Gypsum’s New America School needs $80,000 to open next fall
Eagle, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado ” When Brenda Jimenez got pregnant at the age of 13, she knew it would be tough to stay in school.
She had another baby when she was 15, and because of the New America School in Gypsum, she didn’t have to drop out of school and give up on her education.
About 40 New America School students, parents and faculty showed up at the Eagle County Board of Education meeting Wednesday to tell board members how important the school is to the community. The school serves a specific need in Eagle County that would otherwise be ignored, said Manuel Pilas, a Gypsum business owner and an active member of the Hispanic community.
“We want to make sure this chance is available for generations to come,” he said.
The school is facing a budget shortfall that could close its doors next fall, but Kathy Brendza, the school’s principal, said she is sure it won’t come to that.
“We just know we’ll be open next year,” she said.
Students, all of whom were Hispanic, told board members their personal stories of how they ended up at the school. From girls like Jimenez, who would otherwise have dropped out of school all together because of teen pregnancies, to students like Isabel Ramos, who had to stop attending regular school in order to work, the New America School gives students another chance, the students said.
“Even though it’s a small school, it provides huge opportunities,” said Jorge Velazco, a student at the school since it opened in 2007.
The school needs another $100,000 in order to open in the fall, and that’s not including the per-pupil money that the Eagle County School District contributes to both the New America School and its other charter school, the Eagle County Charter Academy, each year.
The recent $20,000 grant from Eagle County helps a ton, but the school still has a ways to go, said Craig Cook, chief business officer for the New America School’s board, which is based in Denver. There are some “strong possibilities” for raising the money, he said, adding that some large donations could be in the works but that nothing is final yet.
“The school’s mission is really being embraced,” Cook said. “But it all depends on its resources.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis started the school in Denver in 2004 and brought a campus to Gypsum in 2007. Polis had to step down from his board position with the school after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last November. His charitable foundation remains the top giver to the school and will continue to give, but the giving is being gradually reduced each year, said Gina Nocera, executive director for the Jared Polis Foundation and director of his individual philanthropic giving.
Phil Onofrio, Eagle County School District’s chief financial officer, said if the money isn’t raised in time, it will be the New America School’s board that will have some decisions to make about what to do, not the school district. The district could decide to contribute more to help the school survive if it sees a larger community benefit, but for now there are no plans to step up funding for the school, he said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Onofrio said.
While both Brendza and Onofrio said the presentation at Wednesday’s school board meeting was merely a showing of support for the school and not a plea for the district to chip in more money, the tone from the students and parents who spoke was an overwhelming cry for help.
At 18, Ramos said she was worried she wouldn’t be able to get into any school, and now she’s close to graduating.
“This is a second chance for me and I really appreciate it,” she said. “A lot of these students really appreciate this opportunity to better their lives and move on and make something of themselves.”
Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org