RootED’s Annual Impact Report is Released

On Friday, October 22nd, more than 100 people gathered in the cafetorium of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (DMLK) to watch the premiere of Power in Our Voices: The Know Justice, Know Peace Story directed by Diego Estrada Bernuy and Emily Han-Young Hurd of Degotelo Studios and supported in part by RootED Denver.

After the film, a panel of DMLK students, educators, and district curriculum staff sat down with moderator, Dr. Brenda Allen, RootED Denver Board Chair and Professor Emerita, to discuss the film’s themes, the students’ journey and next steps in revising the manner in which DPS teaches Black history. The event was livestreamed on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College Facebook and YouTube pages.

The film showcases the remarkable story of four young women finding their voices and becoming empowered to envision and effect change at their school and across the city. The film relates the emotional and inspirational journey that led to Denver Public Schools’ adoption of the Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution

The film presents a powerful example of what’s possible when student perspectives are lifted up, and when educators are responsive to feedback and have the autonomy to implement changes. DMLK Principal Kimberly Grayson said, “Our vision at MLK is to create great leaders, great communicators and great thinkers. And a part of that is to ensure that we are listening and valuing our students and their voices.”

Student Kaliah Yizar added, “It’s so important that we don’t let the students coming up today not feel important. Especially with things like mental illness affecting teenagers already. Be willing to give students a foundation to value themselves and know that they can do something because the future is really in our hands.”
The students created a podcast, Know Justice Know Peace: The Take, to address the inequities in education today. They hope to keep their resolution alive by having conversations with key people in the implementation, sustainability and overall success of their efforts to transform the DPS curriculum.

At the conclusion of the panel, Dr. Walter Milton and Dr. Joel Freeman, the creators of Black History 365, presented college scholarship checks to all students from the original podcast, Dahni Austin, Alana Mitchell, Jenelle Nangah and Kaliah Yizar. 

View the facilitator’s guide on the RootED website as a way to deepen your understanding of the film and how to organize conversations about it with others.

Power in Our Voices: The Know Justice, Know Peace Story

October 10, 2021 – Boardhawk

We, the passionate educators at American Indian Academy of Denver, are on a mission to help our children reclaim the genius of our ancestors. We’re in our second year as a charter school in the Denver Public Schools. By building a school of mirrors and windows we want our Indigenous students to be able to see themselves in what they’re learning, and in who they’re learning from.

On Monday October 11th the United States will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Our people have been scientists, builders, artists, and mathematicians since time immemorial. This cultural legacy was given to us by our forebears and we work to bring that cultural legacy to our kids every day of the school year –  in a 21st century format – so that they can carry it into their future.

Metropolitan Denver is home to some 40,000 Native Americans representing 200 tribes. Because we live across the Front Range – scattered to the winds – most people don’t know we’re here. As one of the first cities to participate in the federal relocation program in the 1950s and 1960s, Denver drew Native people from around the country who were encouraged to move to urban areas as the government sought to end the protected trust status of all Indian-owned lands.

A member of the Gnoozhekaaning Anishinaabe tribe in Michigan, my mom came to Denver after surviving institutionalization at an Indian boarding school. She, like so many other Native boarding school students, was deeply impacted by this forced experience. The 2014 White House Native Youth Report states that, “the legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next…” A legacy that has never been rectified or remedied.

While I’ve spent my career in Indian education, it wasn’t until I visited the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque that I realized what was possible for my community in Denver. With its strong focus on cultural identity and academic preparedness, NACA has successfully closed achievement gaps for Native students and consistently outperforms surrounding schools. The excellent graduation, college entrance and retention rates at NACA have held steady as the school celebrates its 17th year.

Read more from Terri Bissonette, American Indian Academy of Denver Founder and Principal, in Boardhawk.

September 3, 2021 – CBS4

A new school year is underway and students are once again facing a variety of stressors. COVID-19 is amplifying everyday struggles and often leads to trouble beyond school hallways and into the courtroom.

While many Colorado schools take a zero-tolerance approach to disciplining students, two alternative high schools in Denver are doing things differently.

“I walked away that night in cuffs,” Julian a freshman at 5280 Alternative High School said.

He wasn’t running from police, or doing anything destructive, he was caught on the roof of his high school at night.

“I had other charges pending. If that charge were to get on my record, a lot of things could’ve gone bad,” he said.

Elie Zweibel, a juvenile civil rights attorney in Denver, says not every student’s story will end that way.

“My average client is between 14 and 16 years old but I have clients as young as 8,” he said.

In his experience broad and often harsh discipline policies push students out of school.

“I see students being expelled for tagging, spraying graffiti off school grounds; I see students being expelled for pretty routine playground fights; I see students being expelled for mere allegations,” Zweibel said.

It often leads to more serious involvement with law enforcement.

Jen Jackson the principal at The Academy of Urban Learning says that’s how the “school to prison pipeline” gets started.

“Students will go into a detention center and they come out and it’s difficult for them to find a school that will take them or has the capacity to fulfill all the needs they may have rejoin and catch up,” she said.

Her school, AUL is there in those situations as a trauma-informed alternative high school. They offer education and support.

Read more from CBS4.

2021 Board of Education Elections

Note: The candidate forum hosted on October 12 at GALS Denver will be hosted by the Denver Charter School Community in partnership with the African Leadership Group. RSVPs are required. Learn more here.

A New Year, A New Superintendent

Community members welcome new DPS superintendent with open arms, watchful eyes

Sports. The English language. Mental healthcare. Lunch.

These were among the concerns more than 50 parents of Denver Public Schools students and other education advocates brought to the district’s new superintendent, Alex Marrero, when he met and greeted them at the campus of Kepner Beacon Middle School on Tuesday.

Once Marrero sat down with the parents, DPS faculty and staff, and members of Denver education advocacy groups, TeRay Esquibel, co-founder and director of the DPS alumni organization Ednium, facilitated the conversation.

The first question Esquibel asked the superintendent: “What assumptions have you held that you had to let go in order to get to where you’re at, and how is that going to help you in this job?”

The Bronx-born-and-raised former interim superintendent of the City School District of New Rochelle, N.Y. admitted he at first had doubts about his new environment. He spoke candidly about those doubts and how they’ve been alleviated as he grew more familiar with the Denver community.

“My preconceived notions were, ‘Is this just another gig?’ ‘Is it something to wipe the slate clean?’ ‘Am I going to be seen as the token Latino? A token replacement?’ I had those doubts,” Marrero said. “I can erase that from my mind, because as much as I interact with you all, I realize what you want is stability — someone who’s going to stay the course, not someone who’s going to fly in and fly out.”

Read more from T. Michael Boddie in Boardhawk here.

Case Study: The 3 Pillars Guiding Learning Recovery — and Student Growth — at Our Denver Schools as We Rush to Catch Kids Up After the Pandemic

The staff and board of University Prep Charter Schools stepped up this spring, recognizing an urgent need to develop an ambitious vision and catch-up plan that would support all children in getting back on track following more than a year of disruptions and struggles. Our objective: To ensure that, despite the significant challenges brought on by the pandemic, all our scholars will remain on track with grade-level performance, while receiving any and all supports they may need (academically, socially, emotionally and beyond).

At U Prep, we are unwavering in our belief that all children, from all backgrounds, can learn at the highest levels. They are brilliant, beautiful people and absolutely capable. Eighty-five percent of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and 94 percent are students of color. In 2017, scholars at our Steele Street campus in Denver had the highest math growth in the state (out of all public elementary schools) and the eighth highest English Language Arts (ELA) growth, after a single year.

Read more of Recardo Brook’s commentary in The74 here.

A History of Education Advocacy