How some stories from the recent past are looking at the end of 2014 

Whatever happened to...?

At the end of each calendar year, we take time to update some of the stories we developed during the last year or so. This issue brings the second of two installments, with news about snowplowing, film festivals and more.

Unschooling evolution

In May, we told you about Proprius, "a self-directed learning community" ("The end of school," cover story).

In exchange for $400 monthly tuition, home-schooled teens were helped by "consultants" — adults who assisted them in exploring any concepts that might interest them, or in performing trickier tasks like signing up to take the GED or enrolling in courses at Pikes Peak Community College. The concept is called "unschooling" because of its lack of structure, and at the time of my story five local kids were enrolled. We profiled each of them.

Sadly, on the afternoon of Aug. 21, 2014, one, 16-year-old Kathryn "Katy" Mushak, died in a car accident on Garden of the Gods Road. She was a passenger in a car with an 18-year-old driver. The young man apparently bumped up against a curb and sent his Honda Accord barreling across three lanes of traffic and a median. Once on the other side of the road, the Accord was hit by an oncoming car.

Katy's 13-year-old brother, Kody, also a Proprius student, was devastated by the news and hasn't spent much time at Proprius since, although he's technically still enrolled. There are still five students at Proprius, but he's the last of the original five whom we interviewed.

According to Proprius' director of outreach and development, Aubrey Fennewald, Genevieve Moyé, who was 17 at the time of our story, has continued to work at Mountain Mama Natural Foods and would still like to earn an arts degree. She's not at Proprius now, but Fennewald says she's talked about eventually coming back to the school for help enrolling in college.

Audrianna "Anna" Fowler, who was 17 at the time of our story, is no longer in the program. Last Fennewald heard, Anna was planning to begin online college courses soon.

Aspen Sollenberger, 14 at the time of our story, enrolled in Community Prep School in August.

The kids aren't the only thing that's changed. Fennewald says there's a high demand for financial assistance, and the grant that was used to start the school is running out. She actually feared Proprius might shut down until she got the idea to turn it into a cooperative, a plan that is currently being ironed out.

"A month ago I was just biting my nails thinking we were going to have to dissolve; it hadn't occurred to me yet to reorganize," she says.

Under the new model, kids will likely still have the option to go to Proprius instead of school. But kids who go to a traditional school will also be allowed to take a few classes or tutoring sessions there. There will be classes for parents, too. And those who can't afford to pay will have the option of offering services, such as teaching a class of their own. Fennewald says people are lining up to teach classes.

Among them, there's a retired professor who wants to teach math, a photographer who wants to offer workshops, a local writer with a therapeutic writing program for teens, and a neurologist who specializes in helping kids read.

On the downside, Fennewald says, she's going to have to look for a new job. Though the financials of the new plan haven't been decided, it won't support her salary. Still, she says she's just glad that Proprius will continue. — J. Adrian Stanley

Snowplowing stays

The city Streets Division reclaimed responsibility for snowplowing across the city in the 2013-14 fiscal year after a trial run cost taxpayers far more for a section of the city than city crews cost ("Cold comfort," News, Jan. 22, 2014).

The pilot, conducted in the city's far north sector during the 2012-13 winter, cost the city about $208,000 more for a contractor than for city crews, according to data provided by the city.

Despite "no quantifiable savings," as a city spokesperson put it, the city had intended to seek bids for snowplowing more territory and for multiple years.

Then-Public Works Director Dave Lethbridge said in January via the city communications office, "We don't have enough data to analyze it and that's why we want to pursue future contracts for snow plowing services." Contracts "that encompassed more than one grid for a longer contract period would be more appealing to potential contractors."

Yet city crews ended up being in charge of plowing snow last winter, and they'll also carry that task this winter, a city spokesperson says via email, without providing further explanation. — Pam Zubeck

More school counselors

Data appears to show that school counselors can lower dropout rates, raise graduation rates, and generally help steer kids toward better careers and colleges.

Unfortunately, they are in short supply in Colorado, which is why the state legislature created a grant program for school counselors in 2008. Counselors funded by the program don't carry the normal load — everything from handling standardized tests to family crises. They focus solely on helping kids graduate and move on to post-secondary education.

In spring, we wrote about the efforts to expand the School Counselors Corps Grant Program from a $5 million program to $10 million ("More of a good thing," News, March 26).

That effort, Senate Bill 14-150, eventually passed, though Misti Ruthven, director of postsecondary readiness for the Colorado Department of Education, says it only allotted $8 million a year in its final form. The bill also required more data to be collected on outcomes.

