The Other 60 Percent

Colorado counties target teen drinking

Nineteen-year-old Chantel Chavez has more reason than most young people to avoid drugs and alcohol. Growing up, she watched drugs engulf her mother, though she didn’t know it at the time.

The Speak Now Colorado campaign gives parents tips for talking with their children about drinking. Photo courtesy Speak Now Colorado

“We didn’t understand why she was leaving,” said Chavez, a recent graduate of Westminster High School who is now attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “We just always knew our mom couldn’t be at things like our dad could.”

When she got to high school, there were times she was tempted to abuse alcohol the way some of her friends did. “There were a few of my friends, maybe five, who were really party people,” she said. “There was a lot of drinking, but I don’t think it was as crazy as some people thought it was.”

But Chavez found her passion and her focus in high school not in partying but rather in the Young Leaders Society of Adams County, a group dedicated to battling underage binge drinking, especially among Latino youth.

Chavez began participating in the organization’s fun activities like movie nights and potlucks. She also went to educational conferences and helped with community service events. She helped design a social marketing campaign geared to warn her classmates about the dangers of substance abuse.

Four counties targeted with grant money

The campaign, dubbed “I’m Going Places,” as well as the Young Leaders Society, is part of a wide-ranging effort to lower the rates of binge drinking among Colorado’s youth, particularly among Latino youth.

The project, called the Colorado Prevention Partnership for Success, is funded through a $2.3 million federal grant targeting the state’s four counties with the highest concentration of Latino youth – Denver, Adams, Weld and Pueblo.

Now in the fourth year of the five-year grant, the project has already seen some noteworthy progress. Based on statewide surveys, underage drinking in Colorado is falling, and the disparity in underage drinking rates between Latino youth and other youth is disappearing.

Chavez is one of those young people whose life might have been ever so much different if not for the support and motivation she got through the campaign. But there are others.

Underage drinking decreases in Colorado

Findings from the 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey show that alcohol use among high school students in the state has fallen from about 75 percent in 2005 to about 65 percent, and that use among Latino high schoolers is only fractionally higher.

Among middle school students, however, almost 40 percent of Latino students report having consumed alcohol at some point, a rate more than twice as high as that of white students. Binge drinking – defined as having five or more drinks in two hours – was reported by almost 1 in 10 Latino middle schoolers, while only negligible numbers of white students reported such heavy alcohol use. By the time they get to high school, binge drinking evens out to about 20 percent for all youth, regardless of ethnicity.

“We’re really trying to create an awareness that it’s more normal than not to refrain from using alcohol and drugs,” said Beckah Terlouw, project manager for the Adams County Prevention Partnership, which oversees the activities in the county. “Most young people do not habitually use. But students overestimate how many of their peers are using alcohol. Reality versus perception is huge. We want to empower young people to be comfortable saying no to these choices.”

In Adams County, the campaign involves partnering with the major school districts, as well as with community groups, to sponsor family nights and parent forums as a way to help parents who are struggling to know how to talk to their children about alcohol and drug use.

That 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado survey showed that fewer than half the state’s middle school students had had a conversation with their parents about alcohol in the past year.

“Just eating family meals together can significantly decrease children’s use of drugs and alcohol,” Terlouw said. “We know the economy is hard and schedules are hard, but being a place where families can come in and have a meal, where they don’t have to think about it, where activities are planned can be such a good thing. And parents can go home with new skills and tools.”

In Greeley, “make mine root beer”

In Weld County, the Weld County Prevention Partnership has supported everything from social norming campaigns in the schools to recruiting restaurants, bars and liquor stores to be more pro-active about not serving alcohol to minors.

“It’s a comprehensive approach. We’re doing a lot of things at once,” said Nomie Ketterling, coordinator of the program. “The idea is that we’re changing the environment.”.

In Weld County, changing the environment involves everything from making available t-shirts that say “Make mine root beer” to a graffiti mural project to ads, posters and newsletters. A website provides teens tips for talking to their parents about drugs and alcohol, and tips for parents who want to talk to their children about it.

