The Aspen Community School has raised about $1.4 million toward a $4.9 million minimum goal to secure a state grant that would remake its aging Woody Creek campus.
It’s an unprecedented fundraising push for the school, which was built in 1970 to accommodate 80 students, but now teaches 127 in increasingly dilapidated facilities.
“It is unlike anything we’ve accomplished, in a matter of less than three months,” said Skye Skinner, director of the nonprofit Compass, which operates the Community School. “We have a long way to go to get to $4.9 million but we’re going at it hard every single day.”
School officials launched their “I Believe” fundraising campaign in September, after winning a long-sought $4.2 million Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant from the state. In order to accept the state money for facility upgrades, though, the school must raise a $4.9 million match by May 1.
While the clock is ticking, and the school is less than a third of the way toward its goal, school officials are confident they’ll meet it.
“I’m really excited about where we are,” said Skinner.
After initial gifts from the Aspen School District, the Community Office of Resource Efficiency and members of the Community School board, the campaign quickly reached out to locals and alumni. They’ve been hosting school tours, bringing members of the public into their weekly all-school meeting and showing them the unique educational approach, which includes small class sizes, cross-age mentoring and integrated arts programs. They’ve also showcased the inadequacies of school facilities.
“I’m walking around talking to people about our exciting plans while it’s crumbling beneath our feet,” Skinner laughed.
Community School students regularly out-perform the rest of the state. This year its students’ reading scores were 24 percent and math scores were 28 percent higher than the state average. The campus facilities, meanwhile, are ranked near the bottom 1 percent of educational facilities in the state, ranking 24th to last out of 1,689 public schools in Colorado this year.
Recently, Skinner said a student’s relief map with paste-made mountains was crushed multiple times after school hours. Teachers spoke to students about it, thinking it was a mischievous prank by the children. Eventually, they realized, it was mice tearing it up in the night.
Skinner said they’ve begun shifting from the local community and network of alumni toward Aspen’s base of big-dollar donors. She said this holiday season, she and the “I Believe” team are hopping between meetings with potential major givers.
The seemingly challenging task of asking for a check with many zeroes on it, Skinner said, isn’t difficult because the school’s needs are so evident.
“It’s not hard to ask people to get excited about it, because we are so excited about it and the community cares about this school,” Skinner said.
The school campaign also is encouraging three-year pledges, spacing out donations for people with limited means. They can use those later pledges toward the match.
While the school must raise $4.9 million by May, officials will have to exceed that mark by $2.5 million in order to meet the cost estimates of its overall campus master plan. Due to BEST’s guidelines, the school cannot use the public funds to make upgrades to some areas of the campus, like its private pre-school, its nonprofit’s administrative offices and its employee housing units. The total “I Believe” fundraising goal is $11.6 million.
To learn more visit ibelieveacs.org