Four Tips from a Denver Parent on Selecting a School, by Nabeehah Brown

Nabeehah Brown & FamilyThe best gift you can give your child as a parent is selecting a school that fits their needs and that will offer a quality education. As a mother of three children ages 6, 10, and 12, I have done more than my share of research to identify quality schools that fit their needs. My children currently attend a private school, a charter school, and an innovation public school.

So, one might ask what does the process to identify the right school for your children look like? Below are some tips based on my experience selecting the right schools for my children.

1. Make a list of priorities.

The first thing I do is write down a list of things that are important to me. For example, teaching style (project based learning, expeditionary, foreign language immersion, etc.), curriculum used (I have acquired knowledge of certain programs and I’m also a public school employee) and level of parental involvement.

2. Do your homework online.

I use my priorities list to narrow down schools that fit those needs. With my list I look at the schools SPF or School Performance Framework (available here), which gives me and indicator of how effective the school is at teaching their students. Another tool I use in this process is a parent based school rating website Great Schools to see how other parents have rated the school and their experiences. Colorado School Grades is another good resource to consider. I also can use this information to address areas of concern on my school visits.

3. Set up school visits.

Then, I set up school tours where I look for quality and content of student work being displayed in the hallways and well as visuals that display school culture. I also like to visit a classroom room where my child might be placed to get an idea of how students are instructed. School leadership is crucial for a school to thrive and succeed so when I visit schools I always make it a point to meet the school administrator to truly get a feel of the pulse of the school.

4. Consider a school visit with your child.

Now that I have given the school/s on my list my parental seal of approval, I like to take it a step further and have my child visit for half/full day if possible. Because they will be attending the school I want it to be a place where they feel safe, comfortable, and loved. Their experience most likely will be different from mine and this can add new perspective to your decision. If your child has and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or any other learning plan, this would be the time to meet with who will be supporting your child and understand the services available.

Finding a school that is the best fit for your child can be a lot of work but it is well worth it. Don’t be afraid to ask bold questions and advocate for your child’s needs. You want to be ready to make an informed decision for a school that best fits your child’s needs for a great education.

Nabeehah Brown is an early childhood educator in Colorado and is the mother of 3 children attending school in Denver.  She is also member of Stand for Children Colorado.

Tips to Take on the Tour, by Megan Freedman

School tourYou’ve made that list of schools to tour, so what should you look for on the tour?

I found it helpful to keep the tours sorted in a spreadsheet. Here’s mine including school names, addresses, websites, tour dates, admissions deadlines (if applicable) and other pertinent details. After you take the tour, add a few thoughts about your reaction to the school into the spreadsheet while it’s fresh on your mind. After a few tours, you may find it helpful to segment the schools you’ve toured into yeses, no’s, and maybes in terms of whether you’d like to apply/put on your choice form. That can help you select what information you need to retain and what bits you can mentally file in the dusty back of the drawer.

And don’t get too attached to any one school right away. I figured that out long after the fact. It’s natural to have strong feelings about a particular school. The campus, the teachers, or the culture may really appeal to you on a deep level. But our priorities evolved throughout our tour de choice. I fell hard for one school immediately, and spent the rest of the following week trying to convince my husband that we needed to give our kids “the best” and who needs to go to Disneyland when you can go to school X and so on. And then we had our son tested and the testing consultant steered us in a completely different direction, and school X plunked right off the table.

At the end of the day, if I could go back to 2013 and talk to myself before touring schools, I would say—think carefully but open-mindedly about the schools you’d like to tour. Go into each one ready to see what there is to see and feel your feelings about the place. Capture the logistical details (and your reactions) in one place that you can refer back to you later. And then let that information marinate for a bit. You’ll have time to make a rational choice later on about which schools you want to try to get a spot in.


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: Traut Core Knowledge

In this Q & A, Traut Core Knowledge’s Principal Mark Wertheimer describes his school, which is among the top 10 elementary schools in Colorado this year.

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

Our vision is educational excellence in knowledge, skills and character, with strong parent-teacher-student partnerships.

