Ruggles racking up grant funds

By Teresa L. Benns
CENTER— After counseling Center students for years, school counselor Katrina Ruggles saw a desperate need for more counselors, better programs and greater attention to mental, physical and emotional health for all those attending Center Schools.
Her master’s degree in counseling was not enough to help students successfully overcome all the obstacles they were dealing with – they needed additional tools. So Ruggles set out to find a way to procure funding to afford programs for teen pregnancy prevention, sexual violence in relationships, drug abuse, family violence, academic success, life skills, career preparation, emotional and physical health and many other pressing issues that were keeping Center students from realizing their full potential.
The first grant she applied for didn’t materialize, but she kept applying. Eventually the money started coming in — first a trickle and later in a steady surge. From 2010 the money piled up, until eventually Ruggles was acknowledged for bringing in an amazing $3.5 million dollars in grant funds to the school, over $1 million in grants just in the past year.
With a state legislature that has underfunded education for decades, it was the only way to raise the extra money the school needed to crest the hill of poverty and disadvantage and to level the educational playing field. It was her “passion,” Ruggles said, a passion that has produced solid benefits for countless kids.
That passion was evident in Ruggles’ fight to keep abstinence classes in the school, helping students prepare for marriage and eventually parenting with “Love and Logic classes.” “Abstinence education is really marriage education,” Ruggles explained. “Most people want to be married, so we teach people how to have healthy relationships. Abstinence should be the norm, not the exception.” She also sponsored teen parenting courses.
And Ruggles has been recognized for her hard work.
In October of 2012, she was flown to Washington, D.C. to participate in a U.S. Dept. of Education ceremony honoring her and the entire Center High School staff for the progress being made at Center Schools. “Katrina was the only rural school representative at this special ceremony honoring this work, which she has helped us to accomplish through the acquisition of various grants,” former Center Schools Supt. George Welsh said at the time Ruggles received her award. Center was one of two Colorado schools represented for progress in education.
Ruggles said her trip to Washington really began in 2010 when she gave a keynote speech during a grant presentation program. An individual approached her after the speech ended and asked if she would like to become involved in with the National Civil Community Corps (NCCC).
During her meeting with U.S. Dept. of Education head Arne Duncan, Ruggles says she pointed to Center successes with third-grade students and how the school has improved the rate of those advancing to college from high school. In 2004 the rate for Center was 20 percent which in 2011 year grew to 70 percent.
“We need resources,” Ruggles explained to Duncan. “This is what we can accomplish when we have them. We need to invest in teachers and more programs.”
In 2015, Ruggles was named San Luis Valley Teacher of the Year. A press release describing the award detailed all the programs instituted and refined by Ruggles, including a comprehensive Individual Career and Academic Planning (ICAP) process and Senior Seminar. The press release concluded that these programs have shown effectiveness when it comes to Center High School graduates applying for and being awarded scholarships to college, and when it comes to actually attending college and being successful while there.
Center superintendent of schools George Welsh said of Ruggles’ 2015 award: “Center High School and the Center Consolidated School District has received much recognition during the past several years, from numerous Center of Educational Excellence Awards to Healthy Schools Champion recognition, to All State School Board, and recently the announcement that Kevin Jones as Colorado High School Principal of the Year.
“It is my opinion that without the great work Katrina Ruggles has been doing on behalf of our children none of this would have been accomplished.  She is truly worthy of this award.”
This year the Center community can thank her for all the wrap-around services the school is able to offer thanks to the grant monies she has applied for. These services include additional elementary school counselors, a behavioral health specialist, funding for Ears (Expelled and At-Risk Services), overall school health services, marijuana prevention classes, increased parent engagement and much more.
“The great thing is they don’t have to pay for the counseling and it is done right here on the school campus,” Ruggles said. This avoids early release for counseling sessions and incudes students who otherwise would not be able to afford counseling.
Interim Superintendent Lori Cooper is thrilled about the success of Ruggles’ grants. “Fifteen grant people are bringing in these new programs,” Cooper said Tuesday. “All of these positions are at no cost to the school. This community loves Katrina and the work she has done.”
Next week in Part II: Proven success of Ruggles grant-funded programs