Skip To Main Content

D11 Stories Blog


ARELI DIAZ - Lead Toddler Teacher Early Childhood Education

Posted by PATRICIA CLIKEMAN on 3/9/2023 7:00:00 AM

"It takes a big heart to shape little minds."

Areli Diaz

If anyone enters into Areli’s toddler classroom in the Family Literacy Program, you will instantly feel like you are being hugged. Areli took the lead teaching position earlier this school year and has put her mark on the program with her creativity, love of celebrating diversity, and her devotion to working with our multi-lingual toddlers.

Areli began her ECE career in the Adult & Family Education Career Boost Child Development Associates (CDA) program back in 2020. Despite the pandemic and many changes to our classroom environment, Areli persevered to finish her CDA coursework and got a job working for Head Start, all while raising her three children.

After several years teaching as a preschool assistant, Areli joined the Adult and Family Education team as a lead toddler teacher. She is currently preparing to take the CDA exam. Once finished with her CDA credential, Areli plans to get certified to be a Parents As Teachers Home Visitor where teachers work one on one with families to provide education strategies and support services.

The Bijou School Principal Highlighted by Local Non-Profit

Posted by PATRICIA CLIKEMAN on 2/17/2023 3:00:00 PM

The Bijou School and it's amazing Principal Mary-Catherine Ruben-Clapper was recently highlighted by The Mindfulness and Positivity Project (MPP).

Mindfulness and Positivity in Action

Meet Dr. MC
Principal at The Bijou School in District 11

As a child, intently instructing the dolls and stuffed animals neatly lined up in a row on the floor of her bedroom, Mary-Catherine Ruben-Clapper always knew she wanted to be a teacher.  Now, for the last 35 years, Dr. MC has been practicing the art and science of education, thinking and acting outside of the box, and making a distinctive difference in the lives of students who might otherwise never graduate high school.


MPP Co-Founder, Meg Fredrick, with Dr. MC

A powerful dragon protecting her jewels.....

Principal at The Bijou School, an alternative high school in District 11, Dr. MC wrote her doctoral dissertation on how periods of transition in one's life (high school graduation) can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors which ultimately prevent students from graduating.  Addressing students’ thoughts and feelings related to this transition (anxiety, a sense of lost control, or judgment of self-worth) and reappraising how they can succeed, is all part of the work she does on a daily basis.  

Students at The Bijou School face one or more risks factors for becoming lost in the educational system:  learning disabilities, homelessness, foster care, domestic violence, trauma, mental health issues, pregnancy or parenthood, having an incarcerated parent, or involvement with gangs, drugs or alcohol, are some of those factors.  “The students are comfortable in a crisis” but not comfortable with routine tasks such as completing assignments.  Out of 130 students surveyed at the beginning the 2021 school year, not a single student reported having hope for their future.  “If kids don’t see a future, why bother finishing?”

Dr. MC and her fellow teachers all strive to give students an education that serves as a foundation for the rest of their lives, empowering them, giving them hope for their futures, interrupting the cycle of poverty and addiction.  Bijou staff proudly sport “Hope Dealer” hats on Fridays and talk to teens about what they can control in their lives, emphasizing, “Your past does not have to be your future.”  Teachers are constantly thinking outside of the box, getting creative to help students keep up academically while allowing flexibility for life’s uncertainties.  Students may need to drop out for a quarter to find a job and secure housing, or maybe to give birth, and they are welcomed back at any time to finish their degree.

With a background in developmental psychology, Dr. MC knows the importance of mindfulness and positive psychology and tries to lead the way with her staff and students.  Post-pandemic return to work for many teachers came with a lot of fear.  Fear of becoming ill from COVID-19 and fear of expectations from the district.  Schools are evaluated on attendance and growth.  This is a daunting task when 75% of students had two or more risk factors for dropping out even before the pandemic.  That’s when she called The Mindfulness and Positivity Project - she knew she had to address the teachers’ concerns and fears.  MPP weekly coaching programs have helped Bijou educators and students learn and practice regulating their own emotions and reactions.  Teachers, counselors, the dean, and the principal, herself, all take time to calm themselves when dealing with disruptive students.  “So many students have never seen that (regulation of emotion) modeled.”  When teachers can set the tone and manage their own emotions, it helps immensely.  “Students have enough obstacles.  Teachers cannot be an obstacle; they are trying to remove obstacles, not create them.”