Our mission is to provide excellence and fairness in education for elementary school children. Excellence in education means raising academic standards and achieving success for all students. Fairness in education means providing equal opportunity to learn for all students. We accomplish this through our five pillars (see below).

country-present-flagTwo projects undertaken by our second grade classrooms can help illustrate this mission in action.  All second grade students memorize, illustrate, and recite the preamble to the Constitution.  They then create a classroom constitution—one which embeds our character qualities within its verbiage.  The students, principal, and classroom teacher all sign this document in a classroom ceremony.

Later in the year, all students research their family backgrounds.  They then select one of their countries of origin and create a presentation on that country (as well as how their family came to the USA) which is performed in front of family and friends in our cafeteria.

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

We have over 60 staff hours per day allocated toward intervention needs.  These interventions include providing differentiated instruction across ability levels, grade levels, and subject areas.  We are continually fine-tuning these services, providing cross-training for our staff to be nimble enough to accommodate the needs of our population, whether it be for primary or intermediate grades, struggling or advanced students, or for math or language arts assistance.

These interventions, combined with the extensive expertise provided by our veteran classroom teachers, help us continue to our legacy as a school which continually performs at the very topmost levels in the state.

Nevertheless, as our motto states, we “Never Give Up” in our pursuit of the highest levels of academic excellence for all students.

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

Probably the single most unique aspect of Traut Core Knowledge School is our Parent Partnership. Traut’s governance goes beyond traditional promotion of parental involvement, input, and volunteerism, allowing for both staff and parents to have direct say on decisions impacting the school. Parents and staff have an equal vote on the Site Based Management Council, with the principal being only one member on the staff side.

taste-trautbAnother unique aspect of our school is our wide diversity of backgrounds.  One of our character traits is “Appreciation of Individual Strengths and Cultural Backgrounds:  Being considerate of others without compromising your own values.”  This character trait serves us well as we work with over 21 home languages, over 25% non-white students, representation from all the world’s major religions, an ever-increasing free/reduced lunch program, over 11% English Language Learners, and more.

Over 75% of our staff were or are parents.  This by-product of our Parent Partnership means we are “home” to many families—even beyond the time their children actually attend here.  The biggest problem facing education (and society) today is the breakdown of the family.  It takes a family to raise a child, and our “family” atmosphere helps us be part of the village that supports our families.

Aside from the Parent Partnership pillar already mentioned, no description of Traut would be complete without mentioning our other four pillars—all five supporting pillars being built upon the foundation of Choice. These pillars are Core Knowledge: a content-rich curriculum—not an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve an excellent grasp of information and the ability to use that information thoughtfully; Character Education:  we have identified twelve character traits, rooted in respect and responsibility, which are integrated throughout the school day; Student Responsibility:  as key partners at Traut Core Knowledge School, students will succeed as they recognize and accept their responsibility for their own learning; and Mature Literacy:  beginning with systematic phonics instruction accompanied by plentiful opportunities to read meaningful text, which yields mature, competent readers.

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

Parents want to know that their child is safe.  We are careful to make sure that everyone who enters the building is visually acknowledged by a responsible adult.  We have resources in place to assure adequate supervision is in place for hallways, lunchroom, recesses, and carpools.  We also have a database which assists us in making sure we know where all students are at all times, including when they attending before and after school events and field trips.

tug-warSecondly, parents want to know that their child is “known” and cared for by the staff.  We take special care to make sure all children connect with their teachers, tutors, and other staff.  We foster positive relationships, as these are vital to the success of children.

Last but not least, we provide an incredible richness of academic opportunity for all students, which has been shown to be highly effective in seeing academic achievement across the board, no matter what the measure, every year since we began in 1992.

Where can parents go to learn more?

Learning about G & T, by Carie Sherman

G&TMy daughter starts kindergarten next fall, so I’m working to select the right school for her.

I recently attended an “open house” at our neighborhood school (we’re part of Denver Public Schools). It was fine, but I felt silly: I didn’t get the memo that kids weren’t expected to attend or that “open house” was code for “be on time or you’ll miss being assigned to the right tour group.”

Alas, our tardiness gave us an excuse to hop into a few different parent groups. In each group we invaded, a parent invariably asked:

“Is there a G & T program?”

Up until then, I thought G & T was a beverage served over ice with a lime. Which I began to crave after realizing the other parents knew the lingo. I was behind the curve and wanted to get more background on what this is all about.

