Dr. Amy Pickens helps BVSD students find a sense of belonging

Impact on Education recognizes that opportunities are not level in education across racial and socioeconomic lines. Our programs and investments help to identify and remove inequities in public education, ensuring all Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) students receive an excellent and equitable education.

Today we want you to meet someone working tirelessly to advance equity from inside the district. Amy (Nelson) Pickens is starting her fourth year working with BVSD administration and currently serves as the Director of Equity and Community Engagement.

We’re also thrilled to share that Amy is one of three new members joining our Board of Directors in September 2023! You’ll learn more about all of our new members soon.

What does equitable education mean to you?

Every stakeholder, every individual in our system – student, staff member, family, community member – exists in a positive and inclusive culture of belonging. Equity is honoring and affirming identities, cultures, individual strengths, language, and interests. 

During the 2022-23 school year Impact on Education provided funding for racial trauma and healing counselors to work with BVSD students and families.

It’s ensuring we are providing equitable opportunities, access, and resources to meet the uniqueness of each of our students. It is when every member of our BVSD community feels seen, heard, valued, and supported within both their school and larger BVSD community. It is all these things and all encompassing – equity touches everything and everyone. It is both individual and collective. It is using an equity lens with every decision we make and honoring the voices closest to the inequity we are trying to address.

Equitable education means that students know that their voices, identities, hopes and dreams, families, and communities are valued.

How did your experiences teaching abroad and in special education help prepare you for this role?

We all view the world through our own unique lens, one that is informed by our education, our beliefs, and our lived experiences. The lens in which I view the world and educational systems was significantly altered after teaching abroad.

I talk often about mirror work and the importance of individual reflection. We need both insight into self and insight into context if we are going to create the change we hope to create.

While working overseas, every one of my students on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was completing the rigorous IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma Programme. Additionally, the vast majority of students I worked with were not learning in their primary language, and many spoke three or more languages. This led me to reflect on my work as a special educator prior to my experience overseas. Was I contributing to other educators viewing students through a deficit lens by focusing too much on their disabilities and not enough on their strengths? While I cared deeply about my students, I was not giving them everything they needed to thrive in their general education classes and I’m thankful my experience teaching abroad helped alter my thinking.  

Tell us about the work your team does to advance equity in BVSD.

The work is grounded in building trust and fostering a culture of belonging, but equity touches everything. We work with every district stakeholder, including students and families, district leaders, principals, employees, and our community. 

“Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging. If we can put the foundational pieces into place to build a climate and a culture of belonging, students will thrive.”

Amy Pickens, BVSD’s Director of Equity and Community Engagement

It is not always easy for our educators to apply an equity lens. We all approach this work with our unique lens and our lens is only as extensive as our education, lived experiences, people we encounter, books read, lived experiences, etc.  

Part of equity work is consistently taking time to reflect individually on the ways our own lens helps shape our education system and either interrupts or contributes to inequities.  This is hard, but necessary work. While we are charged with supporting our staff and providing training, language, tools, and strategies to help build a culture of belonging in our classrooms and schools, the individual work each employee must do is just as critical to our collective equity work. 

In our work, we often discuss the systemic barriers – including socioeconomic status and race – to student success. How do you talk about these barriers?

Too often when we are talking about systemic barriers we focus on ‘fixing’ students or families.  While the intention may be good, the impact often leads to internalized deficit narratives and validates negative perceptions of students, families, and or their communities.

As educators, we have to continuously reflect on (often referred to as mirror work), name, and disrupt this type of thinking. While it’s important to acknowledge barriers and opportunity gaps, labels such as ‘at-risk’ can be stigmatizing but are often used when discussing systemic barriers to student success. 

If we’re going to talk about risk factors, we must also acknowledge protective factors – strengths & attributes of individuals, families, & communities – so that we don’t further contribute to false narratives and stereotypes.  

We need to view our students, families, and community holistically which requires us to not only consider the perceived barriers, but also the assets. Using an asset-based approach mitigates and even eliminates risk factors.  

What is the Youth Equity Council?

