| AspenTimes.com

GlenX Career Expo offers website with support of local businesses to pinpoint opportunities for students

Students attending the GlenX Career Expo held in Spring 2020.

Jayne Poss said her passion lies in helping students find opportunities that empower them to decide what they want to pursue after graduating high school.

“Over and over I heard (the students’) biggest takeaway was to be able to have these in-person conversations,” said Poss, the director of GlenX Career Expo. “And how much they enjoyed talking to the businesses and … the businesses actually wanting to talk to them and learn about what they were looking for.”

Poss and the founder of GlenX, Altai Chuluun, used the pandemic as an opportunity to create a virtual career expo for juniors and seniors at the nine high schools from Aspen to Parachute. For the past four years, the expos have been in person and drawn interest and involvement from more than 180 valley-based companies. Poss said it is beneficial for students and businesses to have the in-person conversations about interests, qualifications and openings, whether that be to shadow someone on the job or work for a company during the summer.

“If we could do more of that career shadowing or that opportunity through volunteering, I think that’s a door that definitely can be opened wider and give the students you know, more of a preview of what that career will be,” Poss said.

To supplement the lack of in-person expos this year, Poss said some high schools offered a GlenX course to students instead. Those students are working on a curriculum that directly focuses on what the website has to offer, everything from video highlights from past expos to one-page summaries of businesses who were involved in the past. The website is open to all students who are interested in seeking out career opportunities and will be available throughout the summer.

“The businesses all stepped up to do this because they wanted the kids to know they care about them,” Poss said, “and they care about their future.”

On each business profile is the link to the company’s website, a spot to list student opportunities and who the best person to contact is. For other valley-based companies who are not currently affiliated with GlenX, Poss said they can contact her to have their information featured on the site. Poss hopes giving the students access to this information, even without an in-person expo, will build their confidence and experience so they can better prepare for their futures in the workforce.

“We’re hoping that we covered a lot of interests that students might be looking for. … My passion is letting the students know there’s so many career opportunities and there’s a bright and promising future for them,” Poss said.

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.

Aspen Community School’s “Empty Bowls” continues a tradition of soup and fundraising

It may not be the usual shebang at Bumps, but this year’s “Empty Bowls” fundraiser hosted by the Aspen Community School was still filled with music, hand-painted bowls and plenty of soup to share Wednesday evening on Zoom.

This year marks the 17th iteration of the event, in which students paint ceramic bowls in art class and collect donations for local food nonprofit Lift-Up, a food bank based in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I feel really honored that there was a lot of interest to continue the tradition, and I’m really impressed with our community — the Aspen Community School — and everybody’s excitement for the event and their willingness to try something new,” said Hilary Forsyth, an art teacher at Aspen Community School and event organizer.

Forsyth, Aspen Middle School art teacher Rae Lampe and Aspen Country Day School art teacher Paula Ponto launched the fundraiser in 2005 as a way to unite the three schools and raise awareness of hunger through art.

Typically all three schools participate, but just Aspen Community School hosted this year in part due to the logistical constraints of a COVID-era virtual event, Forsyth said in a phone call.

The soup came in make-at-home packets this year for the virtual format. Fundraising took place online at the Aspen Community School website and organizers are still accepting donations. Organizers have already met their $1,500 goal and will have an update on the donation total some time Thursday, Forsyth wrote in an email after the event. They will continue to accept donations through Sunday.

All 136 students at Aspen Community School made a bowl this year; the school also had nearly five dozen extra bowls that sold this year, according to Forsyth.

“It was a great event, but we’re so honored that we found a way to make it happen again this year,” said Casey White, principal of Aspen Community School.

“Empty Bowls” is a nationwide initiative led by artists and craftspeople to raise funds for local food organizations and bring greater awareness to hunger. After participants finish their meals, the bowls serve as a reminder that others still face empty bowls.

“We need it now more than ever,” White said.

“If kids can feel empowered to take action by making a bowl, that filters through.”

The bowls are “a reminder of the purpose of making art to help others,” Forsyth said. Just as the tradition carries on year after year, the excitement continues, too.

“It gives them a feeling of pride,” she said.

