Pine River Community Learning Center aims to be the area's "one-stop shop" for education for everyone, from infants to elders.
"Cradle to grave!" exulted PRCLC director Cathy Calderwood as she and staff gave a tour of their Ignacio campus in Candelaria Heights on the hill above Ignacio High School. "ABCs to a Ph.D!"
A smaller facility on Mill Street in downtown Bayfield is available for residents on the northern end of the pine River Valley, offering many of the same classes.
The centers offer resources for parents to educate their infants and toddlers, to home school enrichment programs, to General Equivalancy Degrees, to workforce training and college classes through Utah State University.
The college courses have been offered for a few years now, and the center's first college students have received their associates degrees and are starting work on bachelors degrees.
Unlike online courses, which can be difficult for some students, PRCLC hooks up to the Utah courses via cameras and microphones, so students see the professor and rest of the classroom, and the students in Colorado can be seen and heard as well.
The courses started in Blanding, Utah, then expanded to the Navajo reservation, then Ute Mountain reservation in Towaoc, Calderwood explained. PRCLC decided to start the partnership with Utah State because their long-distance offerings were more advanced than any classes available from a Colorado college or university, she added.
So by the time you sit down in a classroom and watch the lectures and discussions on a large screen, it seems like you're actually in a classsroom, albeit at the back of the class. Most PRCLC students start with the college basics: introductory courses to mathematics, science, business and English. Web programming classes also are popular.
The center also offers long-distance meetings to companies at no charge using the same video setup.
Classes at Utah State start next week. There's still time to sign up, but students need to move quickly so they're not starting the semester behind the other students.
For those who need to finish studies before starting college or job training, GED testing and courses are available. About 200 GED students come to the center every year, mostly working in groups of three to five students at a time.
And for those who think the GED is an easy way to get out of high school, Calderwood cautions: "Most high school graduates can't pass it." The GED tests mastery of math, science, social studies and language arts.
The GED preparation courses focus on critical thinking and learning the "how" and "why."
"It's how we learn," Calderwood said. Having a teacher stand and lecture in front of a class, for example, "that doesn't work." Students take practice tests and continue their coursework until they're ready to take it, she added.
A new feature this year is a private gift offering students $200 when they enroll in the GED courses, and $100 for each test they pass. The offer ends Dec. 31.
To prepare for that GED test, or a homeschool degree, PRCLC has science, math, English and enrichment offerings for homeschool students.
Tuesdays offers classes such as art, self defense, library skills and archery.
Classes for kindergarten through sixth graders are offered on Wednesday, covering cooking, Colorado history, body systems, and Lego robotics and science taught by Danny Jaques, with the same classes offered for middle school and high school students on Thursdays.
Karen Edmonds, the PRCLC home school coordinator, said classes will start the first week of September.
There are other services available through PRCLC as well. The centers are virtual sites for the Colorado Workforce Center, meaning that job hunters don't have to go to Durango to look for a job. Cecilia Robbins handles enrollment for all students and helps them with referrals for other services if needed, such as food stamps, a probation officer or childcare. Daycare is offered to students' children on the Ignacio campus while they're taking classes.
An English as a Second Language class will start later this fall.
The Ignacio campus is made up of three modular buildings, and a $25,000 grant from the LPEA Round Up Foundation provided money recently to fix roofs and crumbling foundations.
"We're cramped for space," Calderwood said.
A back-to-school pizza party will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Ignacio campus. The $200 stipend is available for home school students this fall, as well.