YEC (Youth Equity Council) is an amazing group of students with diverse intersecting identities that advise the district on issues of equity. While I co-founded the Youth Equity Council and help guide their leadership, YEC is an entirely student-led group. Students are recruited in the fall and most of the members are looking for an opportunity to have their voices heard and to create necessary & lasting change.  

The founding student leaders graduated this past May and I’m so proud of each of them and their accomplishments, as well as their lasting impact on generations that come after them. Working directly with our youth gives me so much hope and also motivates me to continue tackling equity issues in public education.  An individual win is a collective win and moves our work forward.  

Read a recent Daily Camera article about the Youth Equity Council.

Bringing her expertise to Impact on Education

BVSD is fortunate to have Amy helping empower students, staff and families in our community – her contributions are critical to the health of the district. We’re eager to see how her work with BVSD continues to evolve and welcome her to our Board of Directors.


Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the generosity of our community to put our mission into action.

Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to local students?

Helping BVSD students see all colors of the world

Students in the Boulder Valley School District deserve to know they belong, especially in school. One simple, yet powerful, way to achieve that is giving them art supplies that represent a range of skin tones. 

We are proud to partner with NAACP Boulder County to provide multicultural art supplies to BVSD classrooms so students can more accurately reflect themselves and others in their art and other work.

“All children deserve the ability to draw themselves in true form and that includes skin tone color. These art supplies make that vision become a reality which is priceless.”

Michelle Willingham
DEI Collab Group Leader, NAACP Boulder Chapter EDU Committee

Impact on Education funding will provide Crayola Colors of the World supply kits and workbooks to every elementary classroom in the next two weeks.

All of BVSD’s 31 elementary schools will receive Crayola Colors of the World art supplies and activity books for each of their classrooms. Each pack of crayons, markers and colored pencils contains 24 specifically-formulated colors representing people of the world. The subtle shades inside are formulated to better represent the growing diversity worldwide 

We’re also working to provide age-appropriate books to each classroom to promote healthy conversations around racial diversity and providing additional Crayola Colors of the World supplies to middle schools across the district in the fall.


Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the generosity of our community to put our mission into action.

Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to local students?

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We support Boulder Valley public school students with community funding and resources in order to meet critical needs and eliminate opportunity gaps. Your support keeps us going strong and your donation will help us equalize opportunity, bolster academic success for local students.

To move through life both professionally and personally, you have to be a good people person.

Yancey Spruill, CEO DigitalOcean

What I Know Now: Yancey Spruill, CEO DigitalOcean

Student Advisory Board Member Noah had the opportunity to speak with Yancey Spruill, CEO of DigitalOcean, just before he graduated from high school. Yancey shared insights from his education and his professional journey from engineer to Wall Street to working in technology. Tune into our latest episode of What I Know Now to hear these highlights and more from Yancey’s interview: 

About Yancey Spruill
As Chief Executive Officer, Yancey drives the overall strategy for DigitalOcean leading the company through its next phase of profitable growth. He brings a wealth of technical, financial, and leadership experience and spent the last 15 years in senior executive roles at technology companies including SendGrid and DigitalGlobe. Yancey started his career working as a manufacturing engineer at Corning Incorporated and The Clorox Company. He also has extensive investment banking experience focused on mergers and acquisitions at JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, and Thomas Weisel Partners. More about Yancey >>

About the Student Advisory Board
Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaborative leadership experience for Boulder Valley School District high school students. The SAB brings together 13 students enrolled in Boulder Valley’s high schools to share their perspectives in order to advise Impact on Education’s initiatives and guide our investments. More about the SAB >>

What I Know Now: Maris Herold, Boulder Police Chief

I’m a big believer that opportunity structure is the number one reason we have crime and disorder.

