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Education Center responds to community needs

The Archuleta County Education Center was established 22 years ago to serve the educational needs of our community not addressed by the public school system. Ginger Schwartz, who may be the “grandmother” of the Ed Center, obtained a grant to support a program to improve the level of reading literacy in Pagosa Springs. Classes were taught by volunteers in the original Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library. With improved reading skills, students were able to enter mainstream life in Pagosa Springs.

Success of the reading literacy program suggested a need for other forms of education in our community. Enter Tom Steen, the first executive director of the Ed Center. Under Steen’s direction, several new programs emerged to serve the community. These programs, which included instruction for the GED high school diploma, computer classes, English as a Second Language (ESL), First Aid/CPR, and after school tutoring, are still Ed Center core services today.

Following this period of incremental growth in programs, the Ed Center undertook a giant step in 1997 to serve another community need, an alternate path for youth who left the public schools prior to graduation. Working with the Archuleta County public school system, Steen developed the Archuleta County High School, an alternate high school for our community. This school offered high school dropouts a different environment for completing their high school education, culminating in either a Colorado high school diploma or a GED high school certificate. Mark De Voti, current Superintendent of Archuleta County Schools, was the first director of?the alternative high school. Thirteen years later, the alternate high school continues to work with the public high school to recover dropouts. The current director, Doug Bowen, has been in this position since 2003.

Strong growth in Ed Center programs, driven by community needs, led to two major expansions of the physical plant. The first major change came with the move from the Ruby M Sisson Memorial Library to a building located on the corner of 4th and Lewis streets. This building was purchased by Roger and Sandy Wickham and donated to the Ed Center. By 1996, the building had become too small to serve community needs. To solve this problem, a major construction project doubling the size of the building was undertaken. This structure, known as the Wickham Center, is the present home of the Ed Center.

The Ed Center is again poised to take another big leap to serve the community’s educational needs: A high definition teleconferencing center. Although Pagosa’s isolation draws both residents and tourists to the area, it presents a major barrier for residents seeking local access to post-secondary education, and it limits many types of enterprise development. This barrier has been softened by the Internet, which has made e-mail and rudimentary distance education possible. However, the effectiveness of the Internet, especially in the areas of distance education and teleconferencing, has been limited by both Internet speed and hardware able to use high speed Internet.

A recent DOLA (Colorado Department of Local Affairs) grant, with support from both the town and county, has facilitated purchase of high definition teleconferencing equipment. This new hardware, which cost approximately $180,000, will be the core of a high definition teleconferencing center that will address the community’s need for improved distance education and enterprise development. This system will provide students with access to a true classroom experience where they see the instructor and ask questions in real time and with high definition images. Businesses can hold conferences with staff or clients located anywhere in the world feeling as though all participants are sitting around the same table. A public demonstration of the high definition teleconferencing facility will be scheduled for October.