So what does G & T (i.e. Gifted and Talented) really mean?

The National Association of Gifted Children define G & T as kids who, “when compared to others his or her age or grade, have an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned in one or more subject areas, or in the performing or fine arts.” This advanced capacity requires curriculum modifications to make sure the kids are challenged and learn new material.

Do all public schools have a G & T program? Why are they important?

In Colorado, gifted programs are mandated and partially funded by the state.

It might seem like a G & T kid would do okay in any classroom setting. But G & T kids aren’t stimulated by regular curriculum. A national study conducted by the Fordham Institute found that 73% of teachers agreed that “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school – we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive.”

How does DPS identify G & T kids?

DPS begins assessing children for G & T in 1st grade. However, they also offer Advanced Kindergarten (AK), a curriculum for kids deemed academically advanced. Kids are accepted by application-only, and the program is only offered at select schools.

So do you have to be in AK to get into G & T? I missed the deadline, and because of that I already felt I was failing my daughter, who just began her education. Thank goodness for my friend Jonny, who made me feel much better.

Jonny’s daughter enters kindergarten next year, and he decided not to pursue AK. Why? He’d hoped the AK program would guarantee her a spot at the AK school (which receives higher grades than his neighborhood–or home–school), and that it would have some bearing on her future G & T acceptance. Neither are true. Once she entered 1st grade, she’d need to return to her home school or go through the school choice program. And then be reassessed by G & T.

It was a good enough reason for me to let go of my Bad Mama guilt.

Is Your Child G & T?

I reviewed the literature, and I’ll admit that I suspect my own darling exhibits G & T characteristics. But there’s a huge range of traits. Here are resources I found helpful:

  • Characteristics of G & T
  • Is my child gifted?

Yet, the only way to know for sure is getting her tested.

It’s DPS policy to screen all students for G & T beginning in 1st grade. The process seems to vary by the school, so DPS suggests contacting the gifted education teacher at your own school. And for anyone who can’t wait that long, there’s an option of getting tested independently.

What happens beyond kindergarten?

There are two programs at DPS — Gifted and Talented and Highly Gifted and Talented. DPS provides a handy-dandy chart outlining the pertinent info.

The website is helpful, but I was curious about how this really works. So I contacted my friend Jeanine, whose daughter is G & T at DPS. She explained that once your school district deems your child G & T eligible, the state mandates that your child receive an Advanced Learning Plan. The plan sets goals and makes accommodations. Jeanine has seen some issues related to consistency of receiving a plan … some years they receive one … some years they do not.

So what’s your best bet as a parent?

Jeanine says, bottom-line: Develop a good relationship with your school’s principal and your child’s teacher. Discuss your concerns about your child’s education, and be prepared to help them identify any special needs your G & T child may have in the classroom.

Last but not least, do all parents think their child is G & T?

Maybe. On some level, it’s likely most parents believe their kids are G & T. I’m no different. Yet the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented says the G & T kids actually represent only 7.6% of the total K-12 public school population.


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.



Tour de Choice: 6 Tips for School Tours, by Megan Freedman

tour de choice

It’s time to look at some schools for your kid! You may already be convinced that you should go on some school tours, and now the question is, which ones? I toured 11 schools, but I could have done well with maybe half as many tours.

Here are few things to consider as you make your list of prospective school tours.

1) Location

Where do you live? And where do you or your co-parent work? Proximity to school doesn’t just matter for daily drop-off and pick-up. You’ll have to go to your child’s school for field trips, book sales, volunteering in the classroom, holiday lunches, picking up someone early because they threw up, etc. My husband and I aren’t particularly big joiners, but we probably make an extra four or five trips to school per month (in addition to pick-up and drop-off). It really helps your life for the drive to and from school to be short and easy. Our drive is five minutes, the walk is about 15, and that works well for us. You might want to take a map, draw a feasible circle of distance around your house, around your/your co-parent’s office, and then look at schools within those circles.

2) Future location

Are you feeling pretty set living and working where you are—or do you plan to change that in the next few years? Think pretty hard about that now. If you’re more than 75% sure that your home or office will move, it could make a big difference in your school commute time. For reasons why this is important, see #1 above.

