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.”

How are you feeling?

With plan to focus on teen health, Adams 12 school district opens new clinic

PHOTO: Jasleen_kaur/Creative Commons

The Adams 12 school district, Colorado’s sixth-largest, will open its first school-based health clinic this fall at Thornton High School.

The new clinic will offer routine physicals, sick care and mental health counseling to the 1,675 students at Thornton High as well as another 1,000 students who take classes at the district’s career and technical education center on the same campus.

By providing a convenient source of health care, particularly for low-income students, advocates say school-based health centers help prevent and address health problems that can impede learning.

Statewide, the number of school-based health centers has grown over the last decade — from 40 in 2007 to 59 this fall.

Despite the overall upward trend, not all school-based health centers survive. For example, the clinic at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, a high poverty school in the Jeffco district, closed its doors last spring.

A district official there said the nonprofit organization providing the health services, which were available to Jefferson students and other local residents, decided to depart because district security logistics made it difficult to keep the clinic open during evening and weekend hours.

In Adams 12, planning for the new clinic began in 2015. A district committee chose Thornton High to house the health center because of the high level of poverty in that area and because the campus, which also houses the Bollman Technical Education Center, serves the largest number of high school students in the district.

District spokesman Kevin Denke said the decision to focus on a teenage population stems from the fact that adolescents tend to see doctors less often than younger students and may be starting to engage in risky behaviors, such as sexual activity, alcohol use or drug use.

The neighboring Boulder Valley school district also has a school-based health clinic in the works, though it’s not expected to open until the fall of 2019. That clinic, the district’s first, will be located at the Arapahoe Campus, which houses Arapahoe Ridge High School and the district’s career and technical education center.

District officials said the clinic was originally slated to open earlier, but the launch was pushed back to align with a planned remodel of the career and technical education space.

In the meantime, the district will expand a dental care program that’s gradually ramped up at the Arapahoe Campus. Begun four years ago as a basic screening program that referred kids with cavities and other problems to area dentists, the program last year provided cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants to 42 students at Arapahoe Ridge and two other district high schools.

This year, the program will offer the same services, plus treatment for minor cavities, to students from all district high schools. The goal is to serve 250 students by the end of the year.

Fighting hunger

No more cheese sandwiches: Denver restores hot lunches for students in debt

Students at Denver's Fairmont ECE-8 have a choice of fruits and vegetables for lunch. (Denver Post file photo)

Denver students will start the year off with lunch debts paid off and a new promise that falling behind on lunch payments will not mean a cold “alternative” meal.

The district announced the change this week.

“We will feed every kid, every day,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg wrote. “We know hungry kids aren’t the best learners.”

In some districts, including DPS, students who fall behind on lunch payments may be given alternative meals such as a cheese sandwich, or graham crackers and milk.

Boasberg said all kids will get regular hot-lunch options while payment issues are resolved and the district works on a long-term strategy.

In the last school year, Denver students had accumulated a balance of more than $13,000. The debt would be higher if some schools had not set aside money to help students.

According to the district, schools paid for more than 37,700 meals during the 2016-17 year.

The district said that donations raised by students through a nonprofit called KidsGiving365, and by Shift Workspaces, founded by Grant Barnhill, a parent of an incoming DPS student, will cover all the outstanding lunch debt of students in the district.

In DPS, all students receive free breakfast. Students who qualify for free lunch based on family income do not make payments and do not accrue debt.

For 2017-18, a family of four must earn less than $31,980 to qualify for free lunch, or less than $45,510 to qualify for a reduced price lunch.

The announcement from DPS reminds families that the application for free or discounted lunch can be submitted throughout the year, and that students are eligible regardless of immigration status.