Monthly Archives: January 2015

Should Your 8th Grader Get to Pick Her High School? by Maren Stewart

Once upon a time there was an 8th grader who shadowed several high schools. After the first visit, her mother asked her what she thought about the school, to which the girl quickly replied, “it was great and I think it is my first choice!” A bit surprised, yet encouraged by her daughter’s enthusiastic and decisive answer, the mother inquired as to why. “I really liked the school colors,” the girl replied.

Just a few blocks away, another 8th grader was shadowing several high schools. After the first visit, his mother asked him what he thought about the school, to which the boy quickly replied, “it was great and I think it’s my first choice!” A bit surprised, yet encouraged by her son’s enthusiastic and decisive answer, the mother inquired as to why. “They had a really good lunch,” the boy replied.

should your 8th grader pick her high schoolBoth of the mothers experienced the same feelings of disappointment and frustration. They knew that deciding where to go to high school was an important decision. How, they wondered, could their children approach it with such a lack of maturity and sophistication? Didn’t they understand the importance of the decision and the ramifications it would have on their future?

Then they remembered an important fact: their children were just that – children.

Thirteen year-olds should not be expected to demonstrate the same level of critical thinking and good judgment as adults. And that is why 13 year-old shouldn’t be deciding where to go to high school.

Over the years, I’ve heard people talking about the high school selection process and how they were simply going to let their child decide. I remember being surprised that parents would give their children so much control over such an important decision but figured they had good, smart, responsible kids and that I simply didn’t understand how it all worked since my daughter was much younger.

Fast forward several years and now we are in the process of selecting a high school…and I can’t imagine letting my daughter decide. She is good and smart and responsible and she absolutely will be part of the decision. Our daughter is fully participating in the process. She has done research on school websites, talked to friends, and visited/shadowed several schools. She is getting information and forming opinions. We very much want to hear her thoughts and opinions and we will seriously consider her input and preferences. However, we will not abdicate the decision, and in so doing, abdicate our responsibility as parents.

Kids need parents to help them navigate through life and I believe that parents do know best when it comes to their kids. School colors and hot lunches certainly can be considered in the high school decision process but they shouldn’t be the driving factors.





School Choice by Dominique Gildea

Dominique & Davin 2

Dominique and her son Davin

As a former DPS charter school student, a former DPS teacher, and a graduate of the UNC Center for Urban Education, I thought I knew it all. I knew how important my son’s first experiences in school were. I was all too familiar with what he would be doing in a half-day program with very little resources and I was afraid that he would not flourish in the ways I had dreamed for him. But little did I know, the school of choice system had changed significantly.  How had I missed this opportunity for my son’s education? How did I not know that even though we lived in Aurora, the most amazing school of choice was just right down the road?

Dominique & Davin

Dominique and Davin

Thanks to a friend, I found out about Rocky Mountain Prep and imagined a day that my son would get the kind of education they provided there. I was shocked at how easy the school of choice process was and so grateful for all the help I received through the process.  The waiting was the hardest part and yet, just a few days before school started, I got the call that would put me right back into tears. My son would start his education as a kindergarten scholar at Rocky Mountain Prep.

I could not be more proud of my first grade scholar and I could not have asked for a better community for my son. I have to be honest, if the school of choice process had been difficult or if I had not had so many wonderful people helping me navigate it, I probably would have abandoned hope. We are so lucky to live in an area with so many choices to fit our children’s needs.

Public Versus Private School — How to Choose? by Meg Freedman

public v privateWhen I talked with other parents during our school search last year, private vs. public school seemed to be the most personal and historically ingrained of any aspect of the school choice process. “I went to public school and I turned out ok.” Or “I went to private school. It’s what I know.” But like any parenting choice, we have an opportunity to do something different and maybe better for our kids than was done for us. So it makes sense to look with fresh eyes at your current private and public school options before deciding.

That said, some of the views I have heard from different parents may help you more productively mull the choice between public and private schools.