The Strengthening Families program is a seven-session class in which families can do role-playing, watch videos and play games designed to reinforce the need to avoid underage drinking.

Focus on homecoming and prom activities

In Denver, the Department of Human Services has its Resource for Awareness and Prevention, which offers referrals to for parents and youth with substance abuse issues, education classes for families, tool kits for parents, community presentations and other efforts.

“One pamphlet we just created is “Know the Law,” which has information about underage drinking in Colorado,” said Jodi Lockhart, prevention coordinator. “There are so many parts of our program. We work with youth directly, and we do widespread messaging I the schools around high-risk times like Homecoming and prom.”

In Pueblo, the Pueblo Alliance for Healthy Teens and the Pueblo Alliance to Prevent Underage Drinking/Drugging is using social marketing, substance abuse prevention education and alcohol-free activities for youth to target that county’s underage drinking problem.

Statewide, the Speak Now Campaign aims at getting parents to have conversations about alcohol and drug use with their teen-age children, and offer guidelines for putting together a family plan for reducing or eliminating underage drinking.

“They’re all doing very good work,” said Stan Paprocki, community prevention program manager for the state’s Division of Behavioral Health, which oversees the federal grant. “And they’re all so very different.”

Colorado’s underage drinking laws

Most likely charge

  • The charge of “minor in possession” is the most common charge in the state when it comes to underage drinking
  • Any teen found with alcohol or suspected of consuming may face a charge of minor in possession
  • Possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor is only allowed if it happens on private property, with the property owner’s consent and under direct supervision of that minor’s parent or guardian

Possible sanctions

  • First offense for a minor in possession charge: Fine up to $250, up to 24 hours community service and a license revocation for three months if the minor fails to follow court-ordered instructions
  • Second offense: Fine up to $500, up to 24 hours community service, mandatory alcohol class and a license revocation for six months
  • Third offense or more: Three to 12 months imprisonment and/or $250 to $1,000 fine, mandatory alcohol class and a license revocation for a year

Source: Denver Resource for Awareness and Protection

Frequently asked

There are lots of ways schools teach English learners. Here’s how it works.

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Lindsey Erisman works with 6-year-old students in an English Language Acquisition class at Denver's Cole Arts & Science Academy.

School district officials in Westminster this year signed an agreement with federal officials to change how they educate students who are learning English as a second language.

Similar agreements have also shaped how districts in Denver, Aurora, Adams 14, and Adams 12 educate their English language learner students. But many people, including parents and district insiders, may still have questions about the various complicated programs and requirements.

Although many of the language-education agreements are years old, most of the issues haven’t been resolved. In Adams 14, for instance, parents and advocates have protested a district decision to stop biliteracy programming, and have questioned the district’s compliance with its agreement to better serve English learners. District officials have pointed out that their obligation is teaching students English, not making them bilingual.

Now at least one charter school, KIPP, is looking to fill in that programming gap. Many other states have had a number of biliteracy and other bilingual programs at various schools for years, but Colorado has only more recently started to follow those trends.

So what’s the difference between the various language programs and services? And what is required by law and what isn’t? The following questions and answers might help clarify some of those questions as you follow the news around these issues.

Which students are designated as English language learners? Do parents get to decide, or do schools decide?

Federal guidance requires school districts have some way to identify English learners. Most commonly, districts survey all parents at school registration about their home language and the student’s first language. If that survey finds there might be an influence of another language at home, the student must be assessed to determine fluency in English. While the district has to identify all students who aren’t fluent in English as language learners, parents in Colorado can choose to waive the federally required services for their children. If so, the district doesn’t have to provide special services, but would still be required to monitor that the student is making progress toward acquiring English.

What educational rights do English language learners have?

