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Graduation 2020: Basalt High co-valedictorians to lead graduating class during Saturday ceremony

For the better part of her junior and senior years at Basalt High School, Sasha Brucker lived in Canada to play hockey and attended BHS remotely. Her plan had been to return home this spring for a final few months in the classroom with her peers and maybe play on the Longhorn soccer team before the novel coronavirus pandemic changed all that.

“I was planning on coming back and seeing all my classmates again for the last three months of school. Obviously, I haven’t been able to see them and I’m really excited to be able to catch up with them and see all their faces one more time,” Brucker said. “The senior class in Basalt has definitely gone through quite a lot the past few years. We are hanging in there.”

Despite her remote learning, Brucker did enough to still be named co-valedictorian for the BHS class of 2020, alongside close friend Anne Schrock. The two will give a joint speech during Saturday’s 9 a.m. drive-in graduation ceremony in front of the high school, which is being limited to students, immediate family and staff. BHS plans to hold a car parade through Basalt and Willits immediately following the ceremony.

“We want to try to somewhat inspire our classmates, but we were also hoping to bring some light-hearted humor into it,” Schrock said of their speech. “Obviously it’s an unconventional ceremony that we are having, but knowing that we’ve all been through a lot and we’ve been through it all together, I’m really excited to get back together with them and celebrate everything and be together one last time as a class.”

Here’s a closer look at both of Basalt’s class of 2020 co-valedictorians:

HOCKEY FUELS BRUCKER’S PLANS

Brucker once played for Aspen Junior Hockey, including the first AA girls team that made it to the national tournament. But the constant travel wore on her, so she took an opportunity to move to Ontario and play through the Hockey Training Institute near Barrie.

After graduation, and once the pandemic has passed, Brucker hopes to return to Canada to play hockey during her gap year before moving onto college a year later. Given a choice, she’d like to play hockey for Yale University in Connecticut. But she’s also willing to keep her options open in regard to both hockey and her academics.

When she finally makes it into the college classroom, Brucker has plans to take a pre-med route, although even that remains in flux.

“My goal is to play at Yale. I was talking to them a bit this season, but it just didn’t work out, but they are still interested for 2021,” Brucker said. “I can’t really imagine going to school and not doing something that I love at the same time. But if it comes down to it, if I get into an amazing school without hockey, then I might just go to school and maybe play club or something. Because definitely education is more important.”

Even though she spent most of the past two years in Canada away from her classmates, Brucker feels a special bond with this group and is excited to represent Basalt as a graduate and as one of its valedictorians.

“For me, it’s just kind of a validation of having to work a little extra hard to do school on my own time,” Brucker said. “I’m excited I get to be part of Basalt High School in this big of a way, even though I wasn’t necessarily there the whole time. I’ve gone to Basalt my whole life and I always wanted to be part of the school.”

SCHROCK OFF TO THE BIG APPLE

Schrock has had her eyes set on Columbia University for a few years now. Since a trip to the school’s New York City campus ahead of her sophomore year, there was little doubt about her goals.

“I visited Columbia and I really like the city and I love the campus,” Schrock said. “It will be a transition for sure, but I’m excited for the change and living in the city.”

She was especially drawn to Columbia’s Core Curriculum, which requires undergraduates to take classes in many areas. This is a fit for Schrock, who has a multitude of academic interests. For example, she plans to double major in English and physics, two areas of study that couldn’t be further apart.

“I’m not really sure how exactly I want to fit them together, but they are the two things I really fell in love with in high school,” Schrock said. “I just like the idea that you are trying to understand the mechanical aspect of the world around you and pairing it with English, I’m able to understand more of the social impacts and more humanities.”

Schrock is the middle of three girls. Her older sister, Kate Schrock, was a 2018 BHS graduate and standout athlete who currently is studying exercise science at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Her younger sister, Grace Schrock, will graduate from BHS next year and also is a standout Longhorn athlete.

Anne Schrock said she enjoyed working with Brucker on their co-valedictorian speech.