Some Pro-Public Perspectives

  • “Give the public school system a chance first. If it doesn’t work out, you can always switch to a private school.” – The second sentence is true. Luckily it’s true about any school decision you make. As hard as it is to switch schools, if you need to do it, you can. And we don’t have crystal balls to predict that in advance.
  • “You could take what you’d spend on private school tuition and get a mountain house instead.” – Ok. Some private schools cost so much money. If we sent all three of our kids to certain private schools nearby, that would be $70,000 per year.
  • “Don’t worry about it until high school – that’s when school really matters.” Huh? So many people (including my own husband) brought up this point during our school search. I guess you could say that college is the most important stage of education for your career and general success in life. So it makes sense that since high school performance most directly impacts what type of college you’ll get into, high school the most important stage of education. But you could also argue that the earlier the influence on a child, the more deeply it’s ingrained. Our brains calcify a little more every second once they’re formed, so it might be more important to foster good intellectual habits in first grade than 12th.

Some Pro-Private Perspectives

  • “What’s more important to spend your money on than your kids’ education?” -  I try to buy organic, whole-grain, local food. We bought a warm house in a pretty nice neighborhood. Shouldn’t I invest in my kids’ education too? The assumption there is that tuition-based education is better than public school. Which again, depends on where you live, and on your values and life experiences.
  • “Private schools have better physical security” – I had one friend who told me that she slept better at night because her kids’ private school has a wall around it. For a minute this made me feel terrible for sending my kids to a moat-less public school. The word “Newtown” makes my chest hurt like anyone else. But one of the hardest—and most necessary—things about parenthood for me is to let my kids out into the dangerous world and trust that they’ll be ok.
  • “There’s diversity because of the scholarship program” – Fair. Many if not all private schools I researched in Denver during our search had clear messaging about how hard they worked to make their schools inclusive for families who couldn’t afford the tuition. But it helps to look at the statistics. If 5% of the kids there were on scholarship, how much do they influence a school’s climate of cultural and socioeconomic diversity? On the other hand, the private Catholic college I attended had half its students on some aid or scholarship plan. At first blush, it seemed like a preppy rich kid school. But I met many working class friends there whose parents had to scrape by to get them there.

Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children.

Students & Parents Celebrate School Choice Week at the Colorado State Capitol

Sky View Academy kids dancing

Sky View Academy kids dancing

School choice supporters from across the Centennial State converged on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol for a history-making rally and celebration on Monday, January 26, 2015 at 9 am. The message of the event: school choice is working for Colorado families.

Colorado Senate Education Committee Chairman Owen Hill (R) and State Senator Mike Johnston (D) spoke at the event and students from the Excel Institute performed.

The event, which brought together education advocates of all ideologies and backgrounds, put a positive spotlight on the success of Colorado’s broad portfolio of education options for families, which include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online academies, private schools, and homeschooling.

Senator Michael Johnston at the School Choice Rally

Senator Michael Johnston at the School Choice Rally

Senator Owen Hill at the School Choice Rally

Senator Owen Hill at the School Choice Rally

In addition, students, parents, and teachers shared their personal school choice stories. The event coincides with National School Choice Week (January 25-31, 2015).

Excel Academy Dance

Excel Academy Dance

“Colorado has been a leader in school choice, but it is crucial that we expand the number of educational opportunities available,” said Pam Benigno, Director of the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center. “As a state, we have not kept up with the demand for choice— especially for the kids who need options the most.”

School Choice Week scarves“Children are 10% of our population and 100% of our future,” said Deborah Hendrix of Parents Challenge. “Choice in education is paramount for our country’s success.”

“As a business community, we are working to make Colorado the best place in the world to raise a child and grow a business,” said Scott Laband, President of Colorado Succeeds. “We know that education is central to that effort, as is access to high quality school choices. Everything we do is focused on making sure our state provides all children in Colorado with world-class educational experiences.”