Teachers commonly lead students through mindfulness practices, and then students take turns leading a practice.  This is especially important for the Restorative Justice Circle, when students come together and learn to repair harm to relationships after an incident.  When students break rules or act out, Dr. MC seeks restorative action, not punitive.  “They need counseling, not more punishment.”  An education at The Bijou School includes learning conflict resolution and social skills, persistence, grit, regulation of emotion, mindfulness.  “Our kids do not know how to sit and attend, they don’t know how to be quiet, settled…we have to show there is a way to be quiet.”  

A perfect example of teaching students how to regulate emotions and behaviors is Bijou’s “Red Cool Down Pass” that may be used when a student recognizes they might “lose it.”  The student may take the pass to leave class and go to the dean’s or the principal’s office.  Once there, they may use the “Yellow Ready to Talk” pass to speak with a counselor, the dean, or principal, or they may use the “Green Ready to Go Back to Class” pass to return to class and catch up on missed work.  Acquiring this simple strategy of recognizing when emotional pressure is building and being able to step away from a potential conflict in order to cool down is essential for success in life for everyone.  

The Bijou School and its mascot, a dragon presenting a jewel, aptly symbolize how Dr. MC and her staff value their students, their education, and their potential.   “Bijou'' is French for “gem” and the dragon is a powerful guardian, protecting each precious gem of a student as they discover the possibilities that await them in their lives.  The Mindfulness and Positivity Project is proud to partner with The Bijou School, we are inspired by their dedication to the profession of teaching, and we admire the great work they do in our community.

The Mindfulness and Positivity Project is a non-profit organization devoted to empowering organizations of all kinds with the tools needed to foster a truly mindful and positive culture.

Goals and a Career Within Reach

Posted by PATRICIA CLIKEMAN on 2/3/2023 4:00:00 PM


The road to college may feel daunting to some, but for 17-year-old Elizabeth Ann Burt, a senior at Odyssey Early College and Career Options, the idea of college was one she would pursue with vigor. Elizabeth has been a student at Odyssey for four years and says the people at her school helped her earn 63 transferable college credits, acceptance into the prestigious St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, and a scholarship of over $130,000.

“Without Odyssey ECCO as a whole, or Dr. Mike Lamphere and Mrs. Angela Banfield, I wouldn’t be able to say that I’m graduating college as a 17-year-old. For four years, Odyssey has been my home, whether it was talking with Dr. Lamphere about my resume or music or standing with Mrs. Banfield as we taught journalism. I’ve grown up on the RJAWC campus, these people have seen me grow, and they have helped me every step of the way. I love them with every part of who I am because they have shown me love, compassion, and kindness,” says Elizabeth.

As impressive as all this is, this isn’t the only achievement on Elizabeth’s brag sheet. She’s also been a member of the Odyssey student leadership link crew, a member of the National Junior Honors Society, and a Pikes Peak State College Student Government Public Relations Senator. She’s been involved with her church, her school, and her community, and her service is paying off.

Elizabeth is pursuing a bachelor's degree in English Literature and would like to double major in Secondary Education. It seems her team of educators at Odyssey has had a lasting impression that will lead to more children being inspired when Elizabeth enters her career. “Without them, I wouldn’t be thinking about becoming a teacher or possibly going to law school. Without the things that they helped me build, I wouldn’t be able to look back on everything I did in high school and know that I built a legacy and that I ‘rose’ to the occasion. RISE is not just a [school] motto, it's the entire way of life at Odyssey, and I hope I have lived up to it.”

Buena Vista's Sustainable Lunch Trays Initiative

Posted by PATRICIA CLIKEMAN on 12/12/2022 9:00:00 AM

After months of research, planning, cooperation and coordination, Buena Vista is now one huge step closer to zero waste for its lunch program by replacing foam lunch trays with reusable ones.


This sustainability initiative aligns with Buena Vista's Montessori's commitment to creating a structured Montessori environment where children experience beauty and independence. With so much awareness about trash on our planet, implementing reusable trays is a source of happiness and empowerment for BV kids and adults alike!

