The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe have been selected by the Denver nonprofit Nathan Yip Foundation for new educational projects.
Montezuma-Cortez proposed a computer-based program for students on Sept. 14 and now awaits discussion by the foundation’s board of directors.
“Basically it is an introduction at the middle school and high school to coding and computer science,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness said. If approved, the program could lead to classes in which students could receive college credit.
Haukeness said the foundation seemed less concerned about past district test scores and graduation rates than how to improve education in the district.
“It was about going to the heart of why we have gone into education, and that is to make a difference in our students’ lives,” Haukeness said.
The foundation can support students in ways that the district can’t afford, such as a high school student exchange program, Haukeness said. The proposed program would allow students from Denver to live in the Four Corners and Four Corners students to live in a Denver district, according to Tarika Cefkin, executive director of the foundation.
“Many of our students do not get the opportunity to leave the Four Corners area,” Haukeness said. The program would help broaden students’ minds and awaken them to new possibilities, she said.
The foundation also would help support the existing Monthly Science Nights program at Cortez Middle School, which pulls families and students together for dinner and a science experiment that kids choose and share with their parents.
“That isn’t our project, but we mention it because it is something that we love to support and strengthen over the years because we think it is really important,” said Mike Kalush, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
The foundation also has paid for a group of five Cortez teachers to shadow teachers at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a charter school in Douglas County, which uses innovative ways to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “They do a lot of project-based learning and have innovative ways for their students to learn,” Cefkin said. The program gives teachers the chance to support one another and to share and implement the most successful practices.
The Nathan Yip Foundation plans to support the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe as well. The foundation partnered with the Denver-based charity Tech For All, which refurbishes computers, installs a new Linux operating system and donates them to students who don’t have a home computer.
“We were here not only to meet with the district and some teachers,” Cefkin said. “Yesterday, we were at the reservation in partnership with an organization called Denver Tech For All. They equipped us with 38 desktops and five laptops that have all been refurbished, and we took those down to the reservation.”
Kalush added that the foundation hopes to assist the tribe in its educational efforts while maintaining the Ute Mountain Utes’ heritage. The foundation is counting on its experience working within China’s diverse cultures to help bridge gaps in Towaoc,
“We go through this a lot in our work in China. There is a lot of cultural protocol that you have to follow,” Cefkin said. “We have this idea that is starting to be developed, and once we come up with the plan, it will be presented to the tribal council, at which time we will get all of the permissions we need to kind of get in place.”
The Nathan Yip Foundation has the patience to nurture a relationship, said Linda Yip, who along with her husband, Jimmy Yip, created the foundation.
“We are real, and we want the local people to see that we are really sincere,” Linda Yip said. “What we say is what we do and what we mean.”
The foundation plans to continue supporting the Four Corners area through projects well into the future.
“We care a lot about relationships,” Cefkin said. “We have built our foundation as a family, and these relationships take time to build. But like a family, once you’re in, you’re in.”
The Nathan Yip Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that focuses on helping underfunded schools. It was founded by Linda and Jimmy Yip to honor the memory of their son, Nathan, who died in a car crash.
“He wanted to help with youth education, so we have been doing this for 16 years,” said Linda Yip. “We are very happy to help with kids in China, in Mexico, in Colorado as well.”
In the past year, the foundation shifted its focus to rural Colorado as donors in the state voiced concerns about the education system at home, according to Cefkin.
Foundation members first visited the Montezuma-Cortez school district in November after a colleague at The Rose Community Foundation in Denver suggested they connect with The Colorado Education Initiative and Alex Carter, the previous district superintendent.
“Mike Kalush and I went to meet with Alex to learn about CEI and what they are doing,” Cefkin said. “The conversation started going toward Alex’s experience as a superintendent, and we were really intrigued by the student population here.”
The foundation’s work with indigenous people in China reminded them of the Four Corners.
“We really wanted to show this parallel between here and China and Colorado,” Kalush said. “It has been a great learning experience for us just coming out here ourselves.”