“I thought it was easier, because we had a lot of the same things we wanted to say to the class,” Schrock said, “so being able to combine them and work together on a speech that would bring in the humor part and some good inspiring words we want to say, I thought it went really well.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen High School graduation details set for Saturday, but no Friday parade

Aspen High School’s graduation plans are set for Saturday’s ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area, but AHS principal Tharyn Mulberry confirmed Wednesday that the March of the Graduates won’t take place.

The march was going to be Friday in the form of a car parade through town, but there were too many questions surrounding COVID-19 to make it possible.

“There were multiple issues with it,” Mulberry said. “To be really frank, from the high school principal’s position, I’m so pleased with the way we are going to be conducting our graduation and the cooperation we’ve had with Skico and the county and the police department and the sheriff’s department. I’m very pleased that we can have the graduation the way we are going to do it.”

In place of the normal affair inside the Benedict Music Tent, Saturday’s graduation will take place in the Buttermilk parking lot and look like a drive-in movie with attendees sitting in their vehicles.

The 10 a.m. ceremony is not open to the public and will be limited to students, immediate family, and staff working the event. The ceremony will be livestreamed by GrassRoots TV via Facebook and YouTube.

Thursday’s drive-thru scholarship ceremony is still scheduled for 6 p.m. on the Aspen School District campus. Like the graduation, this is not open to the public in guidance with coronavirus-related safety protocols.

Basalt High School’s graduation remains slated for 9 a.m. Saturday from the BHS parking lot. Like Aspen, it will be drive-in style and limited to only students, immediate family and staff.

The BHS graduation will be live streamed on the school’s Facebook page. They plan to hold a car parade through Basalt and Willits immediately following the ceremony.

Basalt High School Seniors 2020

Like Aspen, Basalt High School to hold drive-in graduation on May 30

Basalt High School’s seniors know how to handle difficult times. From the Lake Christine Fire in 2018 to the death of classmates Anna Cunningham and Tyler Ribich last year, changing up graduation amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is hardly a big deal.

“They have adapted well,” BHS principal Peter Mueller said Friday. “They have always been about caring for each other and they’ve always been about carrying a certain levity and reflection about what’s most important in life, and I think that’s what makes them a special class, is how gentle and thoughtful they are with each other.”

The latest hurdle came in the form of COVID-19, which brought an early end to in-person learning this spring and has forced the class of 2020 to adapt to a new normal as their high school careers come to a close. The BHS seniors finished up their final classes and exams Friday, meaning the only thing left to do is walk across the stage and graduate.

That graduation ceremony will happen next Saturday, May 30, although it will look a little bit different than it has. Much like other area schools are doing, including Aspen High School, BHS will hold a drive-in style graduation in the school’s parking lot at 9 a.m. that day, a change from the traditional ceremony on the football field. A stage will be set up in front of the school and the audience will remain in their vehicles and listen in on the radio.

The in-person attendees are being limited to students, immediate family and BHS teachers and staff.

“At first I was kind of nervous and a little bit upset, because obviously we don’t get the traditional graduation,” said BHS senior Sasha Brucker, who along with Anne Schrock is one of the co-valedictorians for the class of 2020. “But now I’m excited because I think it’s going to be something fun and different. It will definitely be a memorable graduation.”

Mueller said BHS is looking at 104 graduates this spring, a solid jump from the 89 official graduates in 2019. This year’s Longhorn seniors will pick up their caps and gowns Thursday, attend a graduation rehearsal Friday and then officially graduate the next day, albeit a little differently than would be the norm.

“They’ve been troopers at adjusting to challenges,” Mueller said. “We’ve tried to retain a lot of the traditions that have been a part of the spring of high school and the spring of senior year, so it’s been good.”

Basalt’s graduation, which is scheduled to last roughly 90 minutes, will overlap some with Aspen’s graduation, scheduled that same morning at Buttermilk Ski Area. The AHS ceremony had originally been scheduled for noon, but principal Tharyn Mulberry confirmed Friday it had been moved up to 10 a.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day and possible afternoon thunderstorms.

