On and On

As student protests continue, DPS plans forums on social justice, race

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
South High School students gathered at East High School early this afternoon.

On the fourth consecutive school day of walk-outs by Denver Public School students, district officials moved forward with plans to host a series of student forums about race and social justice.

One of the first forums was this afternoon at South High School, where hundreds of students walked out of class earlier today.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg sent a letter to parents and community members announcing plans to hold conversations about race and social justice with students late last week. He said the district had also provided guidance to school leaders on how to discuss protests and Ferguson in their classrooms.

The letter quotes Bill de La Cruz, DPS’s Director of Equity and Inclusion: “We can do three things around race: Not talk about it and act like it doesn’t affect us, wait for a problem and react to it, or we can get past our fear and just have the conversation and talk about the impact of race. We all have a responsibility in shifting race relations, and we need to work together to create a dialogue that’s safe.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced today that he will also lead a series of conversations about race throughout the city, starting in December.

Hundreds of students have been involved in the protests. East High School students organized a walk-out out last Wednesday. Since then, students at Lincoln, Montbello, George Washington, and North high schools and the Denver School of the Arts have also walked out of school.

The students are joining protesters across the country who have raised concerns about racial discrimination and police brutality, spurred by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

“We have conveyed very strongly to our students the importance of all our students conducting themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner as we deal with these challenging conversations,” Boasberg wrote in his letter to parents. “But we also have made it clear that we at DPS believe that our students’ opinions matter.”

The district forum at South this afternoon included representatives from the police department and the school system. Students were to talk about today’s protest and the issues that prompted it.

At a similar event last week at East, Boasberg said that the district wanted to make sure “students stay safe and that these remain learning experiences.”

Across the district, schools where students have not walked out are also responding to both the decision in Ferguson and the protests. One school hosted an assembly last Friday where students could air their concerns. And students at Manual High School are planning an event where they will discuss and debate issues about social justice and Ferguson later this week.

Some students at Denver School of the Arts walked out today despite a letter to students and families from Principal William Kohut that encouraged them to stay in class, saying that the school will have an event about social justice and inequity when school returns in January.

The South High School protest today was the second to take an unexpected turn. South students had planned to walk to Washington Park this morning, but instead continued past the park to first the state capitol, and then to East High School.

Students at East also took their protest off of school grounds. Several police officers who had accompanied the students were hit by a vehicle. East students later sent flowers to one of the injured officers.

No one was injured today. The South students were accompanied by their principal, district staff, police and Americorps volunteers affiliated with the district. A fleet of school buses followed them from the park to the capitol and finally to East.

South High School students protesting Ferguson and police brutality.
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
South High School students protesting Ferguson and police brutality.

Once they reached East, South students encountered a separate planned press event organized by two local activists, Alvertis Simmons and Reginald Holmes, a pastor at New Covenant Christian Church, who were at the school to comment on last week’s protests at East. Simmons and Holmes spoke to the students through a bullhorn, encouraging them to stay engaged after the walk-out and to respect police officers even while criticizing the system.

The students then dispersed to school buses—some clearly glad to be off of their feet after close to two hours and five miles of marching.

How are you and your students addressing race and police brutality in the classroom?

 

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.