Thank you to Buena Vista's Leading Lunch Lady, Tammy Burghart, and the school administration for their dedication to positive change, and to the Buena Vista PTA, SAC and the students of Buena Vista for their vision and support of this important project.

Tammy Burghart


Friendships Make Everything Better

Posted by Devra Ashby on 11/8/2022 11:00:00 AM

Taking a trip down memory lane, this story may remind some of the nervous excitement they felt when starting middle school or what some remember as junior high school. Knowing you’ll soon begin a new journey in a big school filled with people you know, and many you don’t know, can certainly get the adrenaline flowing! Those feelings are where we begin this D11 story.

When Raelyn, a new 6th-grader at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, started at Jenkins Middle School last year, she worried that she wouldn’t have any friends. That was until she met Jaycen. Jaycen, at the time, was also a 6th grader. Jaycen ultimately became Raelyn’s best friend, and now that the two of them are 7th graders, they seem to finish each other's sentences!

Their principal, Mr. Jackowski, says developing friendships in middle school is key to a successful transition from elementary to middle school. “That’s why I encourage kids to get involved in clubs and activities to build that sense of belonging.”  


Sharing the same likes, such as chocolate ice cream and their favorite gaming app, these two students have supported each other during difficult times. They even share a birthday! Raelyn says, “the most important reason he became my friend is that he likes me for who I am, and I get to be myself around him. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not.” This is an important lesson for us all!  



To Protect and Serve: The story of one excellent D11 security guard

Posted by Devra Ashby on 8/25/2022 7:00:00 AM


Walking into the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus, you may have the pleasure of being greeted by Omar Gul Stanekzai. Although relatively new to the D11 family, Omar flashes a bright smile and welcomes you with a warm greeting. He will tell you it is an honor to serve as a D11 security guard, helping protect students and adults in his school. But it really is our honor to have someone like Omar in our school because, you see, Omar’s journey to this point has been quite phenomenal.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Omar graduated from high school in 2008 and joined the Afghan Air Force, receiving helicopter engineering and mechanical training from Mongolian instructors. Out of 46 students, he received top honors and wowed his trainers. Working his way up through the ranks, Omar soon became a supervisor of other helicopter mechanics, continuing to gain recognition for his outstanding work. One day, his dream of becoming a pilot was about to come true. The Afghan Air Force Commander saw Omar’s dedication and sent him to officer training, where he  graduated as 2nd Lieutenant.


Omar qualified and received a pilot scholarship, which provided him the opportunity to come to the United States and attend the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and the United States Army Aviation Training Center at Fort Rucker Army Post in Alabama. He received training on three different types of helicopters and put that training to use when he returned home to Afghanistan. From there, he went on to fly many combat missions, saving lives and serving his country. Working “shoulder by shoulder” with American NATO soldiers, Omar says they fought against terrorism for an opportunity for democracy and peace in Afghanistan.


On August 14, 2021, when the United States military forces and diplomats pulled out of Afghanistan upon the President’s orders, the Taliban entered the Afghan capital of Kabul. Omar shared that this day was the darkest day of his life. He lost everything he worked so hard to achieve with his military career. He contacted his American friends and instructors and asked for help. Within days, he arrived in the United States and began the emigration process with his family at Virginia’s Quantico Marine Camp. There, he became the head representative for 6,500 Afghan refugees, receiving an award from a two-star general and a marine camp commander for his leadership.

Omar, his wife, and his daughter fled Afghanistan and made Colorado Springs their new home on December 8, 2021. He still reflects on his military career with many memories, some great and some not so great. Omar says living in the United States allows his daughter to go to great schools and college. He says it will provide his wife the opportunity to receive career training. He is happy to see his family thrive here because, after all, “USA is the land of opportunity.”

Thank you, Omar, for sharing your story, and we look forward to seeing the future chapters now that you are part of the D11 family!



North Middle School Student Recognized for Heroic Actions During a Crisis

Posted by Devra Ashby on 6/2/2022 7:00:00 AM

Ignatius Barajas and Ms. Bricker

Ms. Bricker is a social studies teacher at North Middle School. Earlier this school year, one of the students in Ms. Bricker’s class started having a seizure. While it is natural to freeze up during a medical crisis like this, one student jumped into action to help Ms. Bricker by alerting the front office, moving furniture and objects out of the way, and keeping the area clear so Ms. Bricker could assist the student seizing. That student was 7th grader Ignatius Barajas. Yesterday, the Interim Superintendent, Dr. Nicholas Gledich, and Board of Education Director, Julie Ott, presented Ignatius with a certificate of appreciation for his heroic actions and quick thinking.