“That’s just too hot for graduation outside,” Mulberry said of temperatures that could push 80 degrees. “We are in the tent typically, so nobody notices it, because you can get some air through there. But they will notice it in a parking lot.”

Aspen’s graduation also will be akin to a drive-in movie and limited only to students, immediate family and faculty. Local big mountain skiing icon Chris Davenport is slated to be the commencement speaker, while senior Quinn Ramberg is the school’s valedictorian. The co-salutatorians are Kat Goralka and Maxine Mellin.

The AHS seniors also wrapped up school Friday, when they were able to pick up their caps and gowns.

“We had the best turnout for senior checkout we’ve ever had,” Mulberry said of the event organized by Danielle Pratt, the school’s head secretary. “She is so amazing. We had tents, it was outside, we were able to maintain social distance, we had gloves, we had masks. It was amazing how well our students complied with that.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Colorado Mountain College summer enrollment up 66% with rollout of free tuition for many students

Colorado Mountain College has seen a significant jump in summer enrollment across the college district, as online classes are being offered free to several categories of students in the college’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of the latest data reported last week, CMC was reporting that full-time student equivalency (FTE) this summer is up 66% compared to the same time last year. FTE is a measure that looks at a combination of actual students and the number of credits taken.

“Because of increased student demand, we added 80 new individual classes,” CMC Public Information Officer Debra Crawford said.

On average, she said, students who have enrolled this summer in GED (high school equivalency), English as a Second Language (ESL) or credit classes have registered for more credits than they did last summer.

The CMC Board of Trustees in early April decided to waive tuition for certain categories of students taking credit courses, as well as ESL and GED courses.

The tuition waiver applies to students who qualify as new or returning in-district students, as well as in-state students who took credit courses this spring, and any displaced workers who live in the CMC district.

The decision was made in response to the economic crisis that has transpired during the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado due to the related business shutdowns and substantial job losses.

CMC has also since decided to offer its summer courses via online distance learning, rather than in person, due to the public health restrictions that remain in place.

Crawford said that, of the students who have enrolled for summer courses so far, 16% are new to CMC, and 37% identified as Latino or Hispanic, or as belonging to a minority.

The largest groups of summer students, by age, are 25 to 34 years old (38%), 19 to 24 years (32%) and 35 to 54 years (21%).

When colleges and K-12 schools in Colorado were forced to close in March as a result of the pandemic, CMC immediately went to work to transfer more than 1,000 courses from in-person to an online environment, Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer for the college district, said during a Wednesday Board of Trustees tele-conference meeting.

CMC has not made a formal decision as to how the fall semester will look come late August, he said. But several options are on the table for consideration in the coming weeks as the state’s new public health orders take shape.

Fall classes could be conducted similar to the way they normally do, or they could be done completely online again or in some hybrid format involving a mix of in-classroom and online instruction, Kathryn Regjo, vice president for academic affairs for CMC, said at the Wednesday meeting.

“The sooner we can know what the state is allowing, the more time we have to be prepared and able to conduct classes in a high quality way,” she said.

Some classes and programs where remote instruction is not possible would have to have specific health safety plans in place in order to have live classroom meeting, Regjo also said. “We will take a look at every single fall course and begin developing those safety plans and protocols.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Summer Advantage program canceled for schools in valley

A summer-school program that can help younger elementary students in Roaring Fork schools avoid the summer slide between grades will not happen this year due to concerns about reopening school buildings too soon.

The Roaring Fork School District and Summit 54, which sponsors the Summer Advantage USA program in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, jointly announced Tuesday that the program is canceled for this summer due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This was a difficult decision made in the interest of the health and safety of our students, staff and community, but we appreciate that many families will be disappointed at the lack of programming this summer,” Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said in a news release.

“We really value our partnership with Summit 54 and Summer Advantage and look forward to offering the program next summer when conditions allow.”

The decision removes a free summer programming option that can help students kindergarten through fourth grade play catch-up for five weeks in late June and July if they’ve fallen behind during the regular school year.

That need could be even more pronounced this year, given difficulties for some students and families to fully participate in online distance learning that went into effect after the pandemic response in Colorado forced schools to be closed for the remainder of the school year.