The school is accepting donations for Lift-Up at donatenow.networkforgood.org/emptybowls; since the event has concluded, donors should only use the “Other” option to enter an amount.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Roaring Fork School District continues to plan how to get students back on track

Technology came in handy when in-person classes were not being held or students had to quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.

But, because of the inconsistency the pandemic created for learning environments, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said the district continues to assess the impacts that had on student learning and to figure out ways to keep them on track.

“We’re seeing a little bit higher failure rates in our high school classes,” Stein said. “So, we’re concerned about kids passing, especially graduation requirements (and) core courses. We think the higher failure rate is due to pandemic conditions,” Stein said.

Rob Stein

The plan the district is devising will go past possible summer school options and into the fall curriculum, he said.

Due to teacher and student burnout from this past year, Stein said the district feels that it is important to offer a break during the summer months rather than have the kids work even harder to be caught up by the beginning of the next school year.

“I know a lot of teachers need and deserve a break this summer. I won’t be surprised if some of them say, ‘no, I can’t take on a summer program,’” Stein said.

Complications with internet access and motivation hindered the virtual learning process for students, he acknowledged. But, depending on the overall stress of the household, other factors made it more challenging for learning to take place this year, he said.

“We know our older students are feeling more pressure to work, to bring in family income because their families are stressed financially …,” Stein said.

There were also students who had difficulties with classes not being in-person, depending on their learning style.

“I also know that a fraction of our distance learning students did not really engage well in distance learning. Initially that was about 15% of our kids,” Stein said of those who opted for remote learning this school year.

The expectation is that graduation rates will be affected, but within the high schools Stein said students at lower grades are also being prioritized so that setbacks they’ve experienced don’t follow them throughout their entire high school careers.

“We’re really concerned about larger numbers of students who have not been successful in school this year, like in ninth and 10th grade. So, a lot of our plans that we’re focusing on are about catching those kids up so they don’t stay behind as they enter 10, 11,12th grade,” Stein said.

The district is still determining what summer programs will be offered this year and how to minimize the long-term effects on student achievement.

At the very minimum, high school courses are likely to be offered for students over the summer, Stein said.

“Because we did that last summer with a hybrid of online learning courses augmented by a teacher advocate … to keep them on track and provide additional support,” Stein said.

“We haven’t determined our model, but that’s very doable and I’m pretty confident we’ll do some of that,” he said.

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.

Pandemic exposes valley’s digital divide

A Broadband Internet transmitter on the roof of Basalt Elementary School is seen pointing toward a neighborhood Friday afternoon.
Daniel Bayer / Aspen Journalism.

Before the pandemic hit, Ana Posada, 60, decided to take English lessons in preparation for interviews to obtain her U.S. citizenship. She started classes with English in Action, a local nonprofit in the Roaring Fork Valley — but last year, COVID-19 put an end to her in-person classes and tutoring sessions.

A tutor asked if Posada would be interested in learning via Zoom. Posada agreed to use the online platform, but she was hesitant.

“I’d never used Zoom, and honestly, I wasn’t completely sure what it was,” she said in an interview in Spanish.

Posada’s tutor met her at the English in Action office and showed her how to use Zoom. When Posada had difficulty with the audio settings, her tutor arranged for them to see each other on video while talking on their phones.

“I’m so grateful for her and the patience she’s had with me,” Posada said. “There are lots of people who just give up when they can’t do this.”

When the pandemic hit, life pretty much moved online. But many people in the Roaring Fork Valley were cut off from certain services or activities because they lacked access to the internet and/or the technical know-how needed to use it. While Posada was able to persevere, many valley residents were never able to jump on a Zoom meeting. As a result, English in Action lost about a third of its participants during the pandemic.

Technological inequities have long been present in rural places such as the Roaring Fork Valley, but the sudden shutdowns illuminated just how deeply entrenched the problem was.

“Digital literacy has always been an obstacle, but pre-COVID, we had other areas that came more to the forefront,” said Lara Beaulieu, executive director of English in Action. “Now we know that even with loosening restrictions around COVID, digital literacy is still going to be essential for our participants.”

Nongovernmental organizations, school districts and government agencies in rural mountain towns acted quickly to bridge the digital divide. Many of the resulting initiatives will continue to help some people connect long after the pandemic is over, but major gaps still remain.

