The Other 60 Percent

Spreading wellness to charter schools

Denver Public Schools students play basketball during recess in this EdNews file photo.
Denver Public Schools students play basketball during recess in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

At Global Village Academy in Northglenn, students study Spanish, Russian and Mandarin Chinese starting in kindergarten. The focus on foreign language is a major draw for families, but it also means that things like physical education and other health matters sometimes get short shrift.

Principal Lisa Pond, who started the job earlier this summer, could tell students weren’t moving enough at school as soon as she looked at the daily schedule. The schools’ language immersion model, which ensures students are proficient in two foreign languages by eighth grade, has also meant “we minimize the amount of time they’re out of the classroom.”

“It’s a challenge…to make sure we’re providing the specials, the physical activity kids need, and the nutrition,” she said.

Pond hopes an effort launched this summer by the Colorado League of Charter Schools will help the 771-student school tackle such issues. Global Village Academy, which will serve grades K-6 next year, is one of eight charter schools across the state that has been invited to join the League’s newly-formed Wellness Advisor Collaborative. The collaborative is one component of the league’s larger “Building Healthy Charter Schools Initiative,” which is funded with a three-year $705,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

In addition to the collaborative, the initiative aims to create service collaboratives that will allow several charter schools to share nursing or mental health staff. That process, which already exists among some schools that have joined forces on their own, is just getting underway.

The initiative will also focus on making health and wellness resources more widely available to the state’s nearly 200 charter schools and changing policy to make it easier for charter schools to embrace healthy practices.

Nuts and bolts

The Wellness Advisor Collaborative, which will unfold over three years, will allow participating schools to work with two wellness advisors to conduct needs assessments, create wellness policies, access health resources and promote wellness activities. The advisors will visit each school approximately once a month.

Rainey Wikstrom, a longtime healthy school advocate and one of the wellness advisors, said the schools’ needs vary, with some having strong practices in one area of school health and weak ones in another. One common denominator is the lack of a wellness policy.

In that regard, the schools seem “to be far behind the baseline of a lot of public schools…They are working in a bit of a vacuum,” she said.

Isolation aside, Wikstrom said the desire to incorporate health and wellness is there.

“They want to be in the mix and they want to be promoting that,” she said.

Pond said the collaborative represents a great opportunity to educate both parents and staff on wellness topics.

“They will come in and educate our wellness team and our wellness team will spread it throughout the school.”

In pursuit of lasting change

Making sure that healthy changes stick is also important to Sonya Hemmen, head of school at Carbondale’s Ross Montessori School, another school selected for the collaborative. She said it’s particularly easy at charter schools for programs and practices to come and go as staff turns over.

“I’m hoping to prevent amnesia at our school and have things stay whether the faces and names change.” she said.

Hemmen said that while Carbondale is already a physically active community and the school itself recently started a garden and caters organic lunches three times a week, there’s still room for improvement.

She believes the collaborative can help the school educate students about healthy habits in an objective way. Currently, she feels that some parents, whether hard-core soda-drinkers or over-the-top health nuts, are too extreme.

“I don’t know that it sets [kids] up for long-term healthy habits,” she said.

With the collaborative’s help, Hemmen hopes the school’s focus will “be more about balance and less about extremes.”

A diverse group

In addition to Global Village Academy and Ross Montessori, the schools invited to participate include Chavez-Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy in Pueblo, Carbondale Community Charter School, Indian Peaks Charter School in Granby, Sims-Fayola International Academy in Denver, Platte River Academy in Highlands Ranch, and Eagle County Charter Academy in Edwards.

A second application window will likely open this fall, allowing a handful of additional schools to join the effort in 2014-15. All participating schools will pay about $4,000 a year to participate.

Organizers say they intentionally chose a diverse cross-section of schools, covering a range of sizes, geographic locations, programs and grades served. Lindsey Friedman, health and wellness program manager for the League, said in addition to helping participating schools become healthier over the next three years, the collaborative will allow the league to study “what levers create the most change.”

The goal, she said, is to “figure out what changes are the most sustainable and scalable throughout Colorado.”

task force

Jeffco takes collaborative approach as it considers later school start times

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The Jeffco school district is weighing pushing back start times at its middle and high schools, and the community task force set up to offer recommendations is asking for public input.

Nearby school districts, such as those in Cherry Creek and Greeley, have rolled out later start times, and Jeffco — the second largest school district in Colorado — in December announced its decision to study the issue.

Thompson and Brighton’s 27J school districts are pushing back start times at their secondary schools this fall.

The 50-person Jeffco task force has until January to present their recommendations to the district.

Supporters of the idea to start the school day later cite research showing that teenagers benefit from sleeping in and often do better in school as a result.

Jeffco is considering changing start times after parents and community members began pressing superintendent Jason Glass to look at the issue. Middle and high schools in the Jeffco district currently start at around 7:30 a.m.

The task force is inviting community members to offer their feedback this summer on the group’s website, its Facebook page, or the district’s form, and to come to its meetings in the fall.

Katie Winner, a Jeffco parent of two and one of three chairs of the start times task force, said she’s excited about how collaborative the work is this year.

