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By Alexander Rea

Wheat Ridge High School has been making Farmers for a long time, established in 1886 to be exact. That long standing success is there because administrators have reacted accordingly to hurdles along the way. First year Principal Josh Cooley has his sights set on one of his first hurdles with getting more students to attend the Farm.

“If you look at the overall trend of Wheat Ridge High School for the past six years, although we’ve had spikes here and there, there has been a general decline in enrollment. So it was actually brought up in my interview, in regard to how I would address the issue,” said Cooley.

The location of Wheat Ridge presents the challenge of a large field of competition for other schools to attract students from surrounding areas. Just to name a few, schools like Lakewood High School, Golden High School, Thomas Jefferson High School, and Arvada West High School are all logical alternatives for Wheat Ridge-based lives.

“In this day and age, there is a lot of choice out there. The kids who live right across the street aren’t going to come here just because they live across the street. So how do we do a better job of marketing ourselves, so kids choose to come to Wheat Ridge,” Cooley explained.

Under the auspices of the Wheat Ridge Community Foundation, the high school even purchased an advertisement within the Neighborhood Gazette that mentioned numerous successful Farmer graduates in all types of work.

“I think there are some really great programs that we offer, that have been here for a long time, people just may not be aware of them. So it’s our job to bolster that awareness, to help get these great programs some attention,” added Cooley.

Principal Cooley also targeted the revamping of the Fall Showcase to help improve awareness of academics. The Showcase acts as a preview into the school year, mostly directed at incoming freshman and their families.

“When we did our Showcase night back in November, I asked the head of each department, to talk academically about the things we do. We didn't leave out sports and activities, as they are important to high school life, but first and foremost is our academics,” said Cooley.

While attending Wheat Ridge High School, one thing I remember noticing about school culture was how athletics were the only thing people were talking about. I don't believe that sports are the only thing that people cared about, but it wasn't until the emergence of the STEM/STEAM programs that the athletic conversation was really contested.

“It’s easy to fall into; look, I love our athletic programs; they are very important, but at the same time we are here for academics. That is why this school was built, to prepare kids for the real world,” said Cooley.

On top of wanting to give out a great education, schools need more enrollment of students as it is directly tied to funding. According to Jefferson County Public Schools’ 2017/18 Budget Plan, each school receives $7,483 per pupil just from the state itself. So the more students that attend a school on a regular basis, the more available funds for that school.

“I love the idea of attracting students from other areas, but right now I want to focus on who are  the ones that live in our attendance area but are thinking of attending another school, and why that is? So that’s my next step, asking those students why they chose another school, and making sure they were aware of everything we have to offer. I don’t expect to change their minds, but that is good information that we can use moving forward,” said Cooley.

It’s important for high schools to keep in contact with surrounding elementary and middle schools as they all eventually feed into the high school population.

“We’ve also opened up more involvement with Everitt Middle School and Manning Middle School to help point those students our way,” stated Cooley.

This is similar to the action that was taken when I was at Prospect Valley Elementary in Kindergarten. I remember taking a class field trip to the high school where we attended a event in the gym. Everyone in my class wore shirts stating the scheduled year of our high school graduation, “Class of 2016.” So we knew right then and there, we were all lined up to attend Wheat Ridge High School.

“That’s something I would love bring back, or at least those type of community events. I want kids in fourth grade to know that they are future Farmers. That's something that is going to develop as I familiarize myself with the surroundings,” said Cooley.

It hasn’t even been a full year of service for Cooley, but his energy and ideas shine bright to accompany the blue and gold. He even admits his work is still cut out for him.

“Still have a lot to do, but we have made some good steps.”