“The valley rallied super hard (during the pandemic), and we still let people fall through the cracks,” said Sydney Schalit, executive director of Manaus, a social-justice nonprofit based in Carbondale. “We can hustle and get it done, but the systems have to change.”

Schalit launched an internet-equity roundtable early during the pandemic to bring together different groups throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and identify technological issues. From the discussions, a wide range of problems emerged: families couldn’t access online forms for pandemic assistance, kids couldn’t attend school online, older adults couldn’t manage food deliveries and people couldn’t receive telehealth services.

According to Schalit, many suffering the most were part of immigrant communities or did not speak English as their first language.

“I think about all the quick little keypad strokes that I know that for my 70-year-old parents, it … blows their minds,” she said. “And then just imagine if all of that’s also in a language that you’re not used to.”

Hard data on technology access is limited in Colorado. The state estimates that 87% of rural households have sufficient broadband access, but those estimates are based on self-reported data from internet providers. In the Roaring Fork Valley, data is even more limited, but several groups that conducted technology surveys in their communities found significant gaps in digital equity.

Of its 226 students, English in Action found that only 43% had access to a computer — and some of those students did not know how to use it. Last April, a Roaring Fork Schools survey found that 340 students — about 6% of the district’s student population — did not have access to the internet for remote learning. Additional families had low-quality internet access that was either too slow or did not work well with multiple people using it simultaneously.

Jeff Gatlin, Chief Operating Officer of Roaring Fork Schools, holds up a broadband high speed internet receiver while standing next to a transmitter array on top of the roof of Basalt Elementary Friday afternoon.
Daniel Bayer / Aspen Journalism.

According to Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for Roaring Fork Schools, some families could not get immediate internet access when schools first went online. Some were able to sign up for temporary promotions through internet companies that offered inexpensive internet for several months. For students who couldn’t get temporary service, the district opened some schools so they could use computers. Still, not every student was able to get online. The district saw enrollment drop more than 6% between 2019 and 2021; the decline was probably partly caused by the pandemic and technological issues.

“The crux of the issue,” Gatlin said, “is how do we ensure that students that don’t have internet access can still engage and still access educational opportunities?”

The school district, which sought a permanent solution, took advantage of new technology released early in 2020. Using antennas, the district created its own LTE network, which is what cellphone providers use to enable internet access on smartphones.

The school district received a total of $400,000 from two rounds of the Connecting Colorado Students Grant Fund to mount the equipment on six school buildings. Partners and private building owners near high-density communities that lacked internet also agreed to have equipment placed there. These locations include a fire station, a water-treatment facility and even a silo in El Jebel.

The Roaring Fork Schools’ network, which came online in November, has the reach to cover about 90% of the families with students on the free or reduced-lunch program. So far, about 30 families have gotten hotspot devices that enable them to use the network, but the district is working to expand access to the 2,265 students — about 40% of the district’s student body — who could potentially benefit from it. Nonprofits and foundations chipped in the additional money to buy hot spots for families’ homes.

“We’re also looking at this as a broader benefit for families that struggle financially,” Gatlin said. “What’s driving this is the benefit for our students to continue learning, but it goes above and beyond that.”

According to Gatlin, Roaring Fork Schools was the state’s only district to build its own network during the pandemic. Other districts in the valley say they were able to cover most of their students with free devices and mobile hot spots for existing cell networks, but some students were still left out.

“The only real challenge we experienced was the technical limitations of a hotspot,” said Taylor Lower, communications manager for Eagle County Schools. “Hotspots require a cellular signal, and in our mountainous community, there are a few places where the cellular service is weak or nonexistent, but these situations were very few.”

Some rural areas without cell service also lack the physical infrastructure needed for broadband access. In these places, obtaining internet service is either very expensive or nearly impossible.

For those working on digital access in the Roaring Fork Valley, infrastructure gaps — a lack of cell towers and cables — are the most challenging obstacles. While Schalit plans to continue the roundtable to explore ways to expand access, she hopes it could lead to something bigger, such as money from the state’s broadband-development program or from the federal infrastructure bill currently being debated.

