Estes Park Trail Gazette – Estes Thrives holding community conversations through May 1

By Jason Cushner, Board of Education Treasurer

What do young people need in order to thrive in today’s complex global society? What knowledge, skills and attributes will enable them to succeed in work, higher education and their community? These are important questions because, when our youth thrive, our community thrives.

Educators, community members and students are coming together to look closely at these questions, and they are inviting everyone (including you!) to be involved. As part of Estes Thrives, a learner-driven community engagement initiative, they are working together to create a bright future for students and the community. Right now, Estes Thrives and the Estes Park School District are pioneering an innovative way to create the district’s future. In most school districts, leaders create and follow their own agenda, and then simply inform the community about it. Here, community input is integral to establishing the vision of how we educate students for success in our ever-changing world.

Together, the Estes Park School District and Estes Thrives are hosting a series of Neighborhood Learning Conversations (NLCs) to get community input on the knowledge, skills and attributes that high school graduates need to succeed. NLCs are 90-minute discussions in which a group of 4-12 people convene — in a home, coffee shop, school, or pretty much anywhere — to talk about the future of education in Estes Park. Information gathered through NLCs will be used to help frame the ongoing work of the Estes Park School District and to identify points of consensus regarding graduation requirements. This process was developed and facilitated with Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center.

Several NLCs have already been held in Estes Park. Participants of the NLCs included local seniors, parents, business owners, teachers, administrators and students. Their comments have been overwhelmingly positive. One participant said, “This is fantastic. I enjoy the format of the NLCs. Change is most effective when it is directed by the community it will impact.”

Another was encouraged by what the future holds, “I’m so excited about the direction the schools are traveling.”

The discussions have been lively and focused on envisioning students graduating from Estes Park schools, ready to step into happy, productive lives. The NLCs are purposefully called “conversations” because they are intended to be a two-way street. The facilitators invite participants to share their vision of what graduates should know and be able to do. Then, facilitators share information from the district about the innovative practices they have begun. NLC participants have emphasized the importance of critical thinking, creativity, empathy, writing, perseverance, and building robots and racecars (the last two came from a forward-thinking kindergartener!)

The results from the NLCs will be shared and discussed at a public Community Learning Conversation at the Estes Park High School Commons on May 11 from 5:30-7 p.m. The Professional Development Center at Eagle Rock will facilitate this program. Free childcare and refreshments will be available. The discussions will be held in Spanish and English. Organizers hope to have a huge turnout of anyone in the community who cares about our schools and future.

Get involved

If you would like to host or attend an NLC, or join this process in any capacity, email or call (970) 586-2361 . Hosts need only to invite people that they know to their home or other location (or the district can provide a location). Then, the district will find a facilitator and note-taker to take care of the rest! An eager group of volunteers were trained by Eagle Rock and are available to run the conversations.

One host said, “What more could I ask for than sitting in my living room with good people and good food, discussing the future of our schools?”

Facilitators are available in both Spanish and English, and NLCs can be scheduled until May 1.

As one participant said, “I think this is a fabulous idea! I really am looking forward to what our community has to say!”