Healthy Schools

Denver’s after school initiative shows few programs in poor areas

Students who live in medium to high poverty areas of Denver may have less access to after school programming.

That’s the picture drawn by the first release of data from Denver’s after school initiative. Officials caution that the data is not complete but say that it raises issues of how city services are distributed.

“It brings up questions of are the right services being provided to the right kids,” said Lisa Piscopo, director of research and analysis for the Office of Children’s Affairs. “Poverty is not equally distributed.”

The city’s data, which includes 100 separate locations with over 700 individual programs, will be used by the administration and providers to tailor after school programming to the students it serves. It was collected by the Denver Afterschool Alliance using its online program locator, which launched last month. Program providers who wish to be included in the locator provide information on what services they provide and the cost of those services.

This effort is part of an initiative by the alliance to track after school programs around the city. City leaders hope to use that information to find gaps between the needs of students and school-aged children and the services provided.

“Gaps mean one thing to us — lost opportunity,” said Mayor Michael Hancock last week at an event on the initiative. He hopes the data provided by the city will drive organizations to modify where and how they provide services, to help the most disadvantaged populations.

The Denver Office of Children’s Affairs, which is a member of the alliance and runs the locator, collected the information provided by participants and mapped it over various factors that affect students, including poverty and English language ability.

Tracking programs

Maps provided by the Denver Office of Children’s Affairs show few programs in some neighborhoods of medium and high poverty, including central and far northeast Denver.

Notably, free programs and programs that offer food are not located those areas. In fact, many programs that would serve cash-strapped parents are in neighborhoods with low levels of poverty.

The city’s maps of where programs are located and what services they provide are available below. The city is also looking in to whether there are programs with a health component in neighborhoods with high obesity rates or in so-called “food deserts,” where few healthy food options are available.

Many cities track after school programming, according to a study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, but less than a quarter of cities studied were undertaking the kind of comprehensive tracking and quality improvement that Denver has started on.

The Wallace Foundation says the three key components to after school coordination are: a central organizing entity, whether that’s the city or an independent nonprofit; a data system; and quality standards for participating programs.

Denver currently has the first two, with the recently launched online program locator and resulting data. The city is beginning work on quality standards although they don’t expect that work to be completed for quite a while.

Mayoral involvement

Mayor Hancock has made education a major part of his program since coming into office. As a city council member, Hancock advocated for turnaround efforts in northeast Denver, including the Green Valley Ranch campus he and mayors from Sacramento, CA and Providence, RI toured last week.

The mayor’s participation marks a break from past city leaders, both in Denver and nation-wide.

“It is pretty unusual and typically mayors don’t get involved this,” said Van Schoales of A+ Denver, a local education advocacy group. Schoales also said that it can a risky decision politically for the mayor to become involved in something he has little control over.

As for the after school program coordination, Schoales believes it is an important area for the city to focus on but that good implementation of the city’s program is key.

“There’s enormous work to be done of coordination all these things and targeting these things,” said Schoales. “How well that will be done remains to be seen.”

one hurdle down

Bill to ban corporal punishment in schools get first approval from Colorado House

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at the AXL Academy in Aurora worked in pairs or small groups to solve math problems.

Colorado’s House of Representatives gave initial approval Monday to a bill that would ban corporal punishment in public schools and day care centers that receive state funds.

The bill, sponsored by Denver Democrat Rep. Susan Lontine, would forbid adults from using physical harm as punishment for students.

“It’s not OK for adults to hit each other,” Lontine said. “It should not be OK for adults to hit children — ever.”

Colorado is one of 19 states that has not outlawed the practice. However, reported incidents of corporal punishment are rare.

That’s one reason why some Republicans who disavow corporal punishment still oppose the bill.

“We’ve heard there is not a problem,” said Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville, a Douglas County Republican. Schools are “already dealing with this. Let’s let our local school districts do what they’ve been doing.”

Lontine’s bill won bipartisan support from the House Education Committee. Given the Democrats’ wide majority in the House, the bill is expected to win final approval Tuesday. But it’s unclear what sort of reception the bill will receive in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican, said he hasn’t read the bill yet. But he said he is always concerned about education policy violating local school districts’ local control.

catching some zzzzs

One Colorado district moving toward later high school start times — maybe — while another shelves the idea

PHOTO: Chellseyy, Creative Commons

Of the two large Colorado school districts that were actively exploring later high school start times for the 2017-18 school year, one is moving ahead and one has dropped the idea for now.

The 55,000-student Cherry Creek district — the state’s fourth largest — continues to consider proposed start- and end-time changes at all school levels. While the district is still collecting community feedback, the current proposal would set elementary school start times at 7:55 a.m., middle school start times at 8:50 a.m. and high school start times at 8:15 a.m.

Currently, Cherry Creek elementary schools start about 9 a.m., middle schools start about 8 a.m. and high schools start about 7 am. A recommendation will go before the Cherry Creek school board this spring.

Meanwhile, the 31,000-student Boulder Valley school district won’t change school start times next year because of the complexity of managing school bus schedules and the prospect of higher transportation costs, district spokesman Briggs Gamblin wrote via email.

Changes are still possible for the 2018-19 school year if the district can find a way to keep transportation costs at their current levels, he wrote.

The push for later high school start times has gained steam nationally with increasing evidence that when school schedules match with teen sleep rhythms, students are healthier, more focused, attend school more regularly and do better academically. In the last two years, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come out in favor of start times of 8:30 a.m. or after.

In districts that have considered changing high school start times or actually changed them, the logistics of bus schedules and after-school sports are typically the biggest hurdles.

In Colorado, some smaller districts, including the Montezuma-Cortez district in southwest Colorado and the Harrison district in Colorado Springs, have pushed start times to 8:30 a.m. or after for some or all secondary schools.

But large districts have been slower to join the club. Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, briefly explored later start times for some high schools a couple years ago, but the effort did not lead to any changes.

In the Boulder Valley district, a task force spent the 2015-16 school year researching later high school start times, with one of the group’s leaders saying last August she hoped the district could move forward with changes in 2017-18.

In Cherry Creek, where changes to school start and end times have also been under consideration over the last year, a November survey on the topic drew 25,000 responses.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they wanted high school start times to align more closely to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. When respondents were asked to pick between six high school schedule scenarios, the 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. scenario was most popular — garnering more than 7,000 votes.