The Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services gives students the opportunity to study what they're passionate about, leading directly to fulfilling careers. Yampah Mountain High School senior Blake Riley, above, works on constructing a Glenwood Springs home. Courtesy photo.

Often, students graduate from high school wishing they had acquired skills more aligned with the line of work they go into. That is, in part, why organizations like the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services (CRBOCES) exist; to give students the opportunity to study what they already know they’re curious about, leading more directly to fulfilling careers. 

CRBOCES serves students who wish to get involved with organizations and businesses that provide a hands-on learning environment. Students interested in alternative education are served from Debeque to Aspen, with the CRBOCES headquarters in Parachute. CRBOCES also runs Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs.

CRBOCES’ mission is expansive. “[In] some of the districts, we support special-ed,” explained Executive Director , Ken Haptonstall. “[In] other districts, like Roaring Fork, we support the CTE (Career and Technology Education) work we’re doing [and] alternative licensure for teachers. We’re an organization that reduces costs, because we do things for multiple districts. They all pay in for a membership and then we collaboratively make things happen for them at a reduced rate, and hopefully with better service.”

“The state average is that roughly 50% of kids go to college and about 28% of those kids graduate college,” said Haptonstall. “In our mind, it’s like, ‘Why aren’t we finding better ways to educate kids so when they graduate high school they can have a viable job?’” 

Recently, CRBOCES teamed up with a new organization, Copper Key Tiny Homes based out of Rifle. Copper Key constructs tiny homes and, depending on zoning approval, will develop a tiny home community near Rifle High School. Copper Key pitched its business proposal at this year’s Coventure Mountain Pitch event. Coventure Executive Director Mike Lowe, who also does work for CRBOCES, connected CRBOCES and Copper Key. 

According to the initiative, students will earn school credit for helping (and learning) to construct tiny homes. While Copper Key awaits zoning approval for its development, the collaboration is not contingent upon it. Regardless of the outcome, CRBOCES will provide space for the construction of tiny homes to be put on the market. 

Together the two organizations make up the EPIC Center Featuring Tiny Homes, which was granted up to $350,000 in seed funding from SyncUp Colorado. The award is reserved for “new or existing partnerships between two or more organizations that are developing a breakthrough solution,” reads the SyncUp website, creating “opportunities for young Coloradans to build meaningful careers.”

Not only will the joint effort provide students with practical work experience, but it intends to address a colossal issue: housing security. “The Colorado River BOCES, in partnership with Copper Key Tiny Homes, is thrilled to be awarded the first SyncUp challenge grant in support of our efforts to provide students in the region with skills-based learning that will help to solve the real world problem of affordable housing,” stated Haptonstall. 

Copper Key President Emily Hisel is also “thrilled to be working with CRBOCES on this project.” She added that she and her husband “have two teens in high school and understand how important it is to give these young people opportunities to explore various career paths and gain real-world skills along the way.” She echoed Haptonstall, and hopes “this will bring exposure to tiny homes as a real, quality solution to the housing problems in our area.”

Students can register for the program beginning in January. Because there are projects upvalley that students are already participating in, this endeavor will concentrate on the west-end of the Colorado River Valley, primarily serving students from Debeque to Rifle.

“It’s going to be a game-changer for the industry and our kids, up and down the Valley,” said Haptonstall. Not only will it contribute to a “highly skilled workforce,” he said, “but also a workforce that can make enough money to maybe stay and live.”