Meet Tess Buchannan, senior at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School.

Nestled between rolling green hills in Bellvue, Colorado is a little piece of land where Tess Buchannan's family keeps their four horses. 

It's an idyllic scene, with a gurgling brook, lush grass and a clear blue sky. As soon as Tess steps through the gate into the field, her horses come running.  

"I call this one my black lab, because she's a puppy dog horse," she says, affectionately stroking the velvety nose of black mare named Thea. "She's my best friend."  

The new graduate of Polaris Expeditionary Learning School got her first horse in third grade. This year, she spent hours training an unbroken feral male as part of her senior project.  

"It's a self-guided, massive project about something that you care about," she explained. She began by researching training methods, then began the slow process of trying to teach a horse who was terrified of humans how to trust again. 

"It's unlike anything else, when a huge 1,600 pound animal bonds with you," she says. "It's so special, having this huge, graceful creature decide it's safe with you."  

That was one of dozens of adventures she remembers from her years at Polaris, where she's gone on trips to track wolves through Yellowstone and study archaeology in Virginia.  

"There's something really special about having a small school community," she says. "I know everyone's name. The connections I've made have been the most meaningful part of high school."  

Next year, she plans to study economics at Reed College, a small liberal arts school near Portland. She's particularly excited to take classes in engineering that will train her to manage the school's nuclear reactor, the only one run by undergraduates in the country.  

She hopes to bring at least one of her horses to campus with her in a year or two, but will content herself with the school's horseback riding physical education class until she can be reunited with her best friend. 

Poudre High School leads state in concurrent enrollment

Poudre High School had the fourth highest number of students taking concurrent enrollment classes in the state last school year, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Education.  

Enrollment in the dual-credit college and high school classes skyrocketed by 400 percent between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, principal Kathy Mackay says, due to a change in how the classes are provided to students.  

Poudre High went through a rigorous approval process to become a satellite campus for Front Range Community College, allowing them to offer an unlimited number of concurrent enrollment courses. To do so, teachers with advanced degrees became certified as FRCC instructors.  

"What's great about our staff is that they understand we serve a population with 40 percent of students living in poverty," Mackay explains. "With college being so expensive, we knew that we needed to do everything we can to help our kids earn college credit now."  

Their students earned 3,682 college credits last year, saving about half a million dollars in tuition costs.  

"Poudre has done a great job of demonstrating how to make college classes accessible for all students," Sheila Pottorff, Director of Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness says. "They are a committed community to ensuring students are postsecondary and workforce ready."  

Bridging the gap between high school and college also has the added benefit of helping students to stay more engaged in their learning now.  

"This brings more purpose to high school," Pottorff explains. "We're making connections between what students are learning in high school and that postsecondary content."  

Poudre High School's graduation rate increased by 8 percent last year, and principal Mackay is cautiously optimistic that the improvement is a side effect of higher student engagement.  

"We think that students having that next phase of their life within reach helps them to stay engaged in school," she explains. "These classes may be just enough to keep them engaged and get them across the graduation finish line."  

Overall, Poudre School District ranks sixth in the state for the number of students participating in concurrent enrollment.

Record number of district teams qualify for Odyssey of the Mind World Finals

This year a record 13 teams from PSD qualified to attend the World Finals of Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving competition. PSD elementary school teams earned 8 out of 10 available spots for Colorado teams, and PSD middle school teams earned 5 out of 10.  

The school-sponsored extracurricular activity teaches students critical thinking techniques and teamwork skills as they solve a given problem. Teams are judged in three areas: long-term problem, spontaneous problem and style.  

"It is quite an accomplishment to have so many district teams representing Colorado at World Finals," OM district coordinator Catherine Pawlikowski says. "We can be very proud that our district continues to be a leader within Odyssey of the Mind."  

 Calendar of Events

June 13, 6:30pm, Board of Education business meeting, JSSC, 2407 Laporte Ave.