Education Foundation of Eagle County secures grant for prevention and resiliency programs in schools |

Education Foundation of Eagle County secures grant for prevention and resiliency programs in schools

Great Education Colorado honored the Education Foundation of Eagle County with the Vicki Mattox Education Recognition for promoting equity. From left are Tessa Kirchner, Wendy Rimel, Amy Lewis, Shelley Herron, Libby Navarro, Melisa Rewold-Thuon and Mitch Forsberg.
Special to the Daily

Education Foundation of Eagle County, a nonprofit that helps fill the funding gaps in Eagle County education, was recently awarded $277,200 over the span of two years by the Colorado Health Foundation for prevention and resiliency programming in local schools. The funding will facilitate capacity growth of programs already existing in local schools with a goal to reach more students through a coalition aptly named the Prevention Providers.

This dynamic and organized group of youth-focused agencies include Bright Future Foundation, Mountain Youth, Red Ribbon Project, Speak Up Reach Out, UB.Unity, and the fundraising efforts of EFEC.

This award is the culmination of more than a year of research, discovery and collaboration between organizations working toward the same goal to serve the needs of our students.

An abrupt awakening

The day before Project Funway 2018, one of its signature fundraising events, EFEC learned of a tragic suicide by a local student. The shocking news devastated the working-class board of parents and education advocates. Already on a path of transition after the approval of more education funding by voters, the EFEC board was ready to tackle the next pressing issue facing our students and teachers.

“In 2017, we were excited. We had great momentum. Our teachers had finally gotten a pay increase after a seven-year freeze. Our schools were getting desperately needed building and technology upgrades, things were looking up,” said Wendy Rimel, EFEC board president, in a news release. “And then we got the youth suicide news the day before our biggest fundraiser of the year. It was heart-wrenching.”

In the days that followed, EFEC took a hard look at the results of devastating school funding cuts caused by state budget inadequacies and the failure of a local tax measure in 2011. In the tumultuous time from 2011 to 2016, the Eagle County Board of Education worked tirelessly to support local teachers and allocate funding to avoid cutting vital programs in schools. However, the cuts were unavoidable and the consequences were real. Local schools in Eagle County lost more than 70 positions, including school counselors and clinicians.

Throughout that time period, Mountain Youth had been tracking the results from a lack of social-emotional services within our schools through an anonymous bi-annual, statewide survey known as the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Every two years, this survey asks our kids to be honest about hard questions regarding their behaviors and choices. And, every two years the kids responded with resounding clarity — we are struggling, we are sad, we are hopeless, we are mad, we are acting out.

As each summary was released, the increasing trend of risky behaviors and frustrations became glaring in the specific areas we failed to address with students. We had minimal support services during the rise of digital and social media.

A solution emerges

From this shockingly apparent trend came the Prevention Providers, a coalition of the five youth-focused agencies mentioned above, who work with school prevention specialists to address identified behaviors head-on through their programs and services, careful not to tread on valuable core academic classroom time.

“Over the past year and a half, EFEC delved deeply into the trend, examining where we could be most effective,” said Amy Lewis, EFEC’s executive director. “We needed to understand the landscape of the situation in order to be part of the solution and support the needs of our schools. During that time, we were introduced to the Prevention Providers. The light bulb immediately turned on; the programs exist. They just need more funding to reach more students — fill the gap. We can do that.”  

EFEC began conversations with Colorado Health Foundation in September 2018. The foundation had already identified Eagle County as one of four rural Colorado communities in which to focus support. EFEC presented the coalition, the work that it is doing, and ultimately illustrated an approach based on equity that the foundation could back.

“It is doubtful these organizations could have secured this funding individually,” Lewis said. “Together, in partnership with school administration, the agencies present a cohesive and comprehensive solution to a targeted population.”

Equity in action

Through years of equity work in education, EFEC is acutely aware of student-family challenges. The organization has consistently maintained a focus on reaching students where they are, regardless of socio-economic background.

Equity is not necessarily about equality. Some kids need more than others. Equity is about meeting the needs of all kids, whether it’s a little or a lot. It’s about making sure opportunities exist for all students to thrive and be successful. Because of this knowledge on equity research, EFEC was able to use the data and present the important big picture — the most equitable approach to reaching the most youth possible with prevention and resiliency programs is during the school day.

EFEC’s roll in this grant award is administrative and communicative. It’s to ensure the prevention and resiliency programs reach as many students as possible in all schools: public, private, charter and parochial. Moreover, it’s to communicate the effectiveness of the programs and the results to our community. EFEC serves a vital role in education advocacy, watching, listening, and taking action in support of the school district and advocating for the betterment of education overall. Through this grant, EFEC begins to fulfill its mission to identify and back an equitable approach to student mental health support.

“The Prevention Providers are doing the work,” Lewis said. “EFEC is here to make sure they can have the greatest impact possible.”

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