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Collison of Cultures: The Emotional Undertow of Merging Schools

Schools play an instrumental role in shaping young individuals by fostering environments for students to grow emotionally and mentally. While including students' talents, ambitions, and self-worth and leads to cultivating a positive self-image supported by educational facilities. It occurs in the hallways, classrooms, and playgrounds where students learn to face challenges, build resilience, and discover their unique pathways, all while being fortified by the encouragement and guidance of their educators. Students and parental figures were told on October 5th, 2023 by the Poudre School District that Poudre Community Academy, Centennial High, Polaris Expeditionary K-12, Blevins Middle, and Olander Elementary need to be amalgamated due to the lack of financial resources available.

Poudre School District created a plan to merge several alternative schools due to the decreasing rates of student population. The population plays an important role in the funding of educational facilities. The west side of Fort Collins is facing funding struggles due to decreased enrollment. However traditional schools such as Timinth Middle High are experiencing higher enrollment and receiving more income from local tax dollars. Poudre High School, a traditional education enrollment has 1,820 students, whereas expeditionary learning at Polaris has 403 students K-12. Due to the drastically smaller student population in these schools, the Poudre School District is proposing the merging of alternative schools in the year 2025-2026. Due to the current amount of schools, the estimated maintenance costs are 600 million dollars annually. Although for the expansion of universal Pre-K an extra elementary school building is required, as well as career and technical education options such as additional CTE spaces are needed, furthering the requirement of funding for advancements within the district. Leading to an uproar of confusion amongst those who were affected.

In hopes of creating a positive impact on the matter, Polaris hosted a protest on October 10th of 2023, a mother of a first grader currently attending Polaris, Julia DuBay stated this after hearing the devastating news. “I'm just trying to raise awareness to Superintendent Kingsley that what he is doing is wrong. From what I’ve heard, students feel devastated, shocked, upset, burdened, unheard, and not good. The school board's lack of community engagement is appalling. This did not happen during the Denver school mergings, so why did it happen here?” Julia also said she felt betrayed by the lack of notice before big changes were announced at her daughter's school. Other parents attending Polaris’ walkout shared their opinions such as Chris Steigerwalt, a parent of students from Polaris and Olander, “I’m here today to show support for the push to stop the vote from happening right now. Essentially our primary concern is the culture of each school, if these schools are combined, their unique cultures that serve the students and provide safe spaces for the students will be ruined. What we want to see for all the schools involved, is the actual consideration of what makes their culture unique, and the challenges that are going to be faced by both the students and the teachers in the proposed method of the merger.” A collective thought of preserving these schools' culture to accommodate these parents’ children's needs was spread throughout the group attending the Polaris walkout.

The word culture was brought up so much, that it brought us to question what culture truly meant to these students. We asked seventh grader Delia Scott-Doengan, a student at Polaris what her take on culture was, and she had this to say, “I’m here today to make sure that my school does not get merged with Blevins so we don’t lose our community. Our culture is something super special to you and is a second family to you. It’s unique to the area it's in. It’s something that technically can’t be lost, but it can be broken.” Delia and her friends were patiently waiting in line to take part in the board meeting, being some of the youngest people in the audience. They told us that their point in being at the JSSC was to prove that not only could adults and older teenagers participate in making a difference, but younger kids could fight to get their voices heard. We asked an eleventh grader at Polaris how this news affected him and his school. Matthew Speca explained to us that it did not have a strong effect, on the teachers as well, stating “Right now, this is affecting me negatively because of how many teachers are struggling with this sudden change, we’re losing a lot of teachers due to them reapplying, or just losing their jobs in general, it hurts us. I feel like the student-to-teacher ratio being ruined will ruin our student-to-teacher connection, and our way of learning.” This proved to us that the teacher-to-student relationship was very strong at these schools and that one of the main reasons for fighting the mergings was to preserve their school’s culture. It is the love each staff and students have for one another.

Julia DuBay

Many students expressed that, "Schools are not what they are without amazing faculty." Students talked about the impact teachers have daily, helping them with issues greater than schoolwork. Anger, confusion, and outrage were only a few emotions teachers shared with us. Former Polaris principal, Joe Gawronski gladly shared why he was taking part in this movement, “I'm here to support the community and the school district in coming up with better solutions than what has been proposed rather suddenly. I will be attending the board meeting, hoping to hear that they will be delaying the vote so that better plans can be hatched, ones that will be less destructive and more thought out.” He then told us that he understood what the Poudre School District Board of Education’s goal was, but that their way of approaching the situation

could have resulted differently. Not only were teachers, students, and parents involved, but people such as Kevin Havelda, a candidate running for Poudre School District Board of Directors for District B.

Kevin Havelda

We asked him what this movement meant to him, and what his point of being at the walkout was. He was at the walkout on behalf of his two nieces that attend Polaris. He explained how Polaris has been a sanctuary and a haven for his nieces. He also told said that his five-year-old son who attended Olander was also a strong reason for his presence. “I’m showing up as a parent, uncle, and teacher that cares deeply about what the decisions are, and who should be at the table making them. In the school board, everyone works for the students. When we start losing sight of that, problems start developing. The soul of a school is much more than the brick and mortar location of where it is.” Kevin’s presence gave many participants at the protest hope for the future, and even more, great people in our community sharing words of wisdom.

On October 10th, 2023 a board meeting was held at the Johanssen Support Services Complex Center. Many students and staff members surrounded the office facility protesting for their beloved schools. Many individuals stood in a line hoping for a seat in the meeting. Nearly 12 speakers participated in the hope of altering the decision created by the board. We heard from all ages expressing emotions in the line such as frustration, confusion, isolation, and powerlessness. Many fought for their children's facilities, “These institutions can not be reorganized like a shuffling a deck of cards and expected to maintain the same vitality.” said an anonymous speaker.

Parents spoke from their points of view, “I have been a lawyer for the past 25 years, I have sat on plenty of boards and part of that job is being held accountable and one of my concerns is that Superintendent Kingsley is not being held accountable.” Many expressed how they felt a lack of trust in the board after announcing changes late to the public audience.

The opportunity for selective attending students to speak was given, “Don't cut us in half and expect propagation.” a 7th grader stated. Ash Gasten continued by saying, “I feel betrayed by the protectors of our education, the people who are supposed to have students' best interest in mind.” These students fought for their voices to be heard and understood.

Ash Gasten

Later, Kingsley concluded the board meeting after hearing the community's frustration by expressing the delay in dramatic changes to the school year 2025-2026 for the collision of Olander Elementry, Blevins Middle, Polaris Expeditionary, Poudre Community Academy, and Centennial High School, to provide more expertise, community engagement, and decision-making.

Catlynn Carrizals is a Sophomore at Poudre High, currently enrolled in the International Bachelorette program. Catlynn is a first-year writer and reporter for the Poudre Press. The Feminine Voyage is the blog Catlynn updates weekly. To see more of her work visit here.

Dessa Bershinsky is a Sophomore at Poudre High, currently a first-year writer for the Poudre Press. If you would like to see more of her work visit here.

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