Holmes & Odyssey Early College and Career Options at FCCLA State Conference

Posted by Devra Ashby on 4/20/2022 12:00:00 PM

On April 14 – 16, 25 students participated in an inspiring weekend of competition, recognition, and leadership development for the Holmes & Odyssey Early College and Career Options FCCLA members who attended the 2022 Colorado FCCLA State Conference. The conference took place at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel. Members had opportunities to engage in workshops and showcase the leadership skills they developed throughout the year.


2022 FCCLA State Team


Holmes Middle School had 11 students competing, while Odyssey ECCO FCCLA Chapter had 15 members experience all the conference activities. From state officers hosting attendees through all the general sessions, highlighting chapters for their advocacy of family and consumer sciences, to the outside speakers shared their leadership tips and hints, students were able to gain valuable leadership skills from this conference. 

On Thursday, students experienced workshops and began competitions in over 43 competitive events. This year’s Colorado theme was FIND YOUR POWER. The students were challenged to find their own strength and traits within them to participate in the many opportunities the Ultimate Leadership Experience offers. The opening session brought all members, advisers, and guests to kick off this yearly conference. 

Friday was filled with competitive events, a college expo and networking opportunities.

The students, advisers and guests enjoyed a delicious banquet meal and state awards. Annie Friesema and Andrea Aragon, Odyssey ECCO FCCLA Advisers, both received the National FCCLA Mentor Adviser Award. Mrs. Friesema was also awarded the Colorado Outstanding District Consultant award. Kelly Gauck, the Holmes FCS (Family and Consumer Sciences) teacher received a 10-year adviser award. Holmes FCCLA Chapter won three awards; Community Service, Membership and received the Gold Merit chapter. 

All the time and effort chapters put into competitive events paid off! Holmes’ members competed in seven events. On Saturday morning, the individual awards were announced. Each member received an FCCLA medal, gold, silver, or bronze. 

The following Holmes MS members all won first place in their respective events:  Maverick McDonald in Career Investigation, Kaitlyn Deyoe in National Programs in Action, Campbell Riggs in Teach in Train, Elsie Walker in Nutrition & Wellness, Bryce McDonald, Sam Wilshusen & Jett Friesema together as a team in Sports Nutrition, Lillie Rice in Promote & Publicize FCCLA! Olivia White in Professional Presentation, Olivia Erlenbach in Chapter in Review Display. Kiley Romero earned a silver in her Chapter in Review Portfolio. Each student planned, prepared, and presented their STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) event using the FCCLA detailed rubrics. All competitors that place first or second qualify to attend the 2022 National FCCLA Leadership Conference held in beautiful San Diego, CA on June 28 - July 3. 


2022 FCCLA State Team


The following Odyssey ECCO FCCLA members in the Education & Training Pathway placed first in their events: Ava Friesema (Coronado) & Haley Cross (Palmer) in Focus on Children, Riley Walker, and Madeline Jonasen (Coronado) in Promote and Publicize, Makenzie Hartman (Coronado) in Teach & Train, Jordan Hamilton (Odyssey ECCO) in Career Investigation. Taiyah Mooney (Coronado) placed second in Say YES to FCS, and Brithany Garces (Odyssey ECCO) placed third in Career Investigation.  

Odyssey ECCO FCCLA members in the Hospitality & Tourism Pathway received the following medals: Aidan Roberts (Achieve) and Canyon Sweum (Palmer) - silver in Culinary Arts, Kevin Moreno Silva (Palmer) and Olivia Schwarz (Bijou) - silver in Gourmet Food Presentation Savory, Emma Duran (Odyssey) – silver in Hospitality, Tourism, and Recreation, and Wynter Kelley (Coronado) - bronze in Entrepreneurship. Olivia Vasquez (Bijou) served as a student judge for Gourmet Food Presentation Sweet.  


