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.”

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”