In this week’s edition of “5 Questions With…,” we interview Bernadine Craft, the Director of Sweetwater BOCES.
For those who aren’t familiar with Sweetwater BOCES could you give us an overview of the organization and what you do?
BOCES stands for “Board of Cooperative Educational Services.” It was created statewide by state statute in the late 1980’s, allowing local school districts and/or college districts to form a partnership, or a BOCES. All Wyoming counties are currently served by a BOCES, with the exception of Laramie County (Cheyenne). All local BOCES have a somewhat different flavor, reflecting the specific needs of the communities they serve. Sweetwater BOCES has three partners: WWCC, School District #1, Rock Springs and School District #2, Green River. We consider the citizens of Sweetwater County to be our fourth partner. We are funded through property taxes levied by our partners: both school districts levy one half of a mill for BOCES work. WWCC levies slightly over three tenths of one mill; these monies are dedicated for dual and concurrent enrollment as well as the “Sweetwater Scholarships.” Sweetwater County is the only county in the state to provide this amazing opportunity for our students.
Why is Sweetwater BOCES important for our community?
SBOCES is, I believe, a critical component of our community primarily through the special programs and services we offer that would otherwise not be available to our students or our community. Because we are able to leverage our funding to reach as many participants as possible, numerous diverse, innovative and creative programs are available to Sweetwater County that would otherwise not be financially possible. SBOCES operates on a granting system, meaning that anyone in the community is welcome to submit a proposal for Board consideration. SBOCES is governed by a Board consisting of two Board members from each of our three partners, School Districts #1 and #2 and WWCC. They meet monthly to consider all grant requests submitted; these grants are in addition to the master grants submitted by our partners, and our line item programs that are funded on an annual basis, such as summer enrichment.
What specific programs and/or organizations does Sweetwater BOCES fund?
Perhaps our best known program is our summer enrichment classes, available at very nominal costs to all Sweetwater County students. Not only is the tuition low, but provisions are made for students receiving free or reduced lunch; it is our philosophy that every student should have an equal opportunity to enroll in these programs. The classes truly offer “something for everyone”: some of the most popular include residence astronomy, horseback riding, summer theatre for youth, school transition programs, lacrosse, summer song and dance, Chinese cooking, technology, summer art camp and many, many others. A number of enrichment programs are offered throughout the school year, including the Children’s Honor Choir, After School strings, Missoula Children’s Theatre, “Buffalo Bill,” Paul Taylor, “Treehouse Shakers” dance/theater troupe, quilting, and science, artist and musician in residence programs, to name a few. Enrichment classes are also available for adults, and include offerings such as “Speaking of the West,” photography, quilting, strings instruction, community choirs in both GR and RS, and “Broadway in Utah” theater trips, to name a few. Both school districts and WWCC submit master grant requests annually, which include a variety of programs such as after school interventions, English Language Learners, adult education and high school equivalency programs, career academies, rural school enrichment programs, technology and STEM programs, driver’s education, and many others.
Are there any programs and/or organizations the Sweetwater BOCES funds that really stand out or that have been especially successful in our community?
A number of our highly successful programs have already been discussed, all of which make a difference to not only our schools but our entire community. While our summer enrichment program has received national recognition for its excellence, another of our most successful programs is the “Sweetwater Scholarships,” available to graduates of the Sweetwater County high schools: RSHS, GRHS, Farson-Eden, Black Butte and Expedition Academy. Once each student has accessed all other scholarships and financial aid options, the WWCC Financial Aid Office bills SBOCES for the remainder of each student’s tuition. This means any Sweetwater County high school graduate choosing to attend WWCC has the opportunity to attend tuition-free for two years. This option is not available anywhere else in Wyoming, and is an educational benefit SBOCES is proud to provide.
How can people find out more information about Sweetwater BOCES?