Summer Advantage typically serves about 550 students and employs 110 staff members each summer, including several district teachers who rely on it for supplemental summer employment.

The programs take place at Glenwood Springs, Crystal River and Basalt Elementary schools, providing academic support and enrichment, hands-on learning projects, physical fitness activities and Friday field trips, plus two meals a day.

“Summit 54 is disappointed that our partnership with the Roaring Fork School District and Summer Advantage USA will not be able to provide the Summer Advantage program to our scholars this summer,” Terri Caine, co-founder of Summit 54, said, explaining that the health of students and staff takes precedence right now.

“The large program size increases risk, and the three-way partnership felt that the health and safety of our scholars, educators, support staff, parents and other family members required that we cancel the program for 2020,” Caine said in the release. “Summit 54 eagerly looks forward to sponsoring this important program again in 2021.”

The decision comes as the school district rolled out a phased plan to reopen school facilities to outside user groups following the COVID-19 closures.

While the district had hoped that could start in June, the decision was made to keep buildings closed until at least July, except for licensed child care programs.

“It still remains unknown whether schools will be able to resume in-person learning in the fall,” the district wrote in a parent newsletter sent out Tuesday. “At the same time, the state has allowed the safe reopening of licensed child care facilities and some other public spaces with specific guidelines.”

Under those guidelines, the district has decided to allow facility use by licensed child care programs, under the following circumstances, according to the newsletter article:

Licensed child care programs can only use district facilities that are physically separated from the main school buildings and office buildings at this time;

Programs must be self-supporting; district staff will not be asked to provide custodial, transportation, or food services for these programs. No district staff will be available to support these programs;

Licensed child care programs must meet the RFSD conditions and criteria for facility use outlined here; and

Business plans must be reviewed and/or approved by the county in which any programs will be operating.

All district school and office buildings will remain closed through June, and there will be no district-sponsored programming or facility use by non-licensed child care programs, the district has also determined.

As for outdoor recreation facilities and ball fields, the district is working with the parks and recreation departments in each of its municipalities to determine the appropriate use. Many town recreation programs rely on school facilities for summer youth and adult sports leagues.

“We know that this news is disappointing to many in our community,” the district said in the newsletter. “While we want to support the economic recovery in our community, we must put the safety of our students, staff and the broader community first. We will continue to monitor to determine whether more use of district facilities might be allowable later in the summer.”

A “Roadmap to Reopening” school buildings to outside users was also presented to the RFSD school board last week. It outlines a three-phase approach over a three-month span in which the district could begin allowing groups of 10 one month, increasing to 25 the next month, and 50 by the third month, depending on public health guidelines at the time.

State budget cuts will impact Aspen schools

With the state eying $3.3 billion in cuts that will include education funding, leaders at the Aspen School District are backing off previously planned capital expenditures as well as the purchase of new buses, while employment attrition also is on the table.

School board President Susan Marolt, however, said the 1,600-plus-student district is not considering laying off or furloughing employees at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is factoring into most every business decision made by companies, organizations and governments.

“We have not had any conversations about that,” she said, adding district officials are examining the district’s financial picture beyond the current year.

During a financial update presentation at the board of education’s most recent meeting May 4, district CFO Linda Warhoe said Aspen public schools could see $1.3 million to $2.2 million in decreased state funding because of budget cuts stemming from the economic crash. Warhoe said those assumptions are based on the school resuming in-person classes in August.

As a result, the district temporarily shelved the planned purchase of new school buses for $254,000 as well as another $275,000 in remodeling improvements to campus structures, Warhoe told the board.

Employment attrition also is reflected in the district’s decision to not immediately fill the curriculum director position Jenna Barclay will exit at the end of the semester, Warhoe said.

Marolt added that “the board and Dave (Baugh, the incoming superintendent scheduled to start July 1) feel like that’s a really important position, but we need to sort that out.”

The district, however, plans to fill the vacancy of executive director of student services, a position Heather Abraham is leaving at semester’s end. It currently is hiring for the position.