A-School Profile: Hulstrom Options K-8

In this Q & A, Principal Steve Isenhour of Hulstrom Options K-8 writes about his A-school in Northglenn, Colorado.

Describe your school’s mission and illustrate it with an example from the classroom.

Our mission at Hulstrom K-8 is to provide our students with the foundation of excellent instruction, rigorous academics, and accelerated learning, with a focus on 21st Century skills, higher level thinking, and project based learning. We serve and meet the needs of advanced students, including those identified as gifted and talented, while supporting their unique social and emotional needs in a caring and nurturing environment.

Hulstrom students on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives with Rep. Kevin Priola

Hulstrom students on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives with Rep. Kevin Priola

We make learning an exciting, life-long, hands-on endeavor at all levels of instruction. Learners excel when they are rigorously challenged. We do this while developing critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are essential for future success. Our focus of 21st Century learning combined with our Bring Your Own Device policy has especially engaged students in new and relevant learning opportunities.  One of the strongest examples of this is the involvement and partnership our students have with the Colorado Youth Summit. The program allows our students to get out of the classroom and into the field to learn about history, archaeology, heritage tourism and preservation. They’re able to participate in experiential, applicable, and real life learning about history, documentation, presentation, etc.; all involving true historical sites in and outside of Colorado.

What are one or two ways that the team at your school meets students’ academic needs?

We do what is best for kids by individualizing and focusing on the specific strengths and needs of students. This way our students may accelerate when ready to move forward, or stay where they are until mastery has occurred. We also focus on the affective needs of the student. By doing this we proactively assist students with emotional struggles, but also empower students to understand their own emotional strengths and areas of need.

Name one or two characteristics, programs, or other detail about your school that makes it a special place.

Hulstrom students on a trip to Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site.

Hulstrom students on a trip to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site.

Our students and parents constantly say, “Hulstrom is a family.” The size of our school and the ability for students to attend for nine years instills the feeling of family. Our students enjoy the challenging academics provided from a caring and tightly-knit family of teachers and staff. Having our Advanced Academic Program and our Gifted & Talented program provides options for students needing more than a traditional school can provide.

What’s the most frequently asked question from parents visiting the school – and how do you respond to it?

We are often asked how well we meet the affective needs of the students. Our staff is trained to meet the unique social and emotional needs of students, as well as any academic challenges students may need for success. Our staff is exceptional at understanding the relationship building and safety net the students require for ultimate success.

Where can parents go to learn more?


10 Ways to Keep Kids Learning When They’re Not in School

By Carie Sherman

Extended breaks from school can lead to a loss in learning. So what can you do to help your children keep learning outside of school? Here are 10 ideas.

#1 Spend Time at Your Local Library1. Spend time at your local library. Every child has a topic or two that really get them excited. Whether its cars, castles, or dystopian society, you can find a book or video that can pique interest and deepen understanding. Many libraries also host events and classes for all ages and interests. I’m planning to sign up for the Denver Public Library’s newsletters so I get a reminder in my inbox about local event info, “book buzz,” film news, and more.

2. Think in terms of “teachable moments.” It’s actually pretty easy to get your kids reading, doing math, or learning geography without them realizing they’re learning. For example, make up an outdoor scavenger hunt that will boost their critical thinking skills. Pay attention to the questions your child asks – take a “Daddy, why is this leaf red?” question back home and do some investigating together. Grocery shopping can promote math and literacy; telling stories of your childhood can be a history lesson; even watching television and discussing plotlines or current events can be effective teaching tools.

3. Take advantage of Scientific and Cultural Facilities District free days. It can’t be any easier to expose your children to art, botany, theatre, cultural history, music, natural history, zoology, dance, and more.