Boulder Police Chief, Maris Herold

Sara and Jasper, two members of our Student Advisory Board, had the opportunity to speak with Chief Maris Herold of the Boulder Police Department back in May. Prior to her 2020 appointment as Boulder Police Department’s Chief of Police, she worked for the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) for 23 years where she focused on innovative strategies to better her community and the department itself. Watch Chief Herold’s What I Know Now interview to hear more about the following highlights and more:

About Maris Herold
First appointed as Boulder Police Chief in 2020, Chief Herold previously served as Chief at the University of Cincinnati Police Division (UCPD) and has 23 years of experience with the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD). She has an educational background in Sociology with a Bachelor’s degree from Eckerd College and a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. Chief Herold has prioritized diversity-focused recruiting initiatives and officer access to enhanced technological platforms. She has been recognized for her crime reduction initiatives and was awarded the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem Oriented Policing for her work at CPD. Learn more >>

About the Student Advisory Board
Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaborative leadership experience for Boulder Valley School District high school students. The SAB brings together students enrolled in Boulder Valley’s 13 high schools to share their perspectives in order to advise Impact on Education’s initiatives and guide our investments. More about the SAB >>

“It doesn’t have to be familiar, it doesn’t have to be safe all the time. I can go and take these risks and grow as a person.”

Shaz Zamore, ATLAS Institute

What I Know Now: Shaz Zamore, ATLAS

Dr. Zamore (they/them) obtained their PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from the University of Washington Seattle in 2015 and is currently an ATLAS Instructor with the University of Colorado. Their work combines a background in neurobiology and neuroengineering and their drive and focus for diverse social engagement. Our Student Advisory Board members, Emery and Paul, had the opportunity to interview Dr. Z, and here are a few highlights from our latest episode of What I Know Now:

About Dr. Shaz Zamore 
Dr. Shaz Zamore (they/them) is an ATLAS instructor and STEM outreach coordinator at the University of Colorado. Their interests span a range of scientific promise from creating accessible science and education outreach with a focus on neurosciences, to exploring the neural network and sensations of animals. Dr. Zamore is a first generation American who is heavily invested in outreach and inclusion. 

About the Student Advisory Board
Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaborative leadership experience for Boulder Valley School District high school students. The SAB brings together students enrolled in Boulder Valley’s 13 high schools to share their perspectives in order to advise Impact on Education’s initiatives and guide our investments. More about the SAB >>

“Unconscious bias is huge. How do we address unconscious bias in the culture in our organizations? How do we make our workplace more equitable?”

Dr. Everette Joseph

What I Know Now: Dr. Everette Joseph, Director of NCAR

Student Advisory Board Members Lindsey and James had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Everette Joseph, Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Prior to his work at NCAR, Dr. Joseph was the Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University of Albany, where he co-led the New York State Mesonet, providing direction for advanced weather detection. Dr. Joseph was also the Director of Howard University’s Program in Atmospheric Sciences. Tune into our latest episode of What I Know Now to hear these and more highlights from Dr. Joseph’s interview: 

About Dr. Everette Joseph
Everette Joseph became the Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in 2019 after leading the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University of Albany. Dr. Joseph originally received his Ph.D in Physics from the University of Albany with an emphasis on atmospheric science. Since 2014, he has remained a Board member of the Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine alongside his roles as principal investigator of over $90 million of research projects and grants from a range of national research organizations. More about Dr. Joseph >>

About the Student Advisory Board
Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaborative leadership experience for Boulder Valley School District high school students. The SAB brings together students enrolled in Boulder Valley’s 13 high schools to share their perspectives in order to advise Impact on Education’s initiatives and guide our investments. More about the SAB >>

“As students, we have to start asking the really important question of who’s making the decisions for us.”

Marta Loachamin

What I Know Now: Marta Loachamin, Boulder County Commissioner

Marta Loachamin was elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2020 and is the first Latina to hold the office in Boulder County. Marta is a long-time Longmont resident who has worked for social, economic, and housing justice by building opportunities for families throughout Boulder County and the Front Range.