A third administrative post, transportation director, is being filled by its assistant director, Reghan Mahaffey. Outgoing director Gary Vavra is retiring.

Most of the school district’s local funding comes from property tax collections in Pitkin County.

Of the district’s $34.9 million in revenue in fiscal year 2018, $24.1 million of that came from property tax revenue, based on financial records.

The assessed property values in the district totaled $2.9 billion in 2018, according to ASD financial records. It was $3.2 billion as of December 2019.

The school district also generates revenue through 0.3 sales tax Aspen voters approved in 2012 and renewed in 2016. It accounts for about $2 million annually and “fills the financing gap between the amount of funds that the state is required to provide the district annually and the amount that it actually provides,” according to the district’s website. Snowmass Village voters, also in 2016, approved a town mill levy that supports the district.

While Marolt said sales tax collections are expected to be well below projections, property taxes should remain the same. Both the Snowmass mill levy and Aspen sales tax expire at the end of 2021, the same year Pitkin County will reassess property values.

Aspen has enjoyed some of the highest per-pupil funding in the state because of local revenue sources. In 2017, per-pupil funding in the ASD was $25,566, with $21,422 coming from local revenue, according to Common Sense Policy Roundtable’s analysis of K-12 funding in Colorado. The report came out in August 2019.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Aspen High School firms up graduation plans, including May 29 parade through town

More details were finalized for Aspen High School’s upcoming graduation events, which conclude with a May 30 drive-in ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area. AHS principal Tharyn Mulberry confirmed Thursday a series of events over the next two-plus weeks that will help celebrate the class of 2020.

The main festivities are set to begin Tuesday with a virtual International Baccalaureate diploma reception that will honor the school’s IB students.

“Each staff member takes one of the IB diploma candidates and does a personal narrative about them in the IB program, so it’s a really beautiful ceremony in person,” Mulberry said. “They are going to do this virtually and honor all the students that were part of the IB program.”

The excitement really picks up May 22, the last day of school for the seniors. That Friday will include the distribution of caps and gowns to the students, as well as the handing out of yearbooks.

The main events will take place over three consecutive days, beginning May 28 with a drive-thru scholarship ceremony on the Aspen School District campus. The by-invitation event takes place of the school’s annual awards ceremony, which usually includes many of the scholarship donors in attendance.

“This is such a great time of year to have them come in and get to see how it affects kids,” Mulberry said. “Unfortunately, it’s been taken away by COVID. We’re still going to do that; we are going to video it and make sure it gets to them so they have a chance to see what is going on.”

Mulberry said 70 students have been invited to take part in the scholarship ceremony and they are being asked to dress up as they’ll have their pictures taken as they take turns driving through.

The annual March of the Graduates will take place in form of a parade through Aspen on Friday, May 29. This event is usually held on the seniors’ last day as a walk through the ASD schools, but it has been pushed back a week to also serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts for graduation the following day.

A time was still being determined for the May 29 parade, but Mulberry did say the route would be the same as used during the city’s annual Fourth of July parade, only beginning in the Aspen Middle School parking lot and ending at Buttermilk.

“There will be signs on Main Street,” Mulberry said. “When people have a chance, they can come out and be along the parade route. They have to stay in their cars and follow all the COVID regulations, but they can certainly cheer our graduates on.”

The concluding event will be the May 30 graduation in the Buttermilk parking lots. Scheduled for noon, the ceremony will function much like a drive-in movie, with the students and audience sitting in their vehicles to adhere to safety guidelines related to the pandemic. A stage will be set up and the audio will be broadcast over the radio.

Mulberry said more details should be finalized Friday after administration meets with Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County officials. Otherwise, the main pieces of the graduation events are in place.

Also a mainstay each graduation season is the AHS senior sports banquet, which includes the handing out of the senior male and female athlete of the year awards. AHS athletic director Martha Richards said most of those awards would be rolled into the May 28 drive-thru scholarship ceremony.

The spring sports season was canceled by the Colorado High School Activities Association and coach-athlete contact, including practices, remains off limits outside of coaches giving out voluntary workouts for athletes to do from home. Richards said CHSAA has recently put together a task force to begin to think about summer training and fall sports, should either be allowed to happen.

