As one of seven student ambassadors selected to show Gov. Jared Polis around Harrison High school Tuesday, senior Jarrett Morris wanted Colorado’s leader to know that the stereotypes about his school are false.

“I want the governor to see even though we’re not on the prettiest side of Colorado Springs and we’re known for being the ghetto, we’re not,” he said while anxiously waiting for Polis to arrive.

“Our school colors are black, white and gray, and they represent the students,” said Morris, who’s been involved with football, wrestling, track, the choir and drama programs. “We’re all kinds of people. We’re a big family. And we’re loved.”

That sentiment also was in the forefront of Karla Almaraz’s mind.

“The reputation that we aren’t a great school is not true,” said Almaraz, a senior leader in Harrison’s Junior ROTC program.

“When you look at our test scores, our sports, our drill team, our marching band, it shows we’re different,” she said, “and I hope the governor sees that as well.”

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After hearing students, including Morris and Almaraz, talk about how a new scholarship program that provides free tuition, textbooks and academic support for two years of education at Pikes Peak Community College will make college a reality, and touring advanced government classes, a program for aspiring teachers and the automotive tech center, Polis said he was impressed.

The Dakota Promise, the new scholarship program funded by the Dakota Foundation and the Legacy Institute in partnership with Harrison School District 2 and PPCC, is “really a model for the state,” Polis said, and “a way to address the education inequities.”

PPCC chose D-2 for the program because of its underserved enrollment: 78% of students are from low-income households that qualify for the federal government’s free and reduced lunch program, 76% identify as minorities, and only 80% of students graduate.

Between the scholarship initiative, a ninth-grade reading intervention program to lower the dropout rate and the advanced International Baccalaureate program that starts in the fall, Harrison is breaking down barriers to higher education and improving affordability for all students, Polis said.

Almaraz told Polis she’s been accepted for the new scholarship program and will study nursing in the fall at PPCC.

Without the free tuition and other assistance the scholarship provides, Almaraz said she’d have to work to help her parents, who are undocumented, and would not be able to afford to attend college.

“I’ll be a first-generation college student,” she said. “This scholarship provides a good steppingstone. I wanted to apply as soon as I heard about it.”

“We’ve been saying ‘everyone can go to college,’ but that’s not true. There are financial barriers for families,” said D-2 Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel. “This makes that statement true.”

Students were excited the governor selected their school for his visit, a decision announced Monday afternoon, said Harrison High Principal Peter Vargas.

“The eyes of Colorado are upon us,” he said. “We could see and feel their excitement. Everybody wants to meet him.”

Harrison High has “worked really hard to be where we are now,” said junior Janeth Gomez. “The atmosphere has changed.”

“We’re changing the school spirit and the academics with us going to IB,” agreed senior Olivia Fernandez. “Harrison is a good school, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Democratic State Rep. Tony Exum Sr. of Colorado Springs, who also attended Tuesday’s gubernatorial visit, said the strides Harrison has made in curriculum, test scores and attitude has resulted in “a greater pride” and demonstration of the desire to do better.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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