The Other 60 Percent

Kaiser hands out $1.4 million for healthy school efforts

Twenty-one Colorado school districts recently won $1.4 million worth of grants from Kaiser Permanente Colorado to get kids—and in some cases staff—moving more.

The grants, which are part of Kaiser’s national “Thriving Schools” initiative, range from $5,000-$200,000 and represent the organization’s first direct-to-district grant program. Several of the grants will fund training to help teachers incorporate more physical activity into the school day or change the way physical education is delivered.

Grant winners

  • Jeffco Public Schools
  • Cherry Creek School District
  • Boulder Valley School District
  • St. Vrain Valley School District
  • Grand and East Grand school districts (applied jointly)
  • Adams County School District 50
  • Brighton School District
  • Englewood Schools
  • Summit School District
  • Weld County School District 6
  • Poudre School District
  • Cripple-Creek Victor School District
  • Fremont RE-1, RE-2 and RE-3 school districts (applied jointly)
  • Woodland Park School District
  • Academy School District 20
  • Falcon School District
  • Harrison School District
  • Colorado Springs District 11

About half of the grants target secondary students. For example, the Poudre School District will promote biking to school among high-schoolers, Weld County District 6 will create an after-school soccer program for middle school students and the Cripple Creek-Victor district will institute structured physical activity at lunch for seventh to 12th-graders.

Corina Lindley, senior manager of healthy communities and schools for Kaiser Permanente Colorado, said she is excited about the number of proposals focusing on middle and high school students, since movement initiatives tend to occur more at the elementary level.

Theresa Myers, director of communications in Weld County District 6, said the focus on middle school was intentional.

“That’s an age group that number one we want to keep engaged in school and we know that sports are in an important part of that.”

She also noted that soccer is a much-loved sport among the district’s middle-schoolers, 37 percent of whom are immigrants to the United States. While one of the district’s four middle schools operates an after-school program called “Soccer Without Borders,” the $100,000 Kaiser grant will expand the concept to the other schools, creating more teams and intra-district matches.

In addition to soccer, Weld 6 will also use the grant to create after-school running clubs at some elementary schools and provide stipends to various staff members to serve as school wellness coordinators.

The St. Vrain school district will use its $100,000 grant to expand Red Hawk Elementary School’s nationally recognized “All School Movement Program” to seven other district schools, including one middle school and one high school. Red Hawk students start the day with 20 minutes of physical activity such as jump-roping, trail running or brisk walking. In addition, teachers incorporate an additional 10-15 minutes of physical activity into their classroom schedules through the rest of the day.

The district kicked off the grant-funded movement expansion over the weekend with a training for 25 teachers who will serve as “champions” at their respective schools. An additional 50 teachers will be trained as movement champions next fall and winter. In addition to participating in the training, champions will meet in groups of five with a Red Hawk staff member each month to discuss issues and challenges arising from school movement efforts.

Red Hawk Principal Cyrus Weinberger said the teacher champions, who receive stipends as part of the project, will be expected to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into the day, separate from recess and P.E. The hope is that champions will spread the word to colleagues who are not part of the grant project and momentum will build for schoolwide adoption.

“The idea is that as those teachers with movement [in their classrooms] are experiencing good results that it’ll become more and more contagious,” said Weinberger.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”