“CHSAA is really telling all of us it’s kind of guided by your local health committees and your school administrations,” Richards said. “We have coaches brainstorming on different things we can do if groups are allowed to get together. There are just so many question marks.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen High School planning for drive-in graduation at Buttermilk on May 30

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot from Aspen High School’s class of 2020, but it’s not going to take away graduation.

At least, not all of it, with AHS planning to hold a drive-in ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area in lieu of its traditional event inside the Benedict Music Tent for its 138 expected graduates. Still scheduled for noon May 30, the details are not finalized, but the groundwork is being put in place for an in-person graduation ceremony.

“At the end of the day, it’s better than nothing and a lot of other schools are just doing virtual, so we are really lucky in that fact,” AHS senior Lauren Fox, the student body’s head girl, said Monday. “It’s better than nothing, and virtual was worst-case scenario, so I think anything is better than that.”

Fox and AHS principal Tharyn Mulberry will host a virtual meeting with the seniors Tuesday to explain graduation. There was confusion at first, with many of the students believing it to be more like a McDonald’s drive-thru where they’d swing by and grab their diploma to go.

However, the event will function more like a drive-in movie, a concept Mulberry admitted is foreign to most teenagers these days.

“They didn’t know what a drive-in was,” Mulberry joked. “It will be just like a traditional graduation, only instead of a chair, you’ll be in a car.”

The ceremony will take place in Buttermilk’s parking lots, with a stage set up near the base of the mountain. The idea is to have students walk across the stage like normal, although in groups of no more than 10 and done with social distancing in mind. The school has been working with Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County, notably County Manager Jon Peacock, to make sure everything adheres to the current safety guidelines.

Mulberry said they would broadcast the ceremony over the radio, so friends and family could easily listen in from their cars. It’s hoped they will be able to livestream the event online, as well.

Also in the works is the March of Graduates. Typically held on the seniors’ last day, the in-person march around the Aspen School District campus has turned into “a parade of cars through town.” The exact route isn’t set yet, nor is the exact date. The seniors’ last day is May 22 — the rest of the students go until June 4 — but Mulberry said they might push the March of Graduates to May 29, the day before graduation.

“If we did the parade the day before graduation, it would give us an opportunity to do a run-through for a graduation rehearsal,” Mulberry said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to do that. We could stage them from the middle school parking lot in the same configuration that they’d leave for graduation.”

The school also has plans for a drive-thru — yes, like a trip to Taco Bell — scholarship ceremony at 6 p.m. May 28. This is a by-invitation-only event to be held on the ASD campus.

It’s all part of the plan to help bring some closure to a group of seniors that certainly never thought their final months in high school would include a pandemic.

“It’s really tough on the kids. It’s tough on all of us,” Mulberry said. “I really feel for this year’s senior class. They’ve just been such a great group of kids and they put up with so many changes of circumstances. They’ve really handled this thing just with amazing heart and courage. So I’m really proud of them.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Remote learning takes its toll on Aspen teachers, students, parents

Teacher Appreciation Week runs through Friday, but educators aren’t getting much time to hear the accolades.

Like the rest of Colorado, schools in Aspen are closed yet teachers are saying their virtual classroom challenges are unrivaled and their workloads overwhelming.

“I cannot be the same teacher I was,” Aspen High School teacher Tameira Wilson told members of the Board of Education during their virtual meeting Monday, adding that “try as we might, we cannot provide the same, exact experience as we were providing.”

Wilson, as well as kindergarten teacher Beth Wille, spoke to the board about the teaching difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic that shut down schools in the middle of March, prompting the district to begin online learning April 1. Classes finish the semester that way, while the fall-semester picture has yet to crystallize as schools across the state and country must await public health orders concerning in-class instruction and crowd sizes.

Neither teacher came to the board asking for time off, an extended vacation or bonus. They instead wanted the board to have a better understanding of the difficulties of remote learning, and made their remarks during the public-comment portion of the meeting, a time when board members listen to community members — including teachers — but take no formal action on their concerns.