And while the grants used to provide approved high schools and middle schools with a counselor for three years, schools and districts are now given a four-year grant. There's no counselor in the first year, though; instead, the grant provides resources to work on professional development, assess needs and environment, and analyze and collect data. The school or district then develops a plan, with specific goals and strategies. So, for instance, a school might decide it needs to raise its graduation rate by pushing college and trade-school options.

After that first year, counselors are awarded for three years. Ruthven says the hope is that schools will hire on those counselors when the grants expire.

"If a school is able to decrease their dropout rate and prevent an additional 10 students from dropping out each year, essentially that's a counselor's salary," she says, referring to the payment schools get from the state for each enrolled student. "So it could pay for itself."

Since the grant cycles are so long, the grants won't be handed out every year. The program currently has grantees in their first, second, third and fourth year of the grant. The program will add nearly 40 new counselors to 12 districts in the next school year.

Locally, Calhan School District RJ1, Cripple Creek School District RE-1, Harrison School District 2, and one school in Falcon School District 49 currently have counselors. Colorado Springs School District 11 has also benefited from the program in the past, has reapplied, and is scheduled to get another round of counselors next year.

Dan Hoff, D-11's career and technical director, says past involvement in the program helped his district realize how important it is to have a counselor in every high school who is dedicated to helping kids graduate and move on to colleges and trade schools. Before the change, he says, a counselor might spend 15 minutes helping a student with college applications. Now, it's more like two hours.

"The principals were ecstatic to get this support," he says.

Hoff says D-11 is looking at the best ways to expand the program further starting next school year. — J. Adrian Stanley

Film fest success

The film community in Colorado Springs may not be especially large, but it's definitely enthusiastic.

This year's four-day Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival ("Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival bridges the gap," Nov. 5) drew 1,400 attendees with its 38 films, which were chosen from among a pool of more than 300 entries. The Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute, which hosts the annual event, was also recently awarded a $7,500 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Meanwhile, the comparatively upstart Indie Spirit Festival ("Sometimes words just get in the way," Oct. 15) drew some 500 people this year, and has inspired organizers to further branch out with a variety of year-round projects.

In addition to hosting monthly screenings at Ivywild School, they will be presenting a series of "mini festivals" around Southern Colorado.

"We are reaching out to communities in rural Colorado and partnering with them to bring independent films to those communities," says Indie Spirit director Steve Kurtz. "If you travel much throughout Colorado, you know that there are some very vibrant arts communities in the state."

Toward that end, the organization recently partnered with the Salida Arts Council for the first of these, which will take place in February. — Bill Forman

Dogs, disputes and DAs

It's been seven months since the death of Pamela Grayson's dog Mashka was on our cover ("Gone to the dogs," May 21). Grayson had been walking her 14-year-old Husky when an unleashed Labrador, owned by Deputy District Attorney Joseph Maher, leapt on the dog, setting off months of veterinarian visits that culminated in Mashka's euthanization. The dog was already recovering from other medical treatments, and the encounter was apparently the final straw. This led Maher into court, where he was charged by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region with unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog. A special prosecutor from Pueblo, Tamara Qureshi, was appointed, since Maher works within the Fourth Judicial District.

In the months following, Qureshi dropped the criminal charges against Maher, a professional colleague and a fellow graduate of the University of Denver's law school. "One of the elements in the ownership of a dangerous dog is the bodily injury requirement," Qureshi told Grayson in a recorded phone call on July 3. "That would require that there be severe bruising, lacerations and not just pain, in order for us to succeed at trial. ... [Municipal court] would be the most appropriate place for that case, because I cannot prove the ownership of a dangerous dog."

The case was indeed filed with municipal court, and the charge reduced to possessing a dog off-leash — a civil, not criminal, charge.

Throughout, Grayson says that all she sought from Maher was an apology acknowledging that his dog Abe was off-leash when it shouldn't have been. In mid-November, at a hearing in Municipal Court, she received it.

"I would like to apologize to Pam," Maher told Grayson according to an audio recording provided by the court. "I am sorry that my dog was off the leash on the day that all this happened. I apologize for everything that has occurred since then. I'm just deeply sorry we had to go through the whole situation."

Maher also paid $1,000 toward Grayson's veterinarian costs. Then, with two signatures, each agreed not to sue the other over the matter, charges were dismissed by the city and it was over. "Mashka is vindicated," Grayson told the Indy afterward. "Mashka can rest in peace, and I feel like I did the right thing before God." — Bryce Crawford

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