“It’s a little shocking,” Winner said. “It’s really hard to convey to people that Jeffco schools wants your feedback. But I can say [definitively], I don’t believe this is a waste of time.”

The task force is currently split into three committees focusing on reviewing research on school start times, considering outcomes in other districts that have changed start times, and gathering community input. The group as a whole will also consider how schedule changes could affect transportation, sports and other after school activities, student employment, and district budgets.

Members of the task force are not appointed by the district, as has been typical in district decision-making in years past. Instead, as a way to try to generate the most community engagement, everyone who expressed interest was accepted into the group. Meetings are open to the public, and people can still join the task force.

“These groups are short-term work groups, not school board advisory committees. They are targeting some current issues that our families are interested in,” said Diana Wilson, the district’s chief communications officer. “Since the topics likely have a broad range of perspectives, gathering people that (hopefully) represent those perspectives to look at options seems like a good way to find some solutions or ideas for positive/constructive changes.”

How such a large group will reach a consensus remains to be seen. Winner knows the prospect could appear daunting, but “it’s actually a challenge to the group to say: be inclusive.”

For now the group is seeking recommendations that won’t require the district to spend more money. But Winner said the group will keep a close eye on potential tax measures that could give the district new funds after November. If some measure were to pass, it could give the group more flexibility in its recommendations.

Battle of the Bands

How one group unites, provides opportunities for Memphis-area musicians

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Memphis Mass Band members prepare for Saturday's Independence Showdown Battle of the Bands in Jackson, Mississippi.

A drumline’s cadence filled the corners of Fairley High School’s band room, where 260 band members from across Memphis wrapped up their final practice of the week.

“M-M-B!” the group shouted before lifting their instruments to attention. James Taylor, one of the program’s five directors, signaled one last stand tune before he made his closing remarks.

“It behooves you to be on that bus at that time,” Taylor said to the room of Memphis Mass Band members Thursday night, reminding them to follow his itinerary. Saturday would be a be a big day after all.

That’s when about 260 Memphis Mass Band members will make their way to Jackson, Mississippi, for the event of the season: the Independence Showdown Battle of the Bands. They’ll join mass bands from New Orleans, Detroit, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina to showcase musical performances.

“This is like the Honda of mass bands,” said baritone section leader Marico Ray, referring to the Honda Battle of the Bands, the ultimate competition between bands from historically black colleges and universities

Mass bands are designed to connect young band members to older musicians, many of whom are alumni of college bands and can help them through auditions and scholarship applications.

Created in 2011, Memphis Mass Band is a co-ed organization that’s geared toward unifying middle school, high school, college, and alumni bands across the city. The local group is a product of a merger of a former alumni and all-star band, each then about a decade old.

Ray, who joined what was called the Memphis All Star band in 2001, said the group challenged him in a way that his high school band could not.

“I was taught in high school that band members should be the smartest people, because you have to take in and do so much all at once,” he said, noting that band members have to play, count, read, and keep a tempo at the same time.

But the outside program would put that to the test. Ray laughed as he remembered his first day of practice with other all-star members.

“I was frightened,” he said. “I knew I was good, but I wanted to be how good everybody else was.”

Ray, now 30, credits the group for his mastery of the baritone, for his college degree, and for introducing him to his wife Kamisha. By the time he graduated from Hillcrest High School in 2006 and joined the local alumni band, he was already well-connected with band directors from surrounding colleges, like Jackson State University, where he took courses in music education. After he married Kamisha, an all-star alumna and fellow baritone player, they both came back to Memphis to join the newly formed Memphis Mass Band.

“This music is very important, but what you do after this is what’s gonna make you better in life,” he said. “The goal is to make everyone as good as possible, and if you’re competing with the next person all the time, you’ll never stop trying to get better.”

In a school district that has seen many school closures and mergers in recent years, Ray said a program like MMB is needed for students who’ve had to bounce between school bands. The band is open-admission, meaning it will train anyone willing to put in the work, without requiring an audition.

“[Relocation] actually hurts a lot of our students and children because that takes their mentality away from anything that they wanted to do, versus them being able to continue going and striving,” Ray said. “Some of them lose opportunities and scholarships, college life and careers, because of a change in atmospheres.”

With its unique mix of members, though, school rivalries are common, and MMB occasionally deals with cross-system spars. But Saturday, the members will put all of that aside.

“What school you went to really doesn’t matter,” Ray said. “Everybody out here is going to wear the same uniform.”

Asia Wilson, an upcoming sophomore at the University of Memphis, heard about the group from a friend. Wilson used to play trumpet in the Overton High School band, but she said coming to MMB this year has introduced her to a different style.

Jorge Pena, a sophomore at Central High School, heard about the group on YouTube. It’s also his first year in the mass band, and the tuba player is now gearing up to play alongside members of different ages, like Wilson.

They’re both ready to show what they’ve learned at the big battle.

“It’s gonna be lit,” Wilson said, smiling.

Need weekend plans? Tickets are still selling for Saturday’s 5 p.m. showcase. To purchase, click here.