Echoing the teachers’ concerns were the principals at the district’s elementary, middle and high schools, who said the initial enthusiasm that came with remote learning is waning while frustrations are mounting.

“There was a braver face we saw at the front end of the pandemic,” said Tharyn Mulberry, high school principal, adding that economic pressures are affecting school households — whether parents are losing jobs or are working from home, while their children remain responsible for school work.

Grades are a concern, as well. Mulberry reported that 28% of the high school’s student body had either “D” or “F” marks this semester, based on recent findings from the high school administration. Teachers are working with the students to improve the marks before the school year ends, Mulberry said.

“We’re looking at 156 kids who are having them,” he said of the low grades. “And most are failing.”

High school administrators and teachers are examining the grades on a case-by-case basis to determine which marks are more consistent with the struggling students’ academic track records, and which ones might be symptomatic of remote-learning difficulties as well as the pandemic’s major toll on everyday living.

“It’s the highest I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here,” said Mulberry, who will transfer to the district’s assistant superintendent role July 1, after being high school principal since the fall semester of 2015.

A lack of social connection also is fueling the educators’ concerns.

“It’s the evolution of what does it mean to be an online teacher,” middle school principal Liz Meador said. “I think we are realizing that there has to be a lot of social connection.”

Some students have said they “really need their teacher and need their friends, and to be in school, in order to be motivated,” Wilson said. “That’s something they cannot get from an online platform.”

Wilson is also a single mother of two children in the district. Between those two roles, Wilson said she doesn’t feel she is as effective as she should be at either.

“As a parent, it is almost impossible to be teaching and working all day and trying to educate my kids, as well,” she said.

About 50% of the school district’s faculty also have children enrolled in Aspen public schools, said Tom Heald, interim superintendent.

Remote learning can be compounded by home life. Some parents are at home working for a living, and in smaller residences that can mean students taking classes remotely from less-than-ideal learning spots, said Kay Erickson, a teachers’ rep with the Aspen Education Association, which represents faculty and staff at the district.

“The honeymoon phase is over, as you can tell,” she told the board about remote learning. “Bright, shiny, new online learning — people were really excited about it and now it’s steamrolling every day.

“We’ve got kids working in bathrooms for quiet spots, we’ve got kids working in closets for quiet spots because a lot of our staff and lot of our students just don’t have their own quiet space to work, and it’s extremely challenging.”

Affected students cover the academic spectrum, Wilson said, noting “it requires teachers to modify and be on the fly.”

While Wilson teaches the district’s older students, Wille, a kindergarten teacher, said the challenges of remote education also are daunting in the elementary school.

“Doing it over a screen is definitely challenging,” she said. “It’s been fun, but it’s also hard for kids 5 years old to pay attention to a screen and me talking.”

Some classes can be broken up into Facetime talks or other small groups, she said.

Remote learning looks different from household to household, Wille said.

She talked about a single mother of two twin kindergartners who puts her children to bed at 8 p.m., then works from home for a clothing company until 3 a.m., before she rises at 9:30 or 10 a.m. to help her kids with school.

“Imagine how tough that is,” Wille said.

Other households seem to have an easier time.

“Parents living in Starwood are ordering every art supply you can ever imagine and their kids are in hog heaven and absolutely loving it,” she said. “And our biggest issue will be getting them to come back to school.”

Wille also urged the board to abandon academic assessments this spring; to do assessments would be unnecessarily laborious for students and teachers, and would unfairly reflect student performance and progress with the pandemic as a backdrop, she said.

Aspen Elementary School principal Chris Basten said while there are some success stories with remote learning, there is no doubting the psychological toll from the historic disconnect.

“Last week we had our teachers come in socially distanced and bag up 475 students’ learning materials and snow pants … and it proved to be an emotional experience for many of our staff,” Basten said, “and the reason for that, what was alluded to, was a kind of a sense of loss and disappointment, and none of us anticipating the school year the way we’re going to end it. But we’re going to end it the best we know how.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com