#4 Use Computer Time Wisely4. Use computer time wisely. Check out the activities at Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment, add educational games to your PC, or sign up for ABCMouse. For teens, online gaming can offer educational opportunities. Download ebooks or check out the Idea Lab, a free digital media lab for teens ages 12 to 19 featuring tons of hardware (think 3D-printer, mixers—they even have sewing machines) and software (think Photoshop, web design tools, Linux machines).

5. Have a kid’s choice day. Whether it’s a long weekend or you’re headed on a family vacation, let your child pick an activity for the whole family. Older kids can do all the planning—give them an old-fashioned map and put some math skills to use. Kids of all ages can enjoy researching and looking at photos of places and events.

#6 Blast Away Boredom with Science Experiments6. Blast away boredom with some at-home science projects. Science projects don’t have to be complicated. My husband recent bundled up our daughter on a freezing cold night and threw boiling hot water into the air (be really careful if you try this at home!). This webpage gives you two project ideas per month—and all of them seem simple to implement and entertaining for all ages.

7. Incorporate math into fun challenges. For example, give your younger kids $5 and let them see how far the money goes during your next shopping trip. Form a “shapes” hunt when you’re out for a walk—whoever finds the most triangles wins! Give older kids a stopwatch and have them time themselves as they run or skateboard through the neighborhood. Keep track of their records, map their routes, and graph the results.

8. Start a family book club. This can involve choosing a book, setting up an “on-theme” meeting, and letting the kids lead the discussion. You can keep it to just your family, or invite neighborhood families to join in the fun.

9. Get them writing. Check out this awesome blog post on 5 sneaky ways to get your kids writing. Little ones can start creating journals or writing lists (even if they are just drawing pictures). But my favorite is for the more advanced writers: The “convince me” letter. If your child is repeatedly asking for something, tell them to put it in writing: “Make sure you consider all sides of the argument and address them in your letter.” Bonus: Argument writing is a big part of Common Core!

10. Seek out structured learning programs. For longer breaks, it might make sense to find a more structured program. This might be summer camps through the YMCA, enrichment programs through Summer Scholars, or seasonal programs through private schools such as Denver Academy (open to non-Academy students as well). There are computer camps, performance-based camps—even science and math camps in our area.

Learning doesn’t need to stop when school is out. Keep your kids learning long after the bell rings, and you’ll be setting them up for a strong future.

carie-shermanCarie Sherman chose freelancing for two reasons: more time at home with her daughter and a passion for stretchy pants. As a copywriter for the health care and education industries, Carie writes content for businesses, agencies, and nonprofits in Colorado and beyond. She blogs for Lupus Colorado and is a contributor to Colorado Parent magazine. She’s also on the copyediting team for the New York Common Core implementation. Carie is currently writing her first fiction novel. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, collecting recipes, and implementing organizational systems that she’ll never follow.


School Tour Tips from a Mom, by Maren Stewart

checklist iconChoosing the right school for your child can be a daunting task. There are so many choices…and so little time.  Numerous resources exist to help with the decision making process from on-line databases and grading systems to sophisticated school websites and even professional coaches/advisors.  However, in my opinion, nothing is as beneficial as an old-fashioned visit.  Seeing it is believing it, and shadowing a potential school can be a really great opportunity for both you and your child.  Be sure to make the most of it by preparing with the following tips:

Be Intentional:  You and your child should have several things in mind as you visit a school.  Don’t simply let the experience wash over you but be thoughtful and deliberate about the things you want to see, hear, and experience.

Be Inquisitive:  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – both factual and otherwise. You want basic information, but it is also good to get opinions from teachers and students. And don’t make assumptions; this is your chance to learn so much more than a website or marketing materials can convey.

Be Open:  Visit with an open mind, free of pre-conceived perceptions.  If you go expecting or looking for certain things, you likely will miss out on some valuable insights. And, sometimes you might even be pleasantly surprised to learn things weren’t at all what you thought.