3)     Public vs. private

Are you interested in just private schools, just public schools, or both? We were open to considering both, and if you are too, take a moment to explore your feelings about paying for education, because tuition is not nothing. Do you feel that you want to give your child the best your money will buy? Do you want to support the public school system and be an engaged parent who will help improve the system? Will you have one, two, three, or more kids who may be going to school at the same time? Do you need to weigh other costs (for example, vacations, ski passes, summer camps) against educational expenses? If you’re not sure (as we weren’t), be sure to tour both private and public schools. What you see and learn there about what they offer and at what cost will give you great perspective.

4) What type of education does your child need?

This was a hard one for us. For our kindergartener, we had very little idea what kind of a learner he was.  There are traditional schools, gifted schools, foreign language ones, religious schools, schools that focus on the environment or “expeditionary learning,” and more. You can pay a consultant to give your child tests and write up how he or she thinks your child learns and what school type will fit best. A few of my friends did that, and it was very influential on their school choice. Delve into the school’s particular flavor and see if it fits with what you know about your child. If a certain type of school really resonates, that’s fantastic—go to see that school. If nothing jumps out at you, your child might do well at many types of schools.  If you’re like me, you may still feel unsure what type of education your kids need. But realize that you may not know for sure until you see your kids in action (and their reaction) in a real school. Then, if you need to make a change, cross that bridge when you get to it.

5) School popularity

For some public schools, if you’re not within their boundary, you have a very small chance of getting a spot. For some private schools, you almost have to be an alumnus to get a spot. If you’re pressed for time and could take it or leave it, call the school’s office to ask about admissions statistics before you tour. On the other hand, you may want to visit these in-demand schools to see what the fuss is about. I remember touring a couple schools that were supposedly impossible to get into and feeling like, well their floors aren’t paved with gold and Harvard diplomas after all. Or you may tour one and realize you want to throw everything you have into getting in, such as moving within their boundary or starting to work the admissions process. The sooner you take a tour and know this, the better.

6) Where do your friends’ and neighbors’ kids go

I hesitate to bring this up, because most people think about this anyway, and maybe even overly rely on friends’ opinions about what the “best” schools are. And I really think most people (myself included) feel a natural instinct to defend their choices. Who really wants to say “I haven’t felt right about my kids’ school, but it seems like too much work to move them?” So you can’t totally take what people say about their kids’ schools at face value, especially if they’re not close friends who you can be really real with.

That said, where your child goes to school will play a big part in who her friends are, which extra-curriculars she picks, who you’ll be interacting with at school drop-off, activities, play dates, and fundraisers for the next several years—and even where she goes for middle and high school. If you respect and like certain people, and they’ve chosen a certain school, it’s worth adding to your tour list.

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


The Opportunity in School Choice, by Miranda Stout

Jayden & Marley

Miranda’s children, Jayden and Marley

School choice was a foreign language to my husband and me when our oldest child started school. When our daughter started school, we thought she would just go to the school in our neighborhood and that was it: a choice due to convenience.

Our daughter did not enroll in early childhood education (ECE) because I was unaware of the process it took to enroll, and by the time I knew what to do, I was too late to get her into a program. We thought nothing of it because neither of us had ECE growing up. We both started school in kindergarten, so we did not think it would be an issue. But as a new kindergartener, our poor daughter brought home homework, and she was clueless on what to do with it. Every night was a struggle to get it done. We tried different techniques to help her understand but we were having a really hard time. After all, this whole thing was new for us too.

We were later told by her teacher that she thought our daughter might have a learning disability. We were very concerned and rushed to the school to get an intervention plan in place to make learning a little bit easier for her. We were up for anything to help her. So, she started the intervention and it seemed to be going well. We had not heard anything about her progress. We could tell she was starting to understand some of the basics when it came to doing her homework, but we knew it was difficult for her. To our dismay, when we got her report card, we were told we needed to hold her back. We were okay with that but were crushed that we had not been filled in on throughout the process of the intervention.

One day when I was at work, I received a call about a new charter school that was opening in our area with busing and all the tools we would need to switch schools. My husband and I were not familiar with what a charter school was. So, we did some research and learned this would be a great opportunity, and we were thrilled to find that this was an option for us.

