I love a parade

The Broncos won the Super Bowl. Should kids skip school to join the party?

Broncos fans last gathered in Civic Center Park for a rally on Jan. 31 (Photo By AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post).

At noon Tuesday, tens of thousands of revelers wearing orange and blue will line the streets of downtown Denver for a parade celebrating the Denver Broncos for wrapping the city in Super Bowl glory.

More than a few Colorado students who are supposed to be in school likely will be on sidewalks hoping for a glimpse of the Lombardi trophy, perhaps wearing face paint to conceal their identities from principals watching on TV.

This raises questions: Is it all right for kids to ditch school to revel in the collective community joy that is a world championship? How do you balance the opportunity to bask in what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the possibility of losing out on learning?

Amber Johnson, a mother of two elementary school students and editor of Mile High Mamas, a mom-centric local blog, confessed to conflicting emotions. Growing up in Calgary, Canada, she has fond memories of celebrating her hometown hockey team’s Stanley Cup victory. She is attracted to the idea of creating similar impressions for her children, reared in Broncos Country.

But then other things needle at her, like the fact that she just pulled her fourth grader and sixth grader out of Arvada’s Vanderhoof Elementary just last Friday to go skiing. Or that a four-day weekend looms for the President’s Day observance.

She is leaning toward an education in blue and orange.

“I feel like this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the kids to really take part in something cool and special,” Johnson said. “It’s like a few hours of school. Really, in the grand scheme, that’s not a whole lot when it comes to the kind of memories it will bring home.”

Some students and parents aired their intentions — or hopes — on social media:

School districts, by and large, said the expected things about the importance of school attendance.

Denver Public Schools noted in a statement that school was going on as planned, and urged students and staff to “show their support by wearing Broncos orange or blue, as permitted by school dress codes.”

The district asked families pulling their children out of school for the celebration to contact their school and request an excused absence, which district officials are recommending school leaders grant.

DPS acting superintendent Susana Cordova, meanwhile, wrote to principals urging them to contact their supervisors or the district’s safety department if large numbers of students walk out of school unexcused to join the party.

Charlotte Ciancio, superintendent of Mapleton Public Schools in Adams County, which just celebrated a reduction in dropout rates, said: “Although it’s an exciting time for the Broncos and Denver, it is a school day. We have been very intentional in promoting attendance as a key to student success.”

Districts around the country have faced similar situations following major sports championships. After the New York Yankees’ 2000 World Series win, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani said students should be allowed to play hooky for the parade — as long as they read a book about baseball. Twelve years later, school kids were prominent at the New York Giants’ Super Bowl celebration. A number of Kansas City-area districts cancelled school last fall so students could witness the Royals’ World Series parade.

So what does a genuine expert in the field of school attendance think of the parade paradox?

Hanging out a third story window in Larimer Square for a late 1990s Super Bowl rally (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post).
Hanging out a third story window in Larimer Square for a late 1990s Super Bowl rally (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post).

Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, which promotes better policy and practice around school attendance, said schools should develop plans to address lost classroom time for students who skip Tuesday and share the plans with parents.

Chang tossed out other ideas. An entire class could take a field trip to Civic Center, where the parade ends and the rally begins. Or teachers could build a math or writing lesson around the Broncos’ victory.

Chang said parents trying to decide whether to take their children out of school should consider what lessons might be missed and ask teachers how they can be made up.

“I think you’re trying to balance community spirit and how to cover what’s lost,” she said.

If a student has an excellent attendance record, missing one day shouldn’t hurt, Chang said.

“This is one day,” she said. “Everyone can recover from that. It’s when absences are a persistent pattern that creates concern.”

Her children’s sparkling attendance record is one reason Lisa Larson is planning on bringing her children — 17, 14 and 12 — to the celebration. Her oldest son — now in his early 20s — attended the 1998 Broncos Super Bowl celebration and it remains one of the essential memories of his childhood, Larson said. He was 5.

“To be honest, no, I don’t worry about it,” she said of repeating the feat all these years later. “I don’t pull my kids out (of school) very often for hardly anything. Once in a while, something comes along …”

Josh Hirsch, a technology teacher at Academy High in Thornton, said he knows some of his students are planning to attend the parade and rally. The number of empty seats will dictate his lesson for the day. He said he does not want to halt the class altogether, or “punish” students who do show up by not giving them a good lesson.

The teacher is also a realist when it comes to a special afternoon for students reared in Broncos Country.

“You can’t always fight every battle,” Hirsch said. “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Let them have the life experience.’”

Reporter Melanie Asmar contributed information to this report.

around the world

VIDEO: Second-graders take their Memphis school on a global tour

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A second-grader teaches younger students about India, a country she studied this year at John P. Freeman Optional School.

Dressed in garments representing 30 countries, students at one Memphis school threw a world-class celebration to mark the last week of the school year for Shelby County Schools.

Second-graders at John P. Freeman Optional School created displays about countries they’ve been studying and invited their families and other students to take a tour.

Called Global Fest, the annual event was organized by teacher Melissa Collins, who has traveled to India and Brazil through several global teaching programs. Her teaching style aims to bring those experiences to life for her students.

“Global Fest is important to me because it gives the students a different perspective of other people around the world,” Collins said.

Watch what we saw and heard Thursday during this year’s Global Fest.

Global Fest at John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis from Chalkbeat Tennessee on Vimeo.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.