Each visit is – and should be – unique but here are a few things to keep in mind:

boys in a gymnasiumPhysical facility:  is it a place you would want to spend the majority of your time?  Just like a work environment, our kids spend a great deal of their days at school.  It doesn’t need to be fancy but is it bright and welcoming?  Is it clean and well-maintained?  Is school spirit visible?

….and is there a gymnasium and does it look well-equipped?  A cafeteria that supports healthy food options? Are there outdoor areas for recreation or quiet studying?  Is the library updated and is technology incorporated?  A stage/theatre?  Dark room? Art room? Science Lab?  These may be important resources, depending on your child’s interests,

bored studentStudents:  what are the kids doing?  How are they interacting with each other?  Does there seem to be a sense of camaraderie among the students?  Are they laughing and smiling in the hallways and common spaces?  Do they generally look happy and engaged?

…and do they participate in class?  How?  Do they show respect for their teachers and each other?  Do they appear curious and interested or do they look bored to death? Hint: you can tell a lot simply from body language.

Teachers:  how do they interact with students?  Are they supportive and empowering?  Would you be afraid to ask questions or would you be encouraged to speak up and participate?  Is there a sense of mutual respect? Is there good rapport between them and the students?

…and are they articulate and knowledgeable? Do they seem passionate? Can you envision them igniting interest and curiosity in your child?  Are they people you want your child to look up to and emulate?  Are they good role models?

Curriculum: students learn in different ways so be sure to understand the model and how it is presented.  Is it a structured or more informal approach?  Is there a particular lens through which material is presented, i.e. a global or artistic perspective?  Regardless of your child’s particular interests, is it important to have PE every day?  How about art or foreign language?

high school bandExtra-curricular:  What types of clubs, sports and affinity groups are available?  Can students initiate efforts related to their own interests? Listen for examples of how widely accessible these opportunities are and whether students are taking advantage of them. Hint: you can find clues looking around the building for meeting notices, events and activity sign-ups.

Approaching your visit with some deliberative thought will prove beneficial for both you and your child.  However, while it is important to be prepared, you shouldn’t get too focused on specific things.  Be sure to experience the school during your visit – get its vibe – and try to picture your child being a part of it.

Using these easy tips and keeping in mind these few things will ensure that your shadow experience will be productive and meaningful. And, it will allow you and your child to make an informed decision that is right for both of you.

Tips to Calm Your Nerves After Filling Out the Choice Form, by Meg Freedman

researching a schoolThe time has come to fill out the Denver Public Schools choice form for 2015. If you submit your form by January 30, 2015, you have the best chance of getting a space for your child at your top-choice school. (If you need it, here’s the official word on how to enroll in a DPS school.)

If completing the choice form is a little fraught for you (like it was for me), pull up a seat. Let’s calm your nerves—or at least set your expectations.

1) Don’t get too attached.

Certain public schools have few spots for non-siblings or non-neighborhood kids, or they’re just small schools. And it can seem like hardly anyone gets into them. This includes neighborhood, charter, and innovation schools. Just know when you fill out your form, that some schools aren’t likely to have a spot for your son or daughter. But as I’ve said before—you can’t win if you don’t play. If you absolutely love a school, throw it on your form. Then try to forget about it so you’re not too disappointed if it doesn’t work out. On the other hand…

2) Be careful what you wish for.

My kids didn’t get spots at any of our “reach” DPS schools, nor did most of my friends’ kids. However, I did know someone whose daughter got a spot at a tiny and very highly-regarded charter school. When she got her choice result letter, my friend said “we only put x school on our form because we didn’t think we’d get in. Maybe we should have gone to the neighborhood school with everyone else.” Turns out her daughter’s thriving where she landed. Just know you could be the one to win the lottery.  And make sure you’d be truly happy to go to any of the schools you put on your list.

3) Don’t give up hope.

