construction and more.

According to the school’s website, some of the classes prepare students for a job directly after completion, while others put them on the pathway for careers with some additional training.

The programs, according to the school’s website, “often give you the opportunity to earn certifications that can help you to get a job. They will make you career and college-ready. Each of the CTE classes have been approved by the Colorado Community College System and organized by Career Pathway.”

Adding to the educational selection, each pathway also offers the opportunity for students to be a part of a related career and technical student organization. 

These organizations, the school district outlines, give students a chance to expand their knowledge beyond the classroom. The organizations include Future Business Leaders of America, the Colorado Technology Student Organization, Health Occupations Students of America, Future Farmers of America and SkillsUSA.

Soon, the school hopes to expand its campus with a building that will be the home of several of those pathways programs.

In February 2021, the Archuleta School District Board of Education gave the go-ahead to a volunteer-led nonprofit, Build Pagosa Inc., to begin fundraising for a CTE building that is slated to sit near the high school.

The one-story, 12,767-square-foot CTE building is expected to cost $3,018,300, with the estimated cost including soft costs and contingency landing at $4,147,875.

According to a document Build Pagosa produced to give to prospective donors, “The purpose of this collaboration is to create a modern and current vocational facility along with a CTE program that provides up-to-date training resulting in career certifications for our student body and community.”

The building will not be the first time the high school has benefited from a partnership with Build Pagosa.

The high school’s CTE program was given a boost several years ago when Build Pagosa formed, when a group of local builders identified the need for skilled construction workers and set out to find a solution for the problem.

That led one of their own, Tor Hessman, to become a teacher.

According to the prospective donor document, they told Pagosa Springs High School Principal Sean O’Donnell they “were experiencing a shortfall in the ability to hire a qualified workforce in the Pagosa Springs community. With the generous donations from the construction industry in the community, the school district was able to hire Tor and begin offering courses to the high school students,” the prospective donor document explains.

Now, with five years of the program in the books, Hessman teaches two levels of building trades, woodworking and design. Students from the building trades program have gone on to take part in a summer work program and obtain jobs, and even promotions, in the field.

To learn fundamentals, students within the building trades pathway craft things such as chicken coops and dog houses, which are then auctioned off in the community to raise funds for the next round of building materials. With the new facility, the program hopes to expand to building tiny homes, which would not only expand the knowledge of the students, but would also add to local housing options.

And the school is looking to continue to add to its CTE offerings, O’Donnell indicated, with hopes of having the teacher of the school’s upcoming horticulture class become CTE-certified to add that program to the CTE mix.

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