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Providing a Classroom For All Emotions: Video

Nancy Radu, special education teacher at North, and her Affective Needs classroom
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Each of us has had that day where we are just feeling ‘off,’ whether it’s because of something that happened in the morning, a lack of sleep or a challenge with friends and family.

For some of our students, ‘off’ – and accompanying aggression, anger, depression or anxiety – is something that comes far too often.

“I was angry,” said Arturo “AJ” Jimenez, a recent graduate of Denver North High School who at one point was two years behind in high school. “People gave up on me because I was too much to deal with, and I thought that’s how it always was going to be.”

AJ said his attitude – and life in general – changed dramatically after connecting with Nancy Radu, a special education teacher at North, and her affective needs – or AN – classroom.

“When I first came here, I was iffy about everything,” he said. “But she earned my trust. Miss Radu pushed me. It’s what I needed to get where I needed to be.”

AJ’s story is one of several touched by Radu, who has led the school’s affective needs classroom for several years. The classroom provides a dedicated safe place for students who struggle with significant emotional and social challenges.

“North is focused on serving each kid to our best ability,” Radu said. “Whatever that looks like – whether kids have emotional struggles or disabilities – North has found ways to ensure those students are successful.”

During more urgent challenges, Radu and other staff have provided students with counseling to deescalate from an emotional situation. During less turbulent days, they collaborate with students on developing coping mechanisms and strategies for the inevitable ‘flare-up’ days.

“I’m a bit more thick-headed than other kids,” AJ said. “I know I am. It’s hard to deal with me, but (Radu and AN staff) didn’t give up with me. They had my back instead of saying, ‘Oh no, he ain’t going to listen anyway.’ They stood there with me and pushed me all the way to where I am today.”

AJ is set to graduate from Denver North as part of the DPS Class of 2017. The AN program is also graduating, expanding its reach to focus on the entire North community – both educators and students – to provide appropriate supports for emotional struggles and disabilities.

“It’s all for the students, so they can maintain their dignity,” Radu said, “and so they can have the same experience in high school that everybody else has and deserves.”