English language learners have specific rights under the Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court case from 1974 and the subsequent Castañeda standards released in 1981. State laws also outline some requirements for school districts. Specifically, school districts must provide programs for all identified language learners to give them the opportunity to learn English and to access a comprehensive curriculum. The government does not state what that program should be, but provides some standards requiring that any program is theoretically sound and has a research base to support it. The program has to have qualified teachers, and a way to demonstrate that students are making progress in learning English and their academic content. While the civil rights officials consider many details to verify compliance, simply put, school districts have the legal obligation to identify students, serve them in a sound program, and monitor their progress.

What is the difference between bilingual education and “ELL services?”

Bilingual education (which is the program that has the most support for efficacy from the research community) offers students opportunities to learn in their native language while they are learning English. Bilingual programs can vary from short-term, or early-exit programs, to more longer-term developmental programs.

English language learner services do not need to provide opportunities for students to learn in the native language. Most commonly these services only offer English language development classes (generally 45 minutes per day). All other content instruction is offered only in English. ELL services are not bilingual.

What is English language development?

English language development must be a part of any program or model a district or school adopts. It is the class time when students are taught the English language. The government wants to see that English learners are given a dedicated time to learn English, when they are not competing with native English speakers. That means, often, English language development is offered as a time when students are pulled out of class to practice English, or as a special elective period students must take without their English-speaking peers.

The structure of this time period, who has access to it, or who teaches it, are areas commonly cited as problems by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Do students who are identified as English language learners retain that designation forever? What does it mean to be an “exited ELL?”

They’re not supposed to. Students who are English learners should be tested at least once a year to determine their English proficiency. When a student reaches a high enough level, school staff must determine if the student is now fluent in English. If so, the student becomes an “exited ELL.” The law requires districts to monitor for two years students who have exited and are no longer receiving services. There are, however, students who do not reach English fluency before graduating or leaving school.

What is the difference between being bilingual and being biliterate?

Bilingual generally refers to oral language in that bilingual people can understand and speak two languages but may not be able to read and write in those languages. Biliterate refers to being able to understand, speak, read, and write in two languages. Many people are bilingual but not biliterate. Biliteracy is considered to be a higher form of bilingualism.

What is the difference between dual language and biliteracy models?

Dual language and biliteracy models share many common components. Both models usually have biliteracy as their end goal for students. Dual language models may be “one-way” or “two-way.” One-way programs generally serve students who are designated as English language learners (also sometimes called emerging bilinguals). Two-way dual language programs include students who are native English speakers. The only major difference is that biliteracy models focus on using two languages in the language arts or literacy classes (reading and writing in two languages) whereas dual language focuses on using two languages across the entire school day’s curriculum.

What is an immersion model?

Immersion models traditionally are thought of as referring to programs primarily intended for students from the dominant language population to learn a second language. This is different from programs meant to teach English.

While native English students can choose whether or not to learn a second language, students who are English language learners do not have a choice in learning English.

What is sheltered instruction?

This type of instruction takes place in non-dual language schools, during regular content classes (such as math or science), and it’s one way schools try to make the content understandable to students who aren’t yet fluent in English.

This is especially common in schools where English learners speak a variety of languages. Crawford Elementary in Aurora, for instance, has had up to 35 different languages represented among its approximately 560 students. If there aren’t enough students who speak a common first language and also a teacher who speaks the same language as those students, then schools must teach through English, while making the English as accessible as possible.

In practice, this means an English-speaking teacher would use sheltered instruction techniques to help all children understand the lessons such as, physical props, a focus on building vocabulary, and sentence stems.

Denver designates schools as TNLI schools. What does that mean?

Denver created the TNLI label in 1999 to set the district apart from other bilingual program models. TNLI stands for Transitional Native Language Instruction. The Denver TNLI program is a transitional bilingual education program model with a label created just for Denver. It’s a model where instruction in Spanish is used to help students learn while they’re acquiring English, but still has a goal of making students fluent in English as soon as possible, at which point students move into mainstream English classrooms.

Is one of these models best suited for English learners?

Among researchers, it is commonly accepted that dual language or biliteracy models are the most effective to put English learners on par with their native speaking peers, in the long run.