Audrey and Bella from our Student Advisory Board joined Marta for a virtual interview in which you’ll learn:

About Marta Loachamin

Marta was elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2020, with a term continuing through January 2025, representing District 2. More about Marta >>

About the Student Advisory Board

Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaborative leadership experience for Boulder Valley School District high school students. The SAB brings together students enrolled in Boulder Valley’s 13 high schools to share their perspectives in order to advise Impact on Education’s initiatives and guide our investments. More about the SAB >>

By Karen Antonacci

Carly Hare’s Pawnee name <i kita u hoo <i ]a hiks — which translates to “kind leader of men” — turned out to be prophetic as the Impact on Education board vice chair has made a career of navigating the intersections of philanthropy, identity and equity.

A family that values education

Carly is a citizen of the Pawnee nation and grew up in rural tribal Oklahoma. Her family placed immense value on education.

“Both of my grandfathers — one was full-blood Pawnee and one was full-blood Yankton — they were college graduates in the 1940s,” she said. “My grandma that married my Pawnee grandfather … she went back to school in the 1960s because my grandfather said it was the best insurance policy she could have, to have an education and be independent and support herself and the family if she needed to.”

Carly excelled in school, spending summers in STEM or basketball camp. By the time she graduated high school, she had a lengthy resume.

“I was class president then vice president and then started a tutoring program as part of my (National Beta Club) service and then was captain my senior year of the basketball and softball team but also the friendliest and most unique in my superlatives,” Carly said before laughing. “Granted, we had the biggest class in 10 years at 50 kids.”

Even though she graduated with a 4.0 GPA, Carly said she felt her education experience didn’t adequately prepare her for her post-secondary experience. 

“I didn’t have the most rigorous high school education where it felt like I was challenged and tapped in ways that unearthed my interest in different areas. It was more the external science and math camps and the application-based projects I got involved in that were more of interest to me,” she said.

Building a career

Carly started at Colorado Mesa State College (now Mesa State University) on a full-ride scholarship as a biology major. By the end of her freshman year, she had lost her scholarship.

“It took me three semesters to figure out how to study and I made a major shift,” she said. “I switched my major to mass communication and a focus on public relations and it took five years before I graduated. But it was a good shift, because I knew I could be a science communicator and I could understand math and science in a way that a lot of people don’t have easy access to.”

Carly had to work three jobs the rest of her college career to continue her education.

When she graduated, she started a long track record of working for national native nonprofit organizations including the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, the Native American Rights Fund and serving as executive director of Native Americans in Philanthropy.

She became aware of Impact on Education when she worked as a program director at the Community Foundation Boulder County. Additionally, Carly has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits and advised and educated philanthropic professionals about improving diversity and inclusion.

Focusing on the underserved

“Predominantly the last 11 years professionally I’ve been working on this movement that is asking how do we change philanthropic practices and relationships to center on traditionally underinvested-in communities,” she explained.

Carly uses that expertise as the vice chair of the IOE board by leading on diversity, equity and inclusion work. That dovetails nicely with IOE’s work to fill the gaps for BVSD students to make sure they have all the resources they need to succeed.

“I hope to be able to bring those resources, skills and frameworks into IOE around our internal culture and climate change we’re going through with priority and commitment work, and then externally we are thinking about the evolution of how we are supporting students and the district at large,” she said. “It is a really great way to bring what has been strategy and theory into actual practice.”

In her career, Carly said she has learned that successful nonprofits go to the communities they serve for solutions to problems.

“We can’t find a solution for other people and expect it to stick. No matter how well-intentioned and resourced we are, it won’t be as successful as when we’re in actual communication and partnership and discussion and active community building with the impacted and affected communities.”

Helping students find their path

In terms of big-picture goals for Impact on Education, Carly draws from her own public school and collegiate experiences. She feels it’s important that students have access to education that encourages critical analysis as well as offers opportunities for them to explore their passions.

“Education should allow students to be fully present, so the arts and culture and athletics are high priorities for me. I want to bring forward that really robust access to fully engaged students to see where they can thrive and the tools they need to succeed in the future,” she said.

Setting students up to succeed in the future means supporting them as they transition to a postsecondary educational journey, whether it’s a trade school, courses in leadership and small business management or a traditional college experience, Carly added.