From the beginning of our experience with a charter school as an option, we were welcomed into what we like to refer to as the Rocky Mountain Prep (RMP) Family with open arms. Our first interaction with the school was a t-shirt that read “Elevation: Graduation” to thank us for being one of the first families to get our school choice forms in. We also participated in a playdate in the park with future RMP families. We attended orientation and loved the concept of this school and the core values. We were even invited to have lunch with the teachers before school started to express our fears. All of our concerns were addressed.

We decided not to hold our daughter back, and our son started ECE as one of the youngest in the school. I have to say this has been an amazing experience for us, and our kids really care about the education they are getting. Most importantly, our daughter is not ashamed when she struggles. This school has given us tools to help our kids at home, so when they are having issues, we know how to help them. From the beginning we have been informed and welcomed to be a part of their success. Our daughter is far from learning disabled and is actually one of the top readers and writers in her class. When she started, her confidence was not there and she lacked self -esteem. Now two years later, she is persevering and is proud of her accomplishments.

School choice made the opportunity for our kids to attend Rocky Mountain Prep happen. We could not be happier with the experience we are having and we know if we did not have a choice of where our kids attend school we might not be so happy. We know this because we gave another school a chance and the experience was not so pleasant. Having the choice has empowered us as parents to make sure our kids get the best education possible, and we have gotten to be part of it every step of the way.



Avoid Winter Break Boredom: Check Out These 12 Holiday-Themed Books

Winter readingby Carie Sherman

What’s one of the best predictors of your child doing well in school? The research is clear: kids who read at home do well in all aspects of formal education.

Creating a literate home environment is more than just having books around. But let’s face it, you still need materials to read. Yet any parent who walks into the children’s section at the library knows that choosing the right book for your child can be overwhelming.

Luckily, it’s easy to call in help from the professionals. The Denver Public Library has some amazing lists of book recommendations. With their help, here is a list of books to check out over the holidays.

Toddler and Preschool

1. K is for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford. “This vibrant book celebrates Kwanzaa one letter at a time.”

2. The Hanukkah Mice by Ronne Randall. “When three little mice set out to find Hanukkah they find many interesting things, but where are the Hanukkah lights? Come explore with these curious mice and help them discover the lights.”

3. Bear Stays Up For Christmas by Karma Wilson. Bear’s friends are determined to make sure he doesn’t miss Christmas this year. They wake him up the day before and then take turns keeping him awake. Bear is very sleepy, but his friends keep him awake all day. When Santa comes, who is the only one still awake?

4. Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. “In Grace Lin’s bright and simple picture book, the whole family gets involved to prepare for Chinese New Year.”

K-3rd grade

1. Stick Man by Julia Donaldson. “Stick Man lives in the family tree with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three. Poor Stick Man leaves his home and is forced to go on many adventures when all he wants to do is get back home.”

2. Carlos, Light the Farolito by Jean Ciavonne. “It is the last night of Las Posadas and Carlos can hardly wait. The procession will end at his house, where his grandfather will sing the part of the innkeeper. As it gets later and later, Carlos begins to worry. What if Grandfather is not there to play his part. Is Carlos brave enough to make sure that Las Posadas ends successfully?”

4th - 6th grade

1. American Girl, Book 3, Happy New Year by Julie Megan McDonald. “I think this book is great. The book is about Julie and her best friend Ivy. One week Ivy invited Julie to celebrate Chinese New Year. Read the book to find out what happens next.”

2. The Stone Lamp: Eight Stories Of Hanukkah Through History by Karen Hesse “Hanukkah is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness. In this series of 8 poems, Hesse explores the celebration of Hanukkah around the world throughout history.”

3. The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements. “Life is usually easy for popular sixth-grader Hart Evans, but when his music teacher puts him in charge of the holiday concert, Hart must use all of his leadership skills to unite the other students.”

Books for Teens

1. Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories by John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson. “Tender without being mushy, these carefully crafted stories of believable teen love will leave readers warm inside for the holidays.”—School Library Journal

2. Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan. A whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

3. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. “This text is on many schools’ reading list and I can see why. It paints an unflinching portrait of the harsh realities of life without either a solid education or the ambition to make a life for oneself in a legitimate line of work.”

Happy holidays, and happy reading!


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.