As we reach the end of summer and students have settled back into a rhythm at school, I want to boast of the strides made by our Southeast youth and our entire community, especially after a trying year and a half. As a former science teacher at Carmel Middle School, and still an occasional substitute for Harrison School District 2, I see a remarkable resilience among our students and families. I am proud of the extraordinary work being done in our community these past several years. From young to old, and from our first urban renewal project to the planned S. Academy and other local road improvements, I have seen much to be encouraged about.
Harrison School District 2’s partnership with Pikes Peak Community College is one point of accomplishment that always comes to mind. For many years, Harrison and Sierra High School students have had the opportunity to advance their studies by taking concurrent college courses to accelerate their education. From 2016 - 2021, an amazing 1,280 students participated in the program with more than 18,000 college credit hours earned. School District 11 and others can also proudly highlight their utilization of the same program. Additionally, the district has collaborated with PPCC and Dakota Promise to provide every student that graduates from HSD2 two years of free tuition at PPCC — this equates to a free associate degree or certificate for various programs. I encourage students to research and take advantage of these great opportunities.
Another great example of community involvement and improvements for our area is the ongoing Panorama Park renovation. I remember one day while I was substituting, where all the students were discussing the park renovation. This was a couple of years back and the city had just learned of their successfully winning a parks’ grant and students were encouraged to offer ideas of what should be included there. From basic playground equipment to sports courts, the students were clearly excited and looking forward to what might come. Once completed, it will be a showcase for our community and a gathering place for our Southeast families.
These ongoing park renovation efforts also encouraged additional collaboration with a proposed art project for the site. This new attraction will be a tile art mural that is currently being used to encourage community involvement. The mural will include more than 7,000 ceramic tiles made by residents, which will then be used to create two beautiful mosaics that celebrate the diversity of southeast Colorado Springs. I made a couple of these tiles myself at the recent car show held at Sierra High School. The Pikes Peak Library District Sand Creek Branch was there with tiles for attendees to customize, and they will continue to host events and workshops until all of the tiles are complete. Please check with the library for an opportunity to add your own personal touch to the tile mural.
Also, one of the annual efforts I am proud of supporting and seeing our Southeast community promote is the scholarship program run by El Cinco de Mayo Inc. I thank them for their continuing support to underserved local students attempting to earn a college or trade school education. I was able to meet many of the new student awardees at the recent scholarship reception. El Cinco de Mayo Inc., has done our community proud with more than $300,000 raised and donated to local student scholarships over the past two decades. It was clear in speaking with these students that we have a great new generation with great promise and potential to lead our city and county in the coming years.
Finally, as a former teacher and county commissioner who lives in the Southeast, I have had the privilege to meet and work with many local leaders and organizations working for the benefit of our community. I ask that you seek them out and support their efforts. Additionally, our local school districts and nonprofits, as well as the county and city are always looking for good volunteers. If you have the time, apply for a volunteer position on one of the many boards and commissions. It is a way to have your voice heard and the interests of our community represented. Go to bocc.elpasoco.com/volunteer to learn more about El Paso County boards and commissions or to coloradosprings.gov/boards for Colorado Springs boards and commissions. Our community is strong and is made even stronger with your voice. God bless and enjoy a wonderful day.
Longinos Gonzales serves on the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and represents Southeast Colorado Springs.