“Those pieces I don’t think were offered as readily or accessible 20 years ago,” she mused. “Now, we can think about how we help people find their passion and pathways and outline what those could actually look like so you don’t feel like you’re stumbling through it all.”

As I think we all know by now, last week’s rally and subsequent storming of the U.S. Capitol were not isolated incidents nor are they a temporary problem that can quickly be resolved. 

It was interesting (and difficult) timing that we held a Board and staff conversation about race, equity and inclusion the very next night. The session was led by a talented facilitator who helped us understand and reconcile our own biases and develop tools to overcome them as individuals and as an organization. We left the meeting feeling empowered and hopeful that we were having the hard discussions that can really make a difference, and that our entire team is deeply committed to equity.

A focus on educational equity

As we reflected on the work we did that night, we realized that our work to embrace diversity, to champion equity, to become more inclusive and to ensure justice is finally poised to move beyond talk and into action.

For a long time in education, and especially in Boulder Valley, we’ve talked about our persistent achievement gap. Students of color fare worse in almost every conceivable way, scoring lower on standardized tests, enrolling in fewer advanced classes and offered fewer post-secondary options. Our students reflect similar realities along economic lines. 

Our affluent and middle income students perform well while their low income peers lag significantly behind. And despite all of the talk about the quantifiable facts that are laid bare when you look at student academic performance, very little action is taken to address this achievement gap. 

Putting our beliefs into actions

Last week, over 50 of BVSD’s talented professionals serving on the post-pandemic recovery task force met to discuss the robust recovery work that will address these persistent inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Educational equity was a priority when our organization was founded nearly 40 years ago. Since March, however, we’ve been particularly concerned about how disruptions to learning would impact students, especially those who are traditionally underserved. 

Meeting the critical needs of BVSD students

The pandemic shifted our funding priorities from addressing achievement and opportunity gaps to addressing newly identified critical needs of our students. In 2020, we raised $2.4 million to support students in the Boulder Valley School District. This funding allowed us to provide:

Creating lasting change

Now, we are finally at a place where we can create targeted interventions to address both the academic and social-emotional well-being of students. I’m encouraged by the forthcoming BVSD plan and how it might create lasting change for students in our community.

While overcoming disparities and addressing inequities among local students will take time, we’re working to ensure that meaningful action is taken now to ensure changes that endure far beyond the pandemic. We are hopeful that this work may one day be seen as a turning point, and that a positive legacy of these trying times will be the way we finally moved beyond talking about equity to finally addressing it. 

To our committed community, 

A few days ago, our Board of Directors gathered for the first time since May 21. In addition to the routine items on our agenda, we prioritized making space for a frank conversation about the role of equity and race within Impact on Education. We believe strongly that Black Lives Matter and are committed to making change through equity in public education.

The mission of our organization is to support students in Boulder Valley public schools with supplemental funding and resources in order to address critical needs and achievement gaps. But let us be clear: the fact that our mission aligns with goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion does not mean we believe that we’re already doing the best we can. In fact, because we’re committed to leveling the playing field of public education in our community, we hold ourselves to a higher standard and acknowledge that we have not yet done enough to provide equal opportunity for all students. 

Boulder Valley School District has one of the largest and most persistent achievement gaps in the nation. To address this, in 2019 BVSD released their 5-year strategic plan, All Together for All Students, in which they make clear 3 goals: 

As the foundation for the district, we’re proud to play an active role in working towards these goals. We’re also here to hold them accountable. 

Our staff and Board members committed to closely examine every aspect of our programs, strategies, and partnerships through the lens of equity and inclusion. We’ll ask ourselves the difficult questions, maintaining an ongoing inquiry as to how we can better support our students of color and educate our white students on the systems they may find invisible. 

We’re committed to giving this work the time it deserves. We’ll provide updates on our progress, and we welcome questions or feedback on how we can do better. We truly value your input and your partnership.

Thank you for your ongoing support. 

With gratitude,
Allison Billings, Executive Director

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Impact on Education
721 Front Street, Suite A
Louisville, CO 80027

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