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Center graduate embarks on BEST documentary

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 12th, 2013

BEST Colorado executive producer Stefan Welsh, right, interviews Creede's Tomkins True Value Sales Manager Luana Arnold, left, about the possibility of a new school while Chase Wheeler, BEST Colorado photography director, seated, looks to catch a perfect moment with his camera. Store manager Delano Velasquez smiles in the background after successfully completing a documentary interview. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

VALLEY — When Stefan Welsh graduated from Center High School (CHS) in 2007, he had no idea he would someday return to celebrate a great many changes.

With a degree in media production, Welsh, 24, Denver, is regularly returning to the Valley between trips around the state to capture the impacts of the Colorado Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program with his camera. For two years, he has been working on a documentary, BEST Colorado, to raise awareness of those who have championed the cause for building new schools and upgrading school environments in the state.

“This is important to me because I grew up in Center where we now have a BEST school,” Welsh said about the project after a morning of filming the beginnings of the BEST process in Creede last month. “It is a community that is pretty poor. When I say poor, I mean in terms of the school and its kids.”

Besides having a poverty rate hovering around 90 percent, CHS was trying to meet 21st century goals in a 100-year-old building, which is not an uncommon sight throughout the state or the nation. On average, schools throughout America are at least 40 years old, and Colorado schools are often over 50 years old.

“The school (CHS) did what they could with what they had until they had help from the state and the BEST program,” Welsh said. “Now you go to Center and you see this nice, new school. Everyone is really excited about it.”

Excitement has been mounting across the state since the program started in 2008, and Welsh has seen much of the reaction from behind a camera lens. After realizing such a reality, he is ready to share the story with the world, but he needs a little help. He launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month and his goal is to raise $11,000 by Monday, Apr. 8, 1:30 p.m. EDT. He must meet or exceed his goal to access any of the pledges.

“The goal of this project is to create a documentary that acknowledges the people and legislation that are helping to improve the ever aging school buildings of Colorado,” Welsh stated on the project site. “By launching this Kickstarter campaign, we hope to build our audience and deliver the film to those who will either benefit from the efforts portrayed in the film or contribute to them.”

After traveling around the state in 2011 with his camera to document the fine points of the original Lobato case, he witnessed first hand the condition of Colorado schools.

“That is what opened my eyes to the BEST program,” Welsh explained. “I grew up in Center and I knew it had buildings that weren’t great. Then I went to the northern part of the state and I saw the same thing. I went to the southeastern part of the state and I saw the same exact thing. Out west, it’s the same deal. It is a bigger issue than a lot of people think.”

In Center alone, it is a “huge deal.”

“My community is important to me and I saw that my community was impacted by this,” Welsh said. “A lot of people that I talk to say they have a new born pride in the school and in the community itself. They say you wouldn’t even think that you are in Center when you are inside that building, which is huge.”

He has yet to encounter any other opinion, and he still marvels at the state’s independent decision to improve educational environments for as many students as possible.

“I don’t know if they (education advocates) saw the writing on the wall, but they came down to the Valley in 2007 and saw the conditions and saw that something needed to be changed,” Welsh said. “No courts made the decision for them and told them that they needed to create this program. They all say it lets us know that we care about the kids. That is what it does for the kids. That is what communities do. It is literally letting them know that they matter.”

Welsh is working with his former Hasting College classmate Chase Wheeler, 23, Littleton, to bring the BEST story to the big screen.

“I have experienced the value and merits of an education in which a student is cared for as well as the results when they are disregarded,” Wheeler stated on the project site. “I feel that this film will benefit residents of Colorado, and set an example for the rest of the educational institutions in this country. This film has the potential to open many eyes not only across Colorado, but the United States as a whole.”

Visit the BEST Colorado Kickstarter site to learn more about the project or to donate to the cause: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stefanwelsh/best-colorado

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