After you submit your choice form, the next step in the school enrollment process is for you to get a letter back in early March with your allocated “round 1” spot. If your child doesn’t get a spot at your top choice school at that point, there’s still plenty of time for that to change. I heard of people’s kids getting spots at schools a few days after the March letters were sent out, a few weeks before the start of school, a few days after the start of school, and even a few months into the school year. In a school system as large as Denver’s, there’s constant and significant movement in and out of schools. People move out of their neighborhood or of out of the school district, or get late-breaking spots at private schools, and subsequently open spots for other kids. I’m not saying scurry to the mailbox every day. But don’t be too bummed out if the initial result wasn’t what you were hoping for.

4) Be open to a happy surprise.

I like shiny things. So we put another neighborhood’s well-regarded school and two sought-after charter schools above our neighborhood school on the choice list. And I was a little crushed when we didn’t get into any of those other schools. The good news is that now we love the one we’re with. The community aspect of our neighborhood school has been amazing. On any given day on the playground, I can hang out with one of my old playgroup friends, one of my yoga teachers, one of my husband’s co-workers, and the realtor who sold the house across the street from us. When other moms and I carpooled to a school field trip the other week, it took three minutes to pick everyone up. I can’t swing a cat on a walk through the neighborhood without hitting a friendly face. And our kids are thriving in school. Turns out our last-choice school has benefits we couldn’t have realized until we were enrolled there.

playground aerialSpeaking of yoga teachers, one of mine centered a class around the idea to “hold it lightly.” Embrace what you love but don’t contract carpal tunnel with your clutch on it. With school choice, you may get what you wish for, or you may not, but you may be just as glad either way.


Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children

A-School Profile: Cotton Creek Elementary

In this Q & A, Principal William Kempsell of Cotton Creek Elementary shares some details about his A-school in Westminster, Colorado.

Describe your school’s mission and illustrate it with an example from the classroom.

Cotton Creek Elementary

Cotton Creek Elementary is dedicated to the educational success of each individual through a partnership among students, staff, and the community. We live this mission on a daily basis through the unique relationships fostered within our school. Our highly successful Special Education programs provide support for students in a manner that promotes least restrictive environment. We are also fortunate to have an extremely supportive Parent Teacher Association. Thanks to their fundraising efforts and collaboration with our school community, we have greatly increased the technology at Cotton Creek. Students now have new and innovative ways to access the curriculum throughout their day.

Each year, the school community develops a school-wide theme to promote a singular focus for the year and build community. Our theme for the 2014-15 school year is “Building Minds, Building Futures,” a message that students and staff chant and celebrate at the start of every morning.

KinderTechnology CCEWhat are one or two ways that the team at your school meets students’ academic needs?

At Cotton Creek, we offer ongoing, collaborative planning for teachers, closely looking at student data to monitor their progress. During weekly professional development trainings, teachers continue to learn and grow in their instructional practice. We carefully examine the Colorado Academic Standards to ensure that our units of study are closely aligned and meeting the needs of students in Kindergarten through Fifth grade.

Pumpkin Run CCEName one or two characteristics, programs, or other detail about your school that makes it a special place.

Cotton Creek is a neighborhood school that proudly serves students with a wide range of needs and abilities. We support students with significant needs through our structured learning programs. Students in these programs receive specialized instruction to increase their communication and social skills and their ability to access relevant standards based instruction.

We also have exceptional Music, Physical Education, Art, and Computer classes for all students. The specials team collaborates with classroom teachers on a regular basis to provide unique opportunities for students.

Cotton Creek offers two options for kindergarten to ensure students are learning foundational skills to prepare them for first grade. We have half day programs, as well as tuition-based, full day kindergarten.

What’s the most frequently asked question from parents visiting the school – and how do you respond to it?

We tend to get a lot of questions about the kinds of opportunities and learning experiences that we offer to meet the needs of students with a wide range of ability levels. In addition to the differentiated instruction occurring in the classroom, we have a variety of intramural clubs for students. From choir and art club to Lego Robotics and a variety of sports clubs, students are learning, socializing, and developing important skills both in and beyond the general classroom.

Where can parents go to learn more?