“There’s got to be a solution,” Schalit said. “I feel like we’re all still kind of plugging holes, but eventually we’ve got to just remake the whole barrel.”

Aspen Journalism is covering social justice in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to www.aspenjournalism.org.

School district exploring options to garner input, goodwill on 2021-22 calendar

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School on August 26, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh is “exploring a number of meeting options” to gather community input on proposed changes to the 2021-22 academic calendar after the Board of Education tabled a vote on the calendar at Tuesday’s meeting, Baugh wrote in an email late last week.

There will be a link posted on the home page of the school district website in the next week where the community can share feedback, he wrote. An existing 2021-22 calendar was already approved by the school board last June; work began in earnest on the new calendar in January and has been a weekly endeavor since then, according to Baugh.

The proposed calendar does not change the already-planned start and stop dates for classes. But several shifts in the weekly and daily lineup would impact students’ and teachers’ day-to-day schedule, according to information presented at Tuesday’s board meeting and a followup email Thursday from Baugh.

School day start and end times for all students in kindergarten through 12th-grade would be the same under the new calendar: classes would begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. every day.

Under the version of the 2021-22 calendar that the board approached last June, all grades would begin at 8:05 a.m., but Aspen Elementary School students would be released at 3:15 and grades 5-12 would get out at 3:20 p.m. The Aspen Cottage preschool will continue to operate from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on either version of the calendar.

The proposed calendar also discontinues a Wednesday early-release day program that released students at 1:55 p.m. to provide teachers with a couple hours to use for planning, meetings and collaboration. That program began around a decade and a half ago, in part as a way to bring big names in education into the schools to work with teachers.

Instead, the new schedule would implement 45 minutes of daily planning and collaboration time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Students who arrive at school early cannot enter the classrooms until 8:30 a.m., according to Eliza Robison, executive assistant in the superintendent’s office.

The calendar also includes 11 full professional development days for teachers, 10 more than the otherwise-scheduled single day.

Among other changes, the elimination of Wednesday early release days and implementation of a universal start and end time for K-12 students could increase instructional time to the tune of 72 hours over the course of the academic year, Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry estimated at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board of Education decided not to vote on the calendar at Tuesday’s meeting due to what some members felt was a lack of consensus on proposed changes.

A survey sent to parents and teachers earlier this year on the elimination of the early-release program received 360 responses, 53.9% in favor of eliminating the program and 46.1% opposed (a difference of 28 votes). Plus, feedback on the calendar from the Aspen Education Association, which represents teachers, arrived so close to the meeting that board members did not have time to thoroughly consider it before convening.

Board Secretary Dwayne Romero and Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Susan Marolt pressed for more outreach before bringing the calendar to a vote. That could include collecting more feedback and communicating changes to community partners that may be impacted by the changes, like those that provide after-school care for students, they suggested. The effort could also garner more goodwill from teachers, families and other stakeholders, Romero and Marolt expressed.

President Suzy Zimet and Treasurer Katy Frisch both indicated during the meeting they were prepared to vote on the matter Tuesday, citing trust in the process and in Baugh’s judgment to consider the calendar as presented. Vice President Jonathan Nickell was absent.

The calendar is slated to come to a vote at the next Board of Education meeting April 20.

If, for whatever reason, the Board of Education reaches a stalemate or the majority opposes the proposed calendar when it returns to the table then, the district would maintain the existing 2021-22 calendar that the board approved last June, Baugh wrote in an email.

The board could also vote on additional changes to the calendar in the months to come; according to Board of Education operational restrictions, non-emergency challenges to the calendar require at least 30 days of advance notice.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

5Point Dream Project now accepting scholarship applications

Freshman through junior high school students can now apply for $1,500 scholarships through the 5Point Dream Project scholarship program.

“This unique program offers outstanding high school students from Aspen to Parachute in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, the chance to explore their boundaries and dreams while giving back to the world,” a news release states.

Five students whose projects best exemplify the program’s guiding principles—purpose, respect, commitment, humility and balance—will receive a $1,500 scholarship to be used on creating a local impact within their home communities.

“The dream project is open to students to fulfill any dream,” said Tracy Wilson, the program’s project coordinator.

