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Our DPS Weekly: What Does It Mean to Focus on the Whole Child?

Oct. 22, 2016

A Note from Superintendent Tom Boasberg:

Dear DPS Community,

When Doull Elementary School Principal Jodie Carrigan talks about what goes on inside her school, you don’t see textbooks and worksheets. You see faces and feel friendships. Doull is first and foremost, of course, a place of learning, like all of our schools. But it’s also a place that understands and gives close attention to our students’ social and emotional growth: to what they need as students, and who they are as children.

As part of our Denver Plan 2020, we’ve put a priority on educating the Whole Child. This means that, in addition to supporting our students’ academic development, we’re also nurturing and caring for their personal development. That is why the single biggest component of the 2016 mill levy proposal that is on November’s ballot is dollars for schools to hire professionals (including counselors, school psychologists and nurses) to support the social and emotional growth and mental and physical health of our students.

At Doull, caring for the Whole Child means students are greeted every day by at least three staff members before they even get to their classrooms. It means caring teachers who go out of their way to make a jump-rope fundraiser more inclusive by rigging foam “water noodles” to the wheelchair of a student with a disability so that he is included. And it means an eye on the horizon and the possibilities ahead, especially when things are hard. It’s a focus on “yet.” There is no “I can’t” or “I don’t get it.” It’s, “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

As part of our commitment to educating the Whole Child, we revised our student satisfaction survey to include questions that give us a sense about how we’re doing in this area. We’re one of the first school districts in the nation to make this a priority, and we are active in putting together a support and assessment system for our schools.

Jodie and some of our other exemplary school leaders joined us at our Board of Education work sessionon Monday to help in building that system and to review the initial feedback from our students. That discussion focused on the six components of educating the whole child, which prioritize making sure every child feels:

  • Challenged academically and prepared for success in college and career
  • Engaged in learning and connected to the community
  • Supported by qualified, caring adults
  • In environments that are physically and emotionally safe
  • Learning about and practicing a healthy lifestyle
  • Socially and emotionally intelligent

In addition to looking closely at the feedback from our student surveys, we keep a close eye on levels of chronic absenteeism, reports of bullying and frequency of out-of-school suspensions. All of it helps us understand the type of environments and care we’re providing to our students.

And it all starts with the adults in our schools, with the faces that our children see every day. When they’re struggling, when they’re celebrating, when they’re stressed and when they’re silly. When they see caring, knowing and understanding faces looking back at them — whether it’s on the playground, in the classroom or in the lunchroom — we are doing right by them. And we are educating the Whole Child.


Read the full Our DPS Weekly newsletter online: What Does It Mean to Focus on the Whole Child?