Why do teachers have to be trained specifically to teach this population of students? What are teachers learning?

Educators and researchers say that teachers need to learn the differences and similarities between learning in one language and learning bilingually. Teachers need to learn about literacy methodology and how teaching literacy in Spanish (for example) is the same and different as teaching literacy in English. They have to learn how to teach English language development to students who are beginning to learn English (it is different than just teaching in English). These trainings also help teachers learn about cultural similarities and differences and about sources of culture conflict. Teachers need to be able to teach children English; how to use English to learn; and how the English language works. In bilingual settings teachers need to learn those three things for two languages. In short, the training needed to be a bilingual teacher is quite different. Colorado will soon require some of this training for all teachers.

What are the challenges districts have in offering these different programs? How do schools decide which type of model to offer?

The demographics of a district’s student population, and district politics play a large part in helping a district decide what model or program to use. Resources can also be a factor in deciding how to structure services or what programs to offer. In Adams 14, when the district leadership decided to pause the roll out of a biliteracy program, the district cited a lack of qualified bilingual teachers, among other things.

In Westminster, the school district’s unique competency-based approach, which removes grade levels and seeks to personalize instruction, was cited as a reason why the district had structured its English language development the way it had before the investigation by the Office for Civil Rights sought to change it.

Does Colorado provide guidance or oversight for how districts are doing this work?

The Colorado Department of Education offers some guidance for districts, but oversight of the districts’ compliance with what is required is limited. In practice, when parents suspect their children aren’t educated well, they have filed complaints with the federal government. In Denver, the complaints went through the Department of Justice. Investigations of most other metro-area districts have been conducted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

task force

Jeffco takes collaborative approach as it considers later school start times

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The Jeffco school district is weighing pushing back start times at its middle and high schools, and the community task force set up to offer recommendations is asking for public input.

Nearby school districts, such as those in Cherry Creek and Greeley, have rolled out later start times, and Jeffco — the second largest school district in Colorado — in December announced its decision to study the issue.

Thompson and Brighton’s 27J school districts are pushing back start times at their secondary schools this fall.

The 50-person Jeffco task force has until January to present their recommendations to the district.

Supporters of the idea to start the school day later cite research showing that teenagers benefit from sleeping in and often do better in school as a result.

Jeffco is considering changing start times after parents and community members began pressing superintendent Jason Glass to look at the issue. Middle and high schools in the Jeffco district currently start at around 7:30 a.m.

The task force is inviting community members to offer their feedback this summer on the group’s website, its Facebook page, or the district’s form, and to come to its meetings in the fall.

Katie Winner, a Jeffco parent of two and one of three chairs of the start times task force, said she’s excited about how collaborative the work is this year.

“It’s a little shocking,” Winner said. “It’s really hard to convey to people that Jeffco schools wants your feedback. But I can say [definitively], I don’t believe this is a waste of time.”

The task force is currently split into three committees focusing on reviewing research on school start times, considering outcomes in other districts that have changed start times, and gathering community input. The group as a whole will also consider how schedule changes could affect transportation, sports and other after school activities, student employment, and district budgets.

Members of the task force are not appointed by the district, as has been typical in district decision-making in years past. Instead, as a way to try to generate the most community engagement, everyone who expressed interest was accepted into the group. Meetings are open to the public, and people can still join the task force.

“These groups are short-term work groups, not school board advisory committees. They are targeting some current issues that our families are interested in,” said Diana Wilson, the district’s chief communications officer. “Since the topics likely have a broad range of perspectives, gathering people that (hopefully) represent those perspectives to look at options seems like a good way to find some solutions or ideas for positive/constructive changes.”

How such a large group will reach a consensus remains to be seen. Winner knows the prospect could appear daunting, but “it’s actually a challenge to the group to say: be inclusive.”

For now the group is seeking recommendations that won’t require the district to spend more money. But Winner said the group will keep a close eye on potential tax measures that could give the district new funds after November. If some measure were to pass, it could give the group more flexibility in its recommendations.