“The basic requirement is to have a dream, something that they’d like to execute and something that is also going to help others. Projects are often chosen that come back to those five principles.”

Wilson said students from Aspen to Parachute are eligible to apply.

In the past, winning projects involved travel, but due to COVID-19 those projects will be limited to projects done in the Roaring Fork Valley.

For example, 2020 winner and Roaring Fork High School student Talon Carballeira used his skills as a bike mechanic to work with the Way of Compassion Bike Project and Carbondale Homeless Alliance to build bikes and trailers for the local homeless population.

Wilson recalled how 2019 winner and Roaring Fork High School student Beverly Patton started a semester-long writing and poetry class for local middle school students.

Wilson said students can apply at the program’s website at http://5pointfilm.org/about-5point/dream-project/.

“If students don’t know where to get started or they have questions of concerns they can contact me and I can link them up with local mentors in the Valley that can help them brainstorm,” Wilson said.

Wilson said application submissions will be judged by a panel of five former educators.

smarvel@postindependent.com

 

John Fisher reflects on 50 years of teaching at Aspen High School

John Fisher built Aspen High School, in a way: the trophy cases in the entryway, the counseling center, a print shop, tables in the commons. Most of the high school theater sets? Fisher had a hand in those, too.

He’s built something of a legacy while he’s at it: The 2020-21 academic year marks 50 years of “life skills” taught in Fisher’s workshop on the Aspen High School campus. He turns 75 on Thursday.

“I always say they should rename the school John Fisher High School,” said Pam Fisher, his wife of nearly 49 years. (The couple met in church shortly after John moved to Aspen; they’ll celebrate their wedding anniversary in August.)

Skiing brought John to Aspen in the first place on a trip in 1970 from Kansas City, where he was teaching at the time, and to an extent got him the job, too, he said. While riding a lift at Buttermilk, he struck up a conversation with someone in town to interview for a job at Aspen High School — in woodworking.

“I said, ‘So what are you interviewing for?’ He said, ‘They want to hire a woodworking drafting teacher to start five vocational programs,’” John recalled. “I said, ’Oh, OK.’ So I got off the lift at the top, went to the restaurant, of course got on the payphone — it was 1970 — called the school, talked to the superintendent, set up an interview.”

The two-and-a-half hour interview was a success, and he began that fall. He has spent the past half-century teaching students here how to construct cabinets and furniture, draft architectural designs, and build skis and boats and paddle boards in his curriculum of woodworking, laser engraving and drafting courses.

Those tangible skills have drawn many students over the years into careers in those fields: projects, newspaper clippings and memorabilia cover classroom walls from alumni who are now studying architecture, designing sports equipment or working in construction.

Though not listed explicitly on the syllabus, he instills some universal lessons too — ones that will apply to any path his students follow after graduation.

“One of the things I try to convey to the kids is, whatever they choose to do, do the best that they can possibly do,” Fisher said. “The other thing I try to convey to them is, learn to do your job as if it were not work. In other words, choose something to do that it’s not going to be like going to work every day.”

That ethos has served Fisher well over the years, he said. His five decades of teaching tenure include work under 19 district superintendents, 23 high school principals and the global COVID-19 pandemic. And still, there hasn’t been a single day when he woke up and wished he could stay home and sleep in instead.

“This is a man who never complains. That’s why we’re married,” Pam joked. “He just takes it step by step.”

In addition to his schedule of high school courses, he owns Fisher Construction with his son Travis; in non-COVID times, he also teaches night classes for adults looking to practice the craft.

“It’s been fun,” John said. “It’s never been boring.”

The hybrid learning model dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly added new challenges to his work — teaching woodworking online isn’t exactly an ideal method for hands-on instruction.

But John has adapted nonetheless, just as he has for decades as new technology emerges. A laptop with a camera setup allows him to travel throughout the classroom and position the camera above a drafting table or workbench to demonstrate a lesson.

Some students who choose to attend online come into the shop only occasionally to use the tools. Participation in his courses has dwindled this year due to the hybrid setup; Fisher is hopeful for an eventual return to normalcy.

“I’m looking forward to the day when all the kids are back in class — and no masks,” he said.

