Denver charter network STRIVE Prep wins $1.4 million grant focused on students with disabilities

Denver’s second-largest charter school network has won a $1.4 million grant to improve education for students with disabilities. The effort builds upon a yearslong commitment by the STRIVE Prep network to better serve students with special needs.

STRIVE Prep was founded in Denver in 2006, and now operates 11 schools in the city, serving more than 3,800 students. About 15% of its students have disabilities, which is higher than the district average — an uncommon occurrence for Colorado charter schools.

The $1.4 million, three-year grant comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (The foundation also supports Chalkbeat.) It’s part of a pilot program focused on how charter schools can better serve students with disabilities who are black, Latino, and from low-income families.

STRIVE is one of 10 charter management organizations across the country participating in the pilot. Nearly all STRIVE students are students of color, and 89% qualify for subsidized lunches. Other large networks in the pilot include the Noble Network in Chicago; Uncommon Schools in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts; and Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles.

STRIVE will use its grant funding to improve special education at two of its schools in southwest Denver: STRIVE Prep – Federal middle school and STRIVE Prep – SMART high school.

The network said both schools will focus on improving co-teaching practices, which is when a special education teacher teaches a lesson alongside a classroom teacher. Co-teaching is considered a best practice because it allows students with disabilities to learn alongside their peers with support, rather than be pulled out of the classroom for special lessons.

The network will also start a program at SMART for students with disabilities ages 18 to 21.

“Students with significant cognitive disabilities are often overlooked and don’t develop the postsecondary employment and life skills needed to be independent,” STRIVE Senior Director of Student Services Marianne Sammons said in a statement.

“By expanding our programming to offer special education services through the age of 21, they’ll be able to become more productive members of society and live more meaningful lives.”

Denver Public Schools expects its charter schools to offer special education “center-based programs” if asked by the district. STRIVE has had such programs for years; next year, it will have eight center-based programs across its schools, according to a network spokesperson.

Six of the programs, including the two at Federal and SMART, serve students with intellectual disabilities and those with multiple disabilities. Another program is for students with emotional and behavioral needs, while yet another is for students with profound multiple disabilities.

“STRIVE Prep has long been proud to be a leader among special education services in the charter sector,” founder Chris Gibbons said in a statement. “This pilot initiative provides the opportunity for our team to take this work to the next level.”