“Everything about this play is us.”— Dayna Marshall, senior at STRIVE Prep – Excel
Dear DPS Community,
It’s show time for our students at North High School and STRIVE Prep – Excel, two schools (one district-run and one charter) sharing the historic North campus, who last night opened their shared production of the musical “In the Heights.”
This isn’t an easy play to stage, with more than two hours of salsa dancing, spoken word poetry, rap music and drama. But months of rehearsals together for students from the two schools have resulted in some lessons of their own.
“At first it was scary and no one knew each other,” said Dayna Marshall, a STRIVE senior who plays the character of Vanessa. “There were STRIVE kids over here, North kids over there on the opposite sides of the stage. As we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve grown as a cast and we all connect.”
For students from both schools — and for many of our families — the play about gentrification overtaking a tight-knit neighborhood hits home. As Denver continues to grow and housing prices increase, our diverse neighborhoods are struggling to balance the challenges of gentrification with their rich cultural histories.
Intensifying this challenge has been that in gentrifying neighborhoods, we are seeing a sharp decrease in the number of school-aged children, as newer residents on average have fewer children than the families that are having to leave the neighborhood.
“When the lower class has to move out and the upper class moves in, we lose cultures and we lose traditions,” said Efren De La Rosa, a North senior who plays the character of Piragua.
“This is where we grew up, where most of us spent our childhoods,” he said. Now, “Everything around the neighborhood … it’s all different.”
Rehearsing for the musical, set in a New York neighborhood in the 1990s, has provided students an outlet for their feelings about what’s happening within their own fast-changing community. “Everything about this play is us,” said Dayna, the STRIVE senior. “My character is a girl from the barrio; I’m a girl from the projects.”
She and other students said they have gained confidence from their work together and will be more willing to speak out about this and other issues impacting them. “We’re like this big family and I’m so glad this happened,” she said. “You just have to push through, and you have to stick together.”
I applaud our students at the North campus, and the adults who worked with them, for this ambitious effort. In the coming months, we as a district will be working with our communities across Denver to discuss the challenges of changing housing patterns in Denver and the opportunity to step back and, in the face of these changes, look at how to drive stronger and more integrated schools that serve all members of our communities well.
As is so often the case, our students are providing an excellent example for us to follow.
On Thursday, following President Trump’s decision to rescind protections for transgender students allowing them to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, Superintendent Tom Boasberg shared the following statement:
“Denver Public Schools will always welcome, support and protect our diverse student body. Supporting the whole child includes making sure all of our students feel safe and respected at school, regardless of their gender identity. DPS will continue our policies and practices of support and equity for all students regardless of their gender identity, as well as immigration status, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, creed or sexual orientation.”
District policy and Colorado state law support the rights of transgender students to be free from bullying, discrimination and harassment. DPS accommodates students based on the gender with which they identify. See District Policy AC — Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity to learn more.
Thanks to the generosity of Denver’s voters, Denver Public Schools is expanding a program that offers full-scholarship opportunities to paraprofessionals interested in becoming teachers.
Check out Chalkbeat‘s feature on Beach Court Elementary’s Brandy Barhite, one of 20 DPS paraprofessionals who received a full-ride scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree and teaching license. The opportunity to become a teacher is changing Brandy’s life. “I thought, ‘I love my job as a para, but I can make a greater impact if I get my degree and go into teaching,'” she told the non-profit news site.
The 2016 voter-approved $56.6 million m ill levy includes funding to grow and sustain the scholarship program so paraprofessionals like Brandy can pursue higher education while continuing to serve Denver’s kids.
DPS has partnered with Guild Education and Western Governors University, a nonprofit fully-accredited college, for the program. Now, DPS is seeking nominations of outstanding paraprofessionals for the scholarship. If you know a great para, fill out the nomination form before the March 10 deadline.
Wednesday, students again led the second annual “Changing the Narrative, Healing the Divide” summit at Manual High School, bringing together hundreds of young people and community leaders to discuss issues of equity and leadership.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg helped kick off the daylong event, urging students to “own the narrative” as they break down the barriers to success for African-American and Hispanic youth: “You can’t change anything unless you take the steps necessary to control the outcomes. And Denver Public Schools is committed to giving all of you students the tools you need to make positive change, because we know that all of you are capable of accomplishing great things.”
Other speakers included students Aaron Tate and Tay Anderson, Manual Principal Nick Dawkins and keynote speaker David Banner, a rapper, music producer and activist. Students also attended breakout sessions including “Put Down the Backpack” about the labels we all carry around and how they affect how we interact with those around us, and “Developing your Leadership Voice,” which asked the question, How do you become a leader and not just a student or blind follower?
Denver Public Schools is launching Community Review Boards to gather feedback, review new school applications and make recommendations to the superintendent about which schools are the best fit for our kids and communities. This year, we are forming these boards to help determine new schools serving the John Amesse and Greenlee communities.
The majority of each board’s members will be parents or guardians of students who will attend the new schools. However, we also need community members living in these neighborhoods. Applications are due March 10. To apply for the Amesse Community Review Board, please see the application in English or Spanish. For the Greenlee Community Review Board, please fill out the application in English or Spanish.
March 4: DPS Community Night with the Nuggets
March 4-March 12: Parent Teacher Home Visit Week