With 50 years of teaching at Aspen High School under his belt, is retirement ever in the cards? Not likely, according to the couple.

“We don’t believe in retirement,” Pam said.

John plans to keep on teaching “as long as I can do it,” he said with a laugh — literally.

“When you see his obituary in The Aspen Times,” Pam said, “you’ll know he isn’t teaching.”

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Aspen students returning from weeklong spring break trips must show negative COVID-19 test, district says

Arden Kaywin, right, looks back at Wesley Lodal, 7, self-administering a COVID-19 in the backseat of their car at Aspen Middle School on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Aspen School District will require all students and staff who leave Pitkin County for eight or more days during the upcoming spring break to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to in-person learning, Superintendent David Baugh announced Tuesday night.

“Obviously we’re still in the middle of this global pandemic,” Baugh said in a video message to the school district community.

“We’re heading into a holiday week, and we’ve always seen a spike after the holidays,” he said.

The traveler advisory adds a new layer to the district’s ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts and will hopefully prevent massive classroom quarantines after students return from vacation during the Monday to April 4 break. (Students also have April 5 off because it is a teacher work day.)

Free testing will be available April 5 on campus for all school district students, parents and staff; the turnaround for results could be between 15 minutes and 48 hours depending on which tests are used, Baugh said in a phone interview. The district also offers free weekly testing every Tuesday through the district’s testing partner, COVIDCheck Colorado.

Students who seek testing elsewhere can submit their results to an online portal.

Aspen Country Day School, an independent K-8 school, has already announced it will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three to five days of the return to in-person learning for all students after spring break, according to a status update posted Friday and the school’s pandemic-related policies document for the 2020-21 academic year.

Students there have been on spring break since Monday and will have access to free on-campus asymptomatic testing April 5 before class resumes April 6.

This is the first time that the district has implemented its own post-travel COVID-19 testing requirement, Baugh said, though a similar countywide program has applied in the past.

The now-inactive Pitkin County Traveler Affidavit Program was still in effect during winter break, requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test from any visitor or resident returning after 10 or more days outside the county. Aspen School District’s new traveler advisory is similar but shortened that period to eight or more days because the spring break is only nine days long, Baugh said.

The countywide affidavit program has been replaced by the Traveler Responsibility Code effective March 5; the code does not require proof of a negative test but does ask visitors and returning residents to sign an online form acknowledging current public health travel guidelines.

“We’re excited that we can offer (testing to the school district community) and we’re trying to avoid the massive quarantines,” Baugh said. Though a student may miss one day of in-person learning while awaiting test results from home, that outcome is far preferable to a student testing positive after coming back to school, requiring an entire class to quarantine, Baugh said.

“It’s all part of the community keeping one anther safe,” he said.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

As students return from quarantines, Aspen School District concerned about spring break COVID uptick

Aspen School District will see a “net gain” in in-person attendance this week as 140 students and staff return to school after required quarantines, according to Superintendent David Baugh.

He said Monday that 23 students and staff entered quarantine after exposure to a presumed positive case.

Fifty students and staff returned Monday and 46 more can return Tuesday.

Another 44 are cleared for a return to school March 28 but won’t actually attend in-person classes until after spring break scheduled for next week (March 29 to April 5). That group includes several dozen lower-grade Aspen Elementary School students who had to quarantine for 14 days after they were exposed to a student with a suspected case of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19.

In the past 14 days, the school district has recorded nine positive cases of COVID-19: three students and one teacher at Aspen Elementary School, four students at Aspen Middle School and one student at Aspen High School, according to the school district’s online COVID-19 data dashboard as of Monday evening.

That dashboard also indicates 131 students and 16 staff in quarantine March 21, but that number is not up-to-date with this week’s groups returning and newly quarantining individuals, Baugh said.

“We’ve designed intentionally to have most of the kids in school. … Quarantine is just the nature of this year,” Baugh said.

Pitkin County Public Health epidemiologist Josh Vance wrote in an email that the suspected B.1.1.7 case identified in an Aspen Elementary School student earlier this month is still pending sequencing and has not been confirmed. The public health team is “aggressively testing close contacts” of those with identified variant cases to identify any new suspected cases in the community, Vance wrote.