2022 FCCLA State Team


Colorado FCCLA is one of 52 state chapters of National Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. FCCLA is a Career and Technical Student Organization focusing on family, career preparation, and leadership development. Colorado FCCLA started in 1946 and has grown to over 132 chapters with over 1,100 members. Participation with FCCLA including competitive events, chapter activities, and leadership opportunities can lead to a brighter future for all members. National FCCLA began in 1945 and is strong with over 165,000 members, making FCCLA one of the largest student organizations in the world. FCCLA is the Ultimate Leadership Experience. 

Martinez Students’ Science Play Kicks Off 16-School Tour

Posted by Devra Ashby on 4/5/2022 11:30:00 AM


Trudy Ann is a doll who likes gumballs and catapults. Her best friend is a beach ball. And she’d do anything to escape the toy store! That’s the premise of “Push, Pull, Split, Spin,” a new science play by Martinez Elementary students.

The show is touring D11 elementary schools for the next six weeks.

Science to Stage

Melissa O’Rear and Jen Lennon dreamed up Science to Stage last fall. “I love what happens when science and story collide,” Mrs. O’Rear says.


Karl Heffernan and Annie Weaver welcomed Mrs. O’Rear into their classroom for three weeks. In one session, the fifth-graders wrote and performed infomercials advertising how simple machines make work easier. Another time, a guest speaker from Mad Science brought in cool gadgets to explore.

Then the writing process began. The students brainstormed a setting, characters and plot. After deciding that Trudy Ann’s inventor fills his store with traps, the students had to design escape plans using simple machines. They also put actors on the Hot Seat, asking rapid-fire questions to help shape each character.

Theatre Across Borders, Mrs. O’Rear’s theatre company, brought the students’ ideas to life with a script that showcases all six simple machines: lever, pulley, wheel and axle, inclined plane, wedge and screw.“We really encourage a ‘yes-and’ mindset,” Mrs. O’Rear says, “We wanted every student to see their unique contributions in the final script.”


“It was the first play I had ever heard,” fifth-grader Victoria C. says, “and it’s the best story ever!”

Hit the Road

Once the script was complete, the actors only had 10 days to rehearse. Kate Hertz, Tracy Taylor and Sean Verdu had to memorize their lines and get comfortable using the play’s machines, including a catapult, seesaw, puppet stage and skateboard.

“This show came together very quickly,” Sean Verdu says with a laugh.

“Push, Pull, Split, Spin” had its big premiere on Monday, April 4, at Scott Elementary. They’ve still got 15 schools to go, plus four performances at the Millibo Art Theatre (April 23 and 30). Tickets to the Millibo shows are on sale at

“The cast has been amazing,” Mrs. O’Rear says, “Now we get to share this play with 1,400 students!”

Palmer Athlete Scores Forever Family

Posted by Devra Ashby on 4/1/2022 12:00:00 PM

Alyssa Trujillo


Alyssa Rodriguez-Trullijo may be known for finishing in the top 20 in the city for scoring during the Palmer high school girls basketball season, but she has a story that goes much deeper. You see, this Palmer junior was in the foster system for nearly a decade.

“Right now, I should be in legal trouble," explains Rodriquez-Trujillo. "I shouldn't be doing well in school. I shouldn't be playing this sport. I kind of beat the odds. I did not grow up like any other teenage or little kid."

Alyssa’s story started when her biological mom and dad lost custody of her and her two siblings due to neglect and addiction behaviors. Basketball became her lifeline. Leaning on her adult support system, she established a trusting relationship with her coach, Eric Trujillo. One day, Coach Trujillo got a call from Alyssa’s caseworker letting him know they would soon be moving her to another city.

"So, my wife and I were like man if we can keep her here for a little bit - so temporally until they find her a permanent place in foster care. And then temporary - after a few weeks - turned into a couple of months, a couple of months turned into six months, six months turned into permanency placement, and then it turned into ‘we love this kid now’ and it just happened,” says Trujillo.

In March of this year, Alyssa was adopted by Coach Trujillo and his family, making their home her permanent home. "I am just really excited to welcome Alyssa into our home and officially call you my daughter," added Mrs. Trujillo.

So often we hear how D11 really is a family. In this case, that means so much more to Alyssa and the Trujillo family. #D11fam #D11Stories

*Story adapted from and credited to Jake Gadon/KOAA News 5