Standing outside on a concrete basketball court near the Cripple Creek Junior/Senior High school, Superintendent Miriam Mondragon points to stacks of steel pillars and siding.
“These are the materials,” she said. “And it was nice because, a local excavator, he gave us a great deal on getting it transported. And the city of Cripple Creek, their public works department volunteered labor and heavy equipment to get everything moved and placed.”
Once the structure is assembled it will be the site of a 9,000 square foot construction trades shop. There, high school students will earn certifications in things like electrical, masonry, and plumbing and on-the-job training as they complete a manufactured home.
The district has about 350 students in kindergarten through 12th grade with a four-year graduation rate of just under 85 percent. That’s higher than the state average, but Mondragon said the real issue is finding work after graduation since only a handful of students go on to four-year colleges.
“I mean, it’s great learning about ancient civilizations, but that doesn’t really serve them when they walk out of these doors,” Mondragon said.
Many kids in the district already have jobs. Mondragon said a lot of them work at the casinos that line historic downtown Cripple Creek, where they hire as young as 15.
“They have jobs because they have to help their families pay bills and put food on the table,” she said, addressing some of the struggles that have led to limited opportunities for her students. “But it was also that our students were really disengaged in their education. I don’t feel like they saw a lot of value in what they were learning when they were here.”
So, the district decided to switch things up and make the high school experience more relevant to life after graduation. Mondragon said they wrote up a proposal, and a few weeks later the state announced grants funded by the CARES Act.
“We joke that the universe must have been listening to that conversation because it aligned directly with what we were trying to accomplish,” she said.
Known as RISE grants, the acronym stands for Response, Innovation, and Student Equity. The district received $1.4 million, which breaks down to about $4,000 per student.
“I was just so overwhelmed with the fact that they believed in this district that much to give us that amount of money. I mean, it was close to what some universities were awarded,” she said.
Mondragon hopes the trades shop will be finished by the spring semester. Bids on the project will be accepted through the beginning of September.