supporting students

At diverse schools across metro Denver, deep-rooted concern over what a Trump presidency will bring

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar

At Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, many students and teachers spent most of the school day crying. At Rocky Mountain Prep elementary schools, students asked their teachers if they or their families would have to leave the country. An Aurora principal heard of two cases of Hispanic students being told by classmates that they would be deported.

Teachers and school leaders across the metro area struggled Wednesday helping students process the implications of a bitter, divisive election that will send Donald Trump to the White House. Those worries were especially acute in more diverse schools, where students worried about what might lay in store after a campaign in which Trump talked repeatedly about deportations, building walls and banning Muslims from the U.S.

Ruth Baldivia, principal of Boston K-8 in Aurora, which has a large number of Latino and refugee students, said she told teachers to try to keep discussions broad and focused on how democracy and elections work, “not specifically about how Trump might impact them.”

Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will be deported.

Many of Baldivia’s concerns centered on the well-being of her students and their families.

“Our parents already hide out because they don’t have papers,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything from them yet, but I do anticipate that and want to be prepared to support them and I’m not even sure how.”

At Lincoln High School, 14-year-old Jose Jon Carlos said his teachers made him feel better about his concerns about a Trump presidency and what it could mean for his immigrant family.

“They supported us,” Carlos said of his teachers. “They told us we don’t have to worry yet. They said they were here for us if anything happens.”

For Justin Geovanni, 15, seeing his teachers join students crying made him feel supported.

“They let us express ourselves,” Geovanni said. “Some of them are Mexican, too, and they’re here because they want the same American dream we do. They understand.”

At some Colorado schools, students walked out of class Wednesday to protest Trump’s victory.

Lola Rosales, a Lincoln senior and a member of Denver Public Schools’ student board of education, is trying to prevent that at her school. Instead, she wants to plan an informational rally to teach students and the community about their rights and “what power they have.”

“Everyone is scared in this school. There were tons of tears today,” Rosales said. “The reason for a walkout is when the administration isn’t listening to us. But our voice is being heard.”

When the double-doors opened Wednesday at the Denver School of International Studies, civics teacher Jennifer Boyle welcomed her high school students with hugs and tears.

One student cried 90 minutes straight during a planning period. Another, a 16-year-old Latina, came to her in hysterics, fearful for her family’s safety.

Boyle, in her sixth year teaching at the school, said she was apprehensive about teaching civics in a political year marked by so much polarization. Yet she said she also sensed an opportunity to fulfill the school’s vision of creating students who are tolerant, inquisitive about the world, communicative and aware of different perspectives.

“Kids were coming to me and asking, ‘What happened? Do you have the answer for me?’” Boyle said. “I said, ‘I think the answers are in the results. I think there are a lot of people who felt marginalized for a long time.’”

At Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two schools in Denver, staff shared resources with teachers Wednesday morning to guide them through talking to students, said James Cryan, the CEO. The elementary schools serve large numbers of children of color living in poverty. The network is also in the process of taking over an Aurora school, starting with preschool this year.

“We’ve had multiple students ask if this means that they’ll have to move away or if they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., or express concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away,” Cryan said. “We have all elementary students, so it’s heartbreaking to hear those questions in 2016 from our scholars.”

Cryan said Rocky Mountain Prep students held mock elections at their schools Tuesday, but “it got a lot more personal and scary this morning.”

In general, he said, the focus now is on making all students feel safe. The school staff are also exploring ways to provide resources for families with help from community organizations.

“I think our teachers feel like our work and our partnership with our scholars and our community is more important today than before,” Cryan said. “We’re very committed to showing all of our scholars what great community means and looks like.”

At College View Elementary in southwest Denver, some parents picking up their kids on Wednesday afternoon said they didn’t know how to talk to their children.

“I don’t know what to tell them,” said Mirna Bustillos, a mother of three children ages 7, 5 and 3.

Bustillos said that her 7-year-old son came home one day worried because his classmates had told him he would be kicked out of the country if Trump was president.

“When he knew he won, he got upset,” Bustillos said. “I told him nothing is going to happen.”

Carolina Martinez, a mother of a 9-year-old girl at College View, said she was trying to believe that everything would be fine.

“I have to be fine,” she said, “so that she will be fine, too.”

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”