Baugh said he is concerned that the district could see an uptick in cases — and quarantined cohorts — as students take vacations during spring break.

“Could it be worse after spring break? I think it could,” he said. As much as he would like to see low COVID-19 case numbers in the district after the break, “hope isn’t a plan,” Baugh said.

The district will offer free testing to families and teachers April 5 at Aspen Middle School to help identify possible cases before they enter the classroom.

All schools continue to follow Pitkin County’s “Five Commitments of Containment” (mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing, staying home when sick and testing and self-reporting when symptomatic), though that social distance can now be just three feet instead of six according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think they’re about six months overdue on making that announcement,” Baugh said Monday.

Some teachers have already begun rearranging their classrooms to embrace the 3-foot rule, he said; those changes are at the discretion of the teacher.

“We’ve always tried to maintain (that distance) as much as we could, knowing full well that you can’t in schools maintain 6 feet,” Baugh said. ‘We’ve relied on the other containments far more.”

Pitkin County’s move from Yellow- to Orange-level restrictions starting Wednesday won’t significantly impact school operations, Baugh confirmed.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Teen Spotlight: With the International Baccalaureate program, is no stress better than no credit?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is one of the many qualities that makes Aspen High School the esteemed public school it is.

To earn the full diploma, students must take six IB classes — most of which are two-year courses — write a 4,000-word essay and participate in a Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) project. Students are required to sacrifice their time, and sometimes their personal activities, to successfully complete the program.

It’s common for juniors and seniors to take at least one IB class, but enrolling in the program in which students can earn a full IB diploma has gained popularity in the past few years. We all hear that the program is the best preparation we will get for college. But is that enough reward to make the commitment worth it?

Macy Hopkinson, a senior at Aspen High School, signed up to complete the IB Diploma because she “wanted to challenge (herself) in all areas and subjects,” she said. Enrolling in the IB Diploma program comes with the expectation that students understand the level of commitment mandatory to succeed, and students who are prepared tend to flourish within the course.

“It was definitely a lot harder than I expected, and I had to put in more work than I thought, but it was worth it,” Hopkinson said. “(The IB diploma) has been very helpful because it taught me so many valuable lessons that will help me succeed in college and in life. It also taught me that I could learn difficult material if I just put in the time.”

But not everyone finds that the program is the best fit for them, including both of us columnists.

As a senior at Aspen High School, I (Ava Thornely) don’t regret my decision to forego the IB diploma for other opportunities; if I had signed up, I wouldn’t have been able to take journalism.

I am so fortunate I was able to take classes in subjects I want to continue to study in the future rather than take classes that would look good when applying to colleges. Now that I have had this experience in journalism, I believe I will be just as prepared for my intended path as someone who earns their IB diploma will be for theirs.

The freedom of a non-IB schedule opens up other opportunities to engage in some of the many unique electives Aspen High School provides, including woodworking, yoga instructor certification and aviation.

Those options include the Aspen Mountain Guide School course, which my co-columnist Stef Wojcik completes this year.

I (Stef Wojcik) am also a senior at Aspen High School; I started as an IB diploma candidate but later decided to drop the program. Though I’m still enrolled in multiple IB classes and see the value in taking rigorous courses, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my athletic, social and service commitments. Though the IB diploma program aims to help students think more critically, it does so on a restricted schedule.

The Aspen Mountain Guide School course, which has provided me with several certifications in different areas of outdoor guiding, heavily weighed my decision. I now have the tools, knowledge and benefit to work in my fields of interest.

Some students thrive in the learning format of the diploma program, but for others, it’s difficult to balance personal interests and the opportunities presented by the program. As an ex-diploma candidate, I am thankful I chose the path I did, even without the rewards of earning the diploma.

Students who earn their IB diploma feel equally as prepared as those who don’t — just for different pathways. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to decide if they will feel more prepared for college by taking classes that you are passionate about, even without the repute of taking a rigorous class, or if they will leave the exploration time for their college experience.

Teen Spotlight columnists Ava Thornely and Stef Wojcik are seniors at Aspen High School and contributors to the Skier Scribbler school newspaper. Thornely and Wojcik have both worked at the paper for three years.