Short Film: Standing with Center |

9th Grade Success in the San Luis Valley

STAND for children colorado | A Gary Community Ventures grantee

In 2019, the small town of Center, Colo. saw their high school graduation rates drop to the lowest in the state. Now, they’re among the highest. This is a story about how the town’s high school and the Center for High School Success came together, using the 9th Grade Success grant program to help their kids and community get back-on track.

The 9th Grade Success grant program is now serving 1,800 students across Colorado, and the data tells us 180 more of those students will graduate as a result of this highly proven, data-driven program.

There are 70,104 ninth graders in Colorado. In the 2024 legislative session, through HB24-1282, state lawmakers have the opportunity help this program reach more of those kids with a data-driven, preventative program that has consistently demonstrated a high return on investment.

How Do We Know 9th Grade Success Works?

From Fort Collins to Pueblo, from Arvada to Denver, from Center to Cortez, there are 18 Colorado schools that have activated the 9th Grade Success grant program for their students. Why? Because it provides a significant return on investment. We now know students who are “on-track” (meaning they have no more than one F) at the end of their 9th grade year are three times more likely to graduate. Find out how places like Englewood and Poudre high schools have increased their on-track rates by 18% and 13%, respectively. 

Advocate for 9th Grade Success Programming

Decades of research has shown that supporting students by implementing a 9th Grade Success approach improves graduation rates. In fact, students who are “on-track” (meaning they have no more than one F) at the end of their 9th grade year are three times more likely to graduate from high school than their off-track peers. On-track status is a stronger predictor of high school graduation than race/ethnicity, experiences with poverty and test scores combined. Learn how you can advocate for this program in your community.


CO.creator & Associate Producer | Krista Spurgin, Stand for Children Colorado

Krista Spurgin has been with Stand for Children since 2013, serving as the Colorado Government Affairs Director and VP of National Campaigns. She currently serves as the organization’s Colorado Executive Director. Krista was instrumental in leading Stand’s efforts to pass fully funded Full Day Kindergarten as well as the continued progress on Colorado’s early literacy work and READ Act policy. Prior to her time at Stand, Krista worked on several legislative political campaigns across the country, including serving as director of the Senate Caucus in North Carolina.

CO.creator & Associate Producer | Kate Dando Doran, Stand for Children Colorado

Kate is a communications expert specializing in public policy who has previously served as deputy press secretary for U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and an advisor for Holland & Knight LLP. Currently serving as Director of Marketing and Communications for Stand, Kate works to elevate the organization’s efforts to advance educational equity and racial justice in Colorado through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools and policymakers. Raised by educators, Kate is a proud product of Colorado public schools and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

CO.creator & Associate Producer | Vallerie Bustamante, Stand for Children Colorado

As a Digital Organizing Manager at Stand, Vallerie creates spaces where parents and community can grow in leadership and advocacy for their students’ educational experiences. Having been born and raised in Denver, Vallerie is passionate about elevating new and different voices, and is actively working to create a bridge between policymakers and the community to elevate constituents in decision-making processes, whether it is school-based or statewide. 

CO.creator & Associate Producer | Judith Martinez, Colorado Center for High School Success

Judith Martinez grew up in Denver, and has 20+ years of experience serving the public and nonprofit sectors. She received her high school diploma, Bachelor of Arts and master’s degree from Colorado schools. She has been involved in 17 start-up programs and organizations dedicated to education, civic engagement and well-being of children, families and communities. Now serving as the Director of the Colorado Center for High School Success, Judith is embracing the opportunity to support students in reaching their full potential.

CO.creator & Associate Producer | Katrina Ruggles, Center Consolidated School District 26JT 

Katrina is a school district leader with a masters degree in counseling who has consistently demonstrated expertise in acquiring resources for her students, staff and community, with a focus on improving mental, physical and emotional health for all those attending Center Schools. She has been honored by the U.S. Department of Education for the work she has done to elevate communities in rural settings.   

CO.creator & Cinematographer | Armand Velazco, AV Creative

Armand Velazco is a multidisciplinary Peruvian-American filmmaker with more than a decade of experience in multimedia. His work has been showcased through projects with organizations like the Arapahoe Philharmonic, the City and County of Denver, Children’s Hospital of Colorado and Anheuser-Busch. He is passionate about equity and equality in filmmaking and amplifying the voices of underrepresented individuals and communities through storytelling and artistry.

Director | Algernon Felice Jr, Gary Community Ventures

Algernon Felice Jr has been recognized nationally and regionally as an award-winning producer, having won a Chicago/Midwest Emmy® for writing, producing and directing a campaign that explores the humble roots of a historic business. He has also won multiple Wisconsin Broadcasters Association awards for his work in brand development and television production, and was featured on CNN for his filmmaking and cultural storytelling.

Producer | Will C. Holden, Gary Community Ventures

Will C. Holden is a writer, producer, marketer and communicator. He has been award for his storytelling work nationally by the Associated Press and Telly Awards, regionally by the Heartland Emmys and Society of Professional Journalists, and locally by the Colorado Marketing Alliance and Montana Newspapers Association. He strongly believes that partnering with communities to create scalable storytelling can change behaviors, widen cultural perspectives and deepen empathy in meaningful, measurable ways.

Executive Producer | Jill Hawley, Gary Community Ventures

As Vice President of Philanthropy, Jill oversees Gary’s philanthropy team, which works in partnership with the organization’s policy, mission investments, ventures and external affairs teams to improve outcomes for Colorado children and their families. With an MBA from the Harvard and a Bachelor’s in public policy from Stanford, Jill has long used a diverse, cross-sector approach to solve systemic problems at places like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Denver Public Schools and the Colorado Department of Education.

Executive Producer | Angie McPhaul, Gary Community Ventures

Angie McPhaul is the Director of Youth Success at Gary. As the daughter of lifelong educators, she has long been a fan of young people and believer in the power, opportunity and fun in learning. At Gary, she leans on her experience as a teacher, district administrator and public policy expert to lead the organization’s philanthropic work in youth success, including work in academic achievement, youth wellbeing and high school transitions to post-secondary success.

Executive Producer | Chyrise Harris, Gary Community Ventures

As VP of Communications and External Affairs for Gary, Chyrise leads a team of communications, storytelling and partnership experts dedicated to inspiring the community to partner in delivering breakthrough solutions for Colorado kids and families. With over 15 years of brand development and communications experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors at organizations like Siegel+Gale, DaVita and Denver Public Schools, Chyrise believes in the power of